Camping with your dog

Most dogs love exploring the outdoors and sleeping under the stars. If you’re planning to bring your dog camping, follow these tips for a fun, successful experience.

I’m sitting on the ground with my back against a huge redwood tree. My American shepherd, Bashir, is by my side. The woods around us smell damp and although I can also smell some of the plants, I know he’s smelling much more because his nose is twitching vigorously as he inhales. About 30 feet behind us, the river is burbling as it moves over smooth, water polished stones. Overhead, through the treetops, I see a deep blue sky. Ahhh! I don’t think there is anything more peaceful.

My husband and I both grew up in families that went camping two or three times every summer and now, years later, we still enjoy camping. We’ve camped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the California coastal redwoods, the mountains of Arizona, the hills of North Carolina, the beaches of southern California, and the plains of the Dakotas. We share our joy of being outside with our dogs, and a huge part of our camping fun is watching our dogs’ reaction to the world around them.

Last year, we took Bashir for his first camping trip to the beach. He’s a well traveled dog, but had never been to the beach before. The sand was okay, and the dried seaweed got a good sniff, but he wasn’t sure about the waves. The first wave that wet his paws caused him to jump backwards about 20 feet, and I’m sorry to say, we did laugh at him. But over the course of an hour or so he got braver. Of course, I’m sure the fact that the older dogs were splashing in the water, retrieving thrown sticks, and just generally having a great time also gave him some confidence. Before we went back to our campgrounds that day, Bashir was thoroughly wet and sandy and very proud of himself.

Ahead of time

Taking your dog camping will require some advance planning. First of all, not all campgrounds allow dogs and those that do often require reservations made well ahead of time. The internet is a great resource; find the campground you would like to visit and find out if it allows dogs and what their rules are – is a good resource. In addition, the American Automobile Association offers books with information on hotels, motels and campgrounds, and lists those that allow animals.

Once you have reservations, it’s time to get your dog ready. Brush up on his training skills. Does he walk nicely on the leash? He will spend most of the camping trip on leash and if he’s constantly pulling, yanking and jerking you’re not going to enjoy his company at all. Does he come when called every single time? He needs to or he may end up lost in the campgrounds or woods. If you need some help, enroll in a dog training class prior to your trip.

Tell your vet where you will be camping and ask if your dog will need anything in preparation. Depending on where you’re going, the vet may recommend a Lyme disease vaccine or heartworm medication.

Pack for your dog

Your dog won’t need as many supplies as you will, but he does need some essential items. First of all, make sure he has a secure collar with identification on it. That should include the cell phone number you will be bringing with you; not your home number.

He will need a walking leash and a longer leash so you can give him room to explore and play yet also keep him safe. Don’t forget a couple of toys. Grooming supplies are a good idea too, including a brush, comb, natural insect repellent and a few towels in case he gets wet. A first aid kit is also a necessity. Make sure it contains bandage materials, scissors and tweezers. Bring enough of your dog’s regular food for the number of days you’ll be gone, plus a couple of extra days’ worth or some healthy treats. This will cover his meals in case your trip is extended, but your dog may also be hungrier than normal because he’s getting more exercise. If your dog has a sensitive gastrointestinal system, bring his water from home too.

While camping

• Take things slowly the first day at the campground. Give your dog a chance to adapt, see where he is, and what’s going on. Our dogs are experienced travelers but we still plan hiking trips, sight-seeing adventures and other explorations for later in the trip. The first day or two is for relaxing and getting used to the campground. This is especially important if you’re camping in the mountains. Let your dog get used to the altitude. Slow gentle walks are good for both of you.

• Make sure the two of you drink plenty of water, so you don’t dehydrate.

• Camping is great fun for dogs and people as long as the dogs are not allowed to disturb other campers. Keep your dog within your camping site unless you’re going for a walk. Don’t allow him to bark either. If he likes to bark while playing, take him away from the camping area to play.

• Don’t leave uneaten dog food around the campground; it will attract wildlife. On our last camping trip, our campground neighbors left out dog food and ended up begin visited by a gang of very destructive raccoons in the middle of the night. They not only ate the food, but tore up the camping chairs and made a huge mess. Before it gets dark, make sure you pick up uneaten dog food, toys and all your own belongings too. A clean camp is always best.

• Bring a supply of doggy cleanup bags, pick up after your dog, and dispose of it in a trash container. Don’t leave feces wherever they are deposited by the dog; even in the woods they are not natural. Instead, pick them up and dispose of them properly.

• While camping with your dog, please observe all the posted rules – and the rules of common courtesy. Be considerate and kind. It only takes one or two people who don’t observe the rules for those rules to change. I enjoy camping with my dogs and don’t want to see more campgrounds saying, “Sorry. No dogs allowed!”

Camping with your dog does away with the worry of finding someone to look after your companion while you’re on vacation. It’s also a great bonding experience – spending time together means you’ll both enjoy the summer more!


Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and a Certified Behavioral Consultant. She teaches dogs and their people through Kindred Spirits Canine Education Center in Vista, California ( She is also an award-winning writer with more than 55 books to her credit, such as The Ultimate Dog Treat Cookbook and The Howell Book of Dogs.