We can all agree that dogs are awesome, right? Yes? Good. If dogs are awesome in general, then adventure dogs are even better. A well-trained canine sidekick is an outdoor lover’s best friend.
Camping with your dog introduces a new set of rules, not to mention additional planning and preparation. We asked the experts at Purina and performance dog gear company Ruffwear for tips on how to enjoy the great outdoors safely and responsibly with a pup in tow. Here’s what we learned.
Before the Trip
“Know your dog,” said Scott Werner, brand manager for Purina. “Be familiar with their fitness level when planning activities for your trip.” If you plan to go backpacking, for example, you may need to use a gradual training program to get them accustomed to longer distances.
“Know the rules,” added Dani Reese, social media and ambassador coordinator for Ruffwear. “Familiarize yourself with the regulations concerning dogs in the area you’ll be exploring.” Call the park office, check the website, Google “dogs in [enter destination]”. Do whatever it takes to determine the do’s and don’ts with dogs in that particular area.
Visit your vet. Make sure your dog is up to date on flea and tick medication, protected from heartworm, etc. Ask about a specialized first-aid kit for your pup.
Training is essential. “Good recall, basic obedience, and manners like ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ will help keep your canine companion safe,” said Reese.
Pack accordingly. “If your dog has a lighter coat or it’s going to be wet or chilly, a rain jacket or fleece may be necessary,” Reese said. (Check out ruffwear.com for a wide selection of canine gear.) If you want your dog to wear a pack or boots, familiarize them with these items before the trip. Bring an extra towel; you’ll need it at some point.
Extra water is critical, especially if the forecast calls for hot or dry conditions. Food considerations are also important: “Higher activity demands food that will replenish the dog’s nutrients,” said Werner. He recommends upping the protein and fat content of your dog’s food prior to and during the trip. (Purina’s website has a tool for finding the right food for your dog at purina.com/pro-plan/myplan.
In the Wild
In addition to following the seven Leave No Trace principles — plan ahead; travel/camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste properly; leave what you find; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildlife; and be considerate of others — there are ways to maximize the enjoyment of camping with your dog.
“Arrive early to allow your dog plenty of time to inspect it’s new surroundings,” said Werner. Dogs are excited by new places, and extra time to explore the campsite will help it settle in.
“Keep your pup on a leash when at the campsite,” said Reese. Being on-leash prevents your dog from wandering off or bothering other campers.
“Follow the rules,” added Werner. “Leash rules, dog-restricted trails, etcetera. These rules are aimed at ensuring the safety of your pet.” Leash rules protect your dog as well as other hikers and local wildlife. Dog-restricted trails may have dangerous technical sections or resident wildlife populations.
Plan on your dog being your constant companion — in other words, no leaving it at camp or in the car. “There are too many variables when it comes to leaving a dog unattended,” said Reese. “If you plan on hiking where your dog isn’t permitted, it’s best to leave them at home.”
Watch for signs of distress. “Dogs will go, go, go. Keep an eye on them before, during, and after activities,” said Werner. Whimpering, abnormally heavy panting, limping, a reluctance to walk on certain surfaces…these are all things to watch for.
Leave No Trace principles apply to your dog and your dog’s doo-doo, too. “The Center for Disease Control states one day’s worth of dog waste can contain several billion fecal bacteria along with Giardia, hookworm, and tapeworms. It can be harmful to other wildlife and humans,” warned Reese.
Carry all waste out, or, if necessary, follow the same guidelines that apply to humans: bury waste in a 6- to 8-inch-deep hole, 200 feet from trails, campsites, and water sources.
Keep your dog in the tent at night. “Leaving a dog outside exposes it to wildlife and an unfamiliar environment,” said Werner. Inside the tent, Reese recommends separate sleeping spaces. “Dog sleeping bags, a portable bed, a comfy duvet — create a cozy place for your dog to curl up without cramping your sleeping style.”
Also worth noting: “Sleeping bags, pads, and pillows are no match for sharp teeth. Bringing a favorite chew toy to occupy them can help save your gear,” said Reese.
After the Trip
Once you’ve returned home, thoroughly inspect your dog for ticks, look for any scrapes or cuts on their paws, and monitor their behavior and bowel movements for the next several days. If you see anything that seems out of the ordinary, schedule an appointment with your vet.
Like anything, practice makes perfect, so take what you learned on your last canine camping trip and tweak behaviors, gear, and training — both for you and your dog. Chances are, with a few adjustments, you’ll be planning your next canine caper in no time.
Author: Nick Tilley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Images: Courtesy of Ruffwear.