Whether you’re a pro-level hiker with your own trail name or a newbie camper with a tent fresh out of the box, your pup will love to join your adventures! Taking your dog brings so much joy to the trip—who can resist a tongue-out, trail-happy pup? Plus, it also strengthens the bond with your best bud.
Before you lace up your boots and clip on that leash, however, there are a few things to consider. Here’s how to prep for a camping trip with your dog:
Before You Go
Get your dog used to her gear. If she’s going to wear a harness or be clipped to a line, practice at home. If you need your dog to carry her own pack, strap it on, weight it down with some cans to approximate her gear weight, and stroll the neighborhood. Test leashes, harnesses, tie-outs— whatever you plan to use on your trip to help your dog feel comfy with her gear.
Finally, before you go, if you’re headed to a state or national park, call the local DNR or check the website for any specific pet-related requirements like leash length or trail restrictions to make sure you have a solid plan that follows the rules. Plus, you want to find out if there are any specific hazards that might affect your dog; for instance, blue-green algae can be in water sources and may be fatal to your pup.
What to Bring
The packing list for backpackers vs. tent campers differs a ton, especially if you’re at a campground that allows you to park nearby. For instance, you might just stow your pup’s regular food in a kibble carrier and be good to go at your campsite. For backpackers, you need something lighter, like dehydrated food, that you or your dog can haul without much added weight.
Otherwise, everyone needs enough food and water for the duration, plus a little extra to be safe. Your dog’s gear should be practical and safety-focused: a harness and leash, a zip line for the campsite, pickup bags (yep, leave no trace!), and something for your dog to do to unwind at the campsite, like a solid chew toy. Anything else needs to be terrain and weather-dependent, like coats or life jackets, boots or cooling vests, and so on.
Behaviors to Focus On
The last thing you want is a rambunctious pup chewing a hole through your tent! Or eating random trail poop (it happens on every trail), picking up sticks to chomp, chasing wildlife, or any number of other unsafe behaviors…
Teach a solid “leave it” cue to your dog that can be used as an all-purpose way of saying, “stop that dangerous behavior!” Practice with all kinds of distractions like trash, food, noises, your camping gear, or anything else that might help “trail-proof” the leave it.
If there are any approved off-leash areas and your dog does well without a leash, you want a rock-solid “come” cue that your dog reliably responds to, even with big-time outdoor distractions. Quick tip: I use a specific two-note whistle for my dog, Cooper, because it’s unique to just us and because he can hear it through other distracting sounds.
Bring a first-aid kit that does double duty for you and your pup. That means self-adhesive bandages that don’t get caught in fur instead of sticky bandages, a tick key, and antibacterial ointment, at the minimum. You should both wear reflective gear and tote more water than you both expect to drink. Follow leash laws, of course, and stay on marked trails--for your safety, your dog’s safety, and for the wildlife.