Tips for Safely Camping and Hiking With Your Dog
Nothing spells adventure quite like the big open wild! Camping is not only a great chance to “get away from it all,” but to also enjoy new experiences. With the promise of so much fun and excitement, why would you ever leave your dog behind?
The answer is that many people don’t! A survey of Americans found that nearly 15 million people went camping with their pets in 2016. That’s over a third of respondents who said they went camping at all that year!
When camping with your dog, there are two majorly important things to keep in mind:
- Don’t expect your pet to bite off more than they can chew
- Always be prepared (Scout’s motto!)
To help you get the most out of your upcoming camping or hiking trip, here are a few more specific tips to keep in mind.
Always always always read up on the camping/hiking location before you start making big plans. Issue #1 you might run into is that the park may not allow your dog there at all! Most parks at very least have leash rules and other specific requirements or restrictions. Dogs may be required to camp in certain areas, and they may be restricted from hiking along certain trails or regions of the park.
Make certain that you look at the specific site(s) you will be entering. Many forests are actually made up of different parks, some of which may be run by the National Park Service whereas others (sometimes right next door) are run by state or local agencies. The simple act of driving or hiking a little further along can mean you’ve crossed from one park’s set of rules into another’s, so use that zoom feature on park maps!
The next thing you want to know about the park is what facilities are available and what challenges your dog might face. Some parks have sparse shelter and limited shade, meaning you will have to be extra careful to not expose your dog to too much heat, sun, cold, or possible precipitation. The park may also have a powerful stream, so if your dog loves to swim, it’s good to know what waters are safe to enter and which to stay away from. You also want to know how far the hike/drive out is in case you encounter a pet emergency.
Don’t just rely on the park’s website for information, either. In addition, you can check out user reviews on sites like alltrails.com and Trip Advisor to look specifically for people who went camping with their dogs to see what their experience was like.
Keep ’em Close
When you’re out in the elements, the biggest rule is to always keep your beloved furry family members close. Yes, your dog may have been the star pupil of its obedience school, but that’s in a familiar home/suburban setting. Once you are out in the woods, there are all sorts of risks, hazards, and unexpected situations you and your dog won’t be used to.
Risks of letting your dog out of your sight include:
- Steep dropoffs
- Fast-moving waters
- Bees, wasps, and hornets
- Getting lost
- Thorns and briars
Further, nearly every park or recreational area will have strict leash rules. No matter how great your dog is off-leash, you at very least want a leash handy just in case.
Another factor of keeping them close is to not leave your dog unattended and on their own. When leaving the campsite, take them with you. Don’t tether them to a stake or keep them in the car (cars can get dangerously hot, fast, even in winter). In fact, many parks have rules against leaving animals unattended.
Don’t Leave Them Out in the Elements at Night
When sleeping, you will have to often make sure your dog spends the night in the tent with you, per park rules. If that’s an issue, consider getting a larger tent with a covered “screened porch” area or getting your dog their own tent that directly zips to yours or that can be close by your own.
Dogs can get supremely cold at night without four walls around them, and they may even attract bears, coyotes, or other predators. Make sure they’re close at hand and out of the elements to prevent scary nighttime incidents.
Pack the Right Gear
Camping is “roughing it”, but we still need our bare essentials in the wilderness, and so will your dog.
Some of the biggest items to remember are a collar/harness and a sturdy leash that’s right for hiking. In fact, bring an extra of both in case one gets lost or left behind. Your dog should also be sporting a clear, sturdy ID tag with up-to-date contact information on it.
Of course, your canine co-camper will want its own canteen and trail mix, so pack enough food and water for the trip, and then some. A good rule to remember is that the average dog needs 1 fl oz of water per every 1 lb body weight during regular circumstances, so they may need even more than that if they’re going to be hiking a lot or spending a lot of energy.
There’s also optional safety gear. One of the best to have is a bear bell. While there are debates about whether or not they actually deter bears, at very least they allow you to keep track of your trail hound even if they happen to go out of sight. If your trip will involve water recreation, a dog life jacket is a good idea. Dogs with sensitive paw pads may benefit from dog hiking boots, which have the added benefit of looking extra adorable.
Finally, be sure to bring enough first aid gear to treat your dog in the event of common injuries, including strains, sprains, breaks, cuts, scratches, stings, bites, and the like.
Leave No Trace
“Leave nothing but footprints” does not provide any exemptions for dog plops! Dog feces are not only unpleasant additions to any trail, they can also have a serious impact on the ecosystem thanks to the unfamiliar mix of bacteria. Bring dog waste bags (preferably ones that are biodegradable).
In a similar vein, don’t leave out dog food for your animal to graze upon at their leisure. Any food left on the ground for more than a few minutes will attract insects in the short run — and decidedly larger diners in the long run. Give your dog well-portioned meals, and put any uneaten food back or properly dispose of it in the trash after a few minutes.
Consider a Vet Check Prior
Before your dog takes a trip to the great outdoors, they should take a trip to the vet. Action items to check off include:
- Up-to-date vaccines
- Current flea, tick, and heartworm prevention
- Ensure the animal is dewormed
- Ensure the animal has a microchip with up-to-date contact data
- Trim nails, and consider grooming to protect their coat
- Get an overall health check to ensure they’re trail ready
- Get a copy of current vet records if they’re requested by the park or if you’re crossing borders
Double Down on Common Camping Rules
Study up on rules for humans like bear safety and fire safety, and think about how these protocols are affected when you have a dog.
When dealing with bears, one big thing to remember is that your dog may make things worse by charging into the situation. Dogs can sometimes provoke a bear to attack when it would not otherwise, and in some cases, a dog can even attract a hungry or curious bear to the campsite. These are all great reasons to have your pet leashed and close by at all times.
As for fire safety, dousing your campfire becomes more important when you have a dog that might not understand a fire ring means “hot coals”. Besides, properly tending to your fire is the most important way to keep a particular personified bear off your back.
Give It a Practice Run
Our final bit of advice is to not jump into camping all at once but instead to take it step-by-step.
The first step is to test out anything unfamiliar at home. If you get new gear, like a harness or dog hiking pack, let them try it on and test it out on a walk and in the backyard. If your dog has never spent the night in a tent, set up the tent on your lawn and spend at least an hour together relaxing in it, if not an entire night.
When it comes time for the trip itself, don’t make hiking the entire Appalachian Trail your first project! Instead, consider camping somewhere you can park close by and that has an easy exit in case your dog decides they’re an unhappy camper. Start small with trail hiking, too, before you go on long hikes or attempt backcountry camping.
After a few warmup rounds, we promise your dog will become a big fan of the great outdoors, even if it’s just in small doses!
Dog Boarding and Dog Daycare in Pennsylvania for When Your Pet Can’t Make the Trip
In cases where you need to leave your dog behind while you go on your own camping or hiking trip, fret not! Greenlin pet resorts have dog daycare available for day trips and dog boarding for your overnight stays. We can’t promise your pooch will be able to enjoy s’mores and ghost stories, but they will enjoy a paw-some time with lots of activities among friends.
Learn more about how we roll out the red carpet for your pet when you call or visit a Greenlin location near you!