We love our pets. They are a part of the family and leaving them at home when you go on vacations can have you end up feeling guilty. There is one type of vacation that dogs are welcomed and sometimes even encouraged: Camping. Camping and hiking trips are made that much better with our furry friends bounding along on the adventure. On public lands though, there are different sets of rules depending on the destination. Dogs are often welcome on developed campgrounds and hiking trails, however, backcountry may have different regulations than what you expect! Before you camp with your dog, make sure to do the proper research and make it an enjoyable trip for all.
Is my dog ready for this kind of trip?
Before you even consider a camping trip with your dog, be honest with yourself, is your dog prepared for this kind of trip? There is no shame leaving Fido with a responsible friend or family member. Some dogs are either the wrong breed or not properly trained to be taken out into the wilderness.
Not all dogs of one breed are the same. You cannot generalize a dog's temperament based on their typical "breed behavior". The common trope against pit bulls is the prime example. One of the gentlest and most good natured dogs I have ever met was a 4 year old pit bull. That being said, not all parks feel that way. It is important to check and make sure that the breed of your dog is allowed where you are going. Sometimes they will not allow "aggressive breeds" which unfortunately often includes pit bulls. This is especially true in any private parks!
What type of camping will you be doing? Will there be a lot of sitting around a campfire and talking, or is your group planning on doing lots of hiking, biking, and swimming? Make sure to take your dog into the equation. A 10 year old english bulldog is probably not realistically going to be able to keep up on a high activity trip. If your pup is coming along, plan to match your activity level to what they will be able to handle. If the type of trip is not something your dog would realistically enjoy, it may be a good idea to look for a dog sitter.
Does your dog respond to basic commands? This is a very important question to be honest on. If your dog is in danger or is starting to venture off too far, it needs to quickly respond to commands. There is an endless list of commands for your dog to know, but some critical ones are:
Come: The dog needs to come back when asked to
Sit: Sit down and stay still until I say it is okay otherwise (lay down is also good but not as necessary in my opinion).
Drop it: If the dog has something in its mouth, it needs to release it on command.
Okay/Alright: All good, you can continue as before.
This is a short list of the MOST necessary commands that need regular responses. Other ones would be nice to have. If your dog does not very regularly respond to these commands, it may be time for a brush up lesson before your trip so it does not endanger itself or others.
Where is my dog allowed?
There are different regulations depending on where you go. While this guide is a good place to start, always make sure to double check with the specific park or camp area you are visiting to see the regulations. The last thing you want is to have to turn around with a disappointed family and pet in tow!
There are very few National Parks that will not allow you to visit with your dog. Any developed areas or lodging is typically fair game for any of our pets. However, they also do not want you to leave your dog alone on a campsite. It has to stay by your side at all times while you are at the national park.
It becomes a little dicier if you intend on going deep into the backcountry. You can often not camp in the backcountry with dogs. There are very few, if any, exceptions to this rule. It is important to follow this because these rules are in place to protect certain species that your dog may intentionally or unintentionally disturb or harm. Make sure if you intend on backpacking or heading into more rugged territory that you check with your park and see the regulations. If you are unsure, check out this National Park Service map to see what your park’s rules are!
The rule is almost the same as with National Parks. Dogs are almost always fair game in any developed campground and hiking territory, it is only when you head into the backcountry that regulations prevent it.
Many State Parks feature beaches which can be fun for the whole family, except your dog. This can vary by state and it is important to check, but it may be best to leave your furry friend at home. A good rule of thumb to think about if you are unsure whether or not it is allowed: dogs are welcome where cars are welcome. Campgrounds and some hiking trails are fair game, beaches and backcountry are probably off limits.
Top tips for camping or hiking with your dog
So, you have found a good campsite or camp area that will allow your dog. How do you actually go about preparing to bring them there?
Book a pre-trip vet visit
Once you have officially secured your site or route, take your dog to the vet for a checkup. This is especially important if it has been a while since the last visit. While at the appointment, ask your vet specific questions about the location you are heading to see if there are any known risks. The vet will make sure your dog is healthy enough for the trip. You should also ensure that they check if your dog’s flea and tick medication is up to date, as there will most likely be a lot more where you are headed!
Have pet specific medical supplies
It is always important to think ahead and prepared when camping or hiking. When a pet comes along on the trip, it requires extra preparation. Pet first aid kits can be bought at nearly every pet store and are an essential piece of your toolkit. There may be a lot of overlap with human first aid kits, but it is important to have the pet specific first aid book to show how to deal with emergency situations that will differ with your pet compared to humans.
Bring a tether and stake
Many dogs are comfortable and well behaved off of a leash. You would be able to trust them to not run off or cause trouble. However, many campgrounds and camp areas require dogs to be secured to the campsite. You will not want to be holding a leash for the entire duration of your stay, and you will not want to tie your dog down with a standard 4-6ft leash. You can find long leashes anywhere from 15-50 ft long. It is going to depend on how big your camp area is, but a 20-30 foot long leash should be enough room for your dog to move without letting it get too far off.
Decide where they will sleep
Where will your dog sleep? In your tent or your car? There is likely to be wildlife roaming about at night, and often, camp rules require that the dog sleeps with its owner. It is very important because leaving your dog outside could be dangerous for it, and the last thing you want is for them to have a run-in with a skunk!
Bring collapsible water and food bowls
Picking out easily carried water and food bowls is a great idea for camping and hiking. It is convenient for you as well as makes it easier for your dog to eat or drink out of as opposed to any make-shift dishes. There is a wide range of great options. I normally only bring one dish and it doubles for both a food and water dish, though every dog is different!
Don’t forget pick-up bags
Please apply the leave no trace principles to your dog as well. Bring bags to pick up their poop and keep the area clean for the next visitors. It makes it a more enjoyable experience for all and leaves the least amount of impact on the environment.
Camping with your dog
Bringing your dog while camping is a very rewarding experience! Like all things, it is important to think ahead and prepare, but your furry friend will love to be a part of the adventure.