Guide to Camping With a Dog

Camping is one of our favourite summer activities. Even more so now that we can share the experience with Shiva. We’ve learned a few things over the last couple years – mostly what NOT to do – that help make the adventure more fun for us all. Since I am so kind, I thought I should dispense some of this knowledge and prevent others from learning it the hard way.

Please note, Shiva now has her own chair. She is very grateful to those who campaigned on her behalf.

1. Book Ahead

If you can, call. Our provincial parks have this nifty online reservation service but unless you know the park really well, you could end up with an open sight right next to the showers. What looks like an isolated, well-treed spot on the park map could actually be the least desirable site in the park. We have had great success asking for private sites with lots of trees. The extra space is great when you have a dog who barks at strangers.

2. Get as long a tie-out cable and as strong a stake as possible

I hate having to tie up my dog as it can create frustration and reactivity. But rules are rules. I don’t want to be the irresponsible owner whose dog runs wild through the park, ruining it for everyone else. Shiva’s line is about twenty feet long. I want to be sure she can get to all of the places in the campsite that we can so she doesn’t feel restrained. We also make sure to locate the stake far enough back to prevent her from reaching the road.  Expect to spend a lot of time untangling the line. Expect the tent to fall over at least once per hour.

Furthermore, it’s a good idea to make sure the ground in which you plant the stake is dry. Otherwise you end up with this:

And your dog on the road sniffing a miniature Schnauzer.

3. Stick to Your Dog’s Routine as Much as Possible

As we all know, routine is crucial to a dog’s sanity. Camping is incredibly stimulating for a dog that is used to living indoors in the city. There are hundreds of new smells and sounds and it can be difficult for a dog to adjust. If you normally walk your dog at a certain time of day, try to do the same when you are camping. Keep feeding times as similar as possible. Also, try to keep the rules the same. What you don’t allow at home, such as jumping on furniture or begging, don’t allow when you are camping.

4. Bring Along Familiar Objects

To go along with number three, I think it is crucial to bring along your dog’s favourite toys and blankets. If you have a crate or a dog bed that is suitable for the outdoors, bring those as well. You want to make sure your dog feels safe in such a brand new environment. Shiva has a very difficult time relaxing in new situations. She spends most of the time on high-alert. We try to help her with this by bringing her bed and creating a space for her to retreat if she feels overwhelmed.

5. Keep You Dog Busy – And Out of Trouble!

There is a lot to do when you first pull in to a campsite. There is the tent to set up, the firewood to chop, the air mattress to blow up. None of these activities are very dog-oriented. Because we like to get all the work done quickly so we can relax, the first forty-five minutes often leave Shiva to her own devices. A dangerous concept.

The Nina Otosson Pyramid is one of Shiva’s favourite toys. Because it is so loud on our laminate floors she doesn’t often get to play with it at home. It is perfect for camping and keeps her busy while we do other things. It also prevents her from freaking out at all the new distractions.

My PH is starting the campfire while Shiva is blissfully unaware there is something dangerous she can get into

6. Always Bring Extra Water

All campgrounds have water pumps available. But you never know how close they will be to your site. If your dog is anything like Shiva, he will probably knock over his water at every opportunity. It can be a pain to have to walk across the campground every twenty minutes.

Another thing you might want extras of: poop bags. It may just be our dog but Shiva gets into a whole bunch of disgusting things while sniffing the forest. The results aren’t always pretty.

7. Plan Activities For You and Your Dog to Enjoy

I am sure this can go without saying but so often I have seen dogs left alone at their campsites while their people are off visiting friends or having fun in town. It breaks my heart. We go camping to spend time outdoors doing something new. Having our dog with us adds to the fun. But if you are going to be too busy with friends or visiting dog-unfriendly attractions, it might be best to leave your dog at home or in a kennel. She will probably be much happier.

Did I leave anything out? If you have any camping tips you’d like to share, please feel free to add them in the comments!

23 thoughts on “Guide to Camping With a Dog

  1. Very great tips. I can vouch for them personally.

    We, however, haven’t had good luck exploring campsite info by calling a park. They just refer us to the reservation site. Instead, we bought a book for our region called “The Best in Tent Camping” that has the kind of detailed info you suggested is helpful about choosing a spot. I suspect most Canadians and Americans can find a comparable book.

    I’d also suggest a temporary tag with your campsite number on it in case you have an escape. Stiff cardboard with a hole punched and reinforced would probably do fine for a weekend.

    I hope your post encourages others to camp with their dogs. It’s one of the best dog friendly vacations ever!

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  2. Those are great tips! We hope to go camping at some point in time and bring the Newfs along! Thanks for the water tip…I would not of thought about that one!

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  3. Camping with the pups is so much fun! Especially now that we have learned some basic rules to keep them calm and happy.

    When we go camping in the summer, we basically commit to spending 24 hours a day with the dogs–since they can’t safely stay in the van when we go into town.

    I do find that going for a nice walk or swim to tire out the pups when first arriving at the campsite, or on the way, makes for calmer setup times. And a good, tiring romp before bedtime is essential for the vigilant dog who would otherwise bark all night at adjacent campers’ every move!

    We sleep in our van, and on a hot night Lamar will keep us up all night with his panting. We sometimes get air by leaving the van doors open, and tying a leashed Fozzie to the handle on the passenger’s seat. If he’s tired enough, he doesn’t mind one bit 🙂

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  4. We have only actually had Delilah in a tent once and that was enough for me, I’m just not the tenting type anymore.

    One thing I might suggest is a portable fan that runs on batteries, this will help cut down on unfamilar noises. We picked up a 12′ fan that runs on batteries and you can hang it inside the tent. It was less than $20.

    Glad you have something you enjoy and share with Shiva.

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  5. Sophie has been camping with us a few times. She has her own sleeping bag but prefers to sleep on top of one of us. The only thing I would add is make sure to have a first aid kit for the dogs in addition to the human first aid kit.

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  6. Great tips!

    For #2″: Instead of using a stake, a dummy line is a great option we use for Hooch the Pitbull, as he seems to be a frequent houseguest when camping trips are planned. We just tie a line from one tree to another across the campsite, and clip him to it – saves the constant untangling if the line is on the ground (doesn’t eliminate it, but definitely reduces it). You just have to make sure your dummy line is high enough so you don’t clothesline any human campers! Ha.

    On point #7, not only is it sad to see dogs left alone at campsites while their people are out having fun, it’s often against campsite rules. I don’t think we’ve ever been to any “car camping” (vs. backcountry) location that allows dogs to be left unattended.

    And here’s one to add as #8, for any raw feeders out there: There are some great dehydrated raw food options for your dog, which definitely beats packing frozen raw food while camping. And for anyone who is backcountry camping, it’s very light to carry on a 10+k hike-in (lighter than kibble, even!). Just add water and, depending on the brand, you dog’s meal will be ready in 5-25 minutes.

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  7. great guide 🙂
    as an alternative to your stake – we hung a line crossways across our site, looped high-ish in two trees, and attached the long-line to it using a carabiner. we had a short leash for going places with Gwynn. But when he was in the site, his leash got less tangled because a large portion of it was suspended and running along a line, and he had freedom in the site, though also nowhere near the road.

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  8. Those are great tips. I think most dogs would just love camping. Kelly goes camping but we stay in a cabin, so it’s not really roughing it. I’d also say be sure to have up to date ID on your dog’s collar. And also maybe a dog first aid kit for any emergencies.

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  9. I grew up camping with my family. I don’t camp; my adult definition of camping is a nice, pet-friendly motel with lots of grass. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed your post and wish all campers the best. Someday, I may retire to an RV with all the amenities…..HA.

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  10. These are all great tips. We don’t camp these days, but we spend so much time outside at hunt tests, sometimes it feels like we are camping…lol. Extra water is a great idea. We usually travel with lots of water since a change in water can lead to unpleasant results which go along with your tip of bringing extra waste bags. 🙂

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  11. We used to love camping with Cali!! (now we are ALL too old to sleep on the ground!) Her first camping trip was a disaster (actually, we never made it to the campground . . .we got lost, got a flat tire, and turned around and went home!)

    When we finally did make it to our first camping trip we spent $15 on things for her to chew on . . she chewed on the firewood 😉 Silly, right?

    I love the fact that Shiva has her own chair 🙂 Too cute . . makes me want to dig out the pictures of Cali camping!

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  12. Bringing along Shiva’s favorite Nina Otosson toy is a great idea. Since our dogs get bored just hanging around the campsite we take plenty of bully sticks and goodies to stuff in their KONG toys. Keeping them busy means they often don’t even notice other dogs walking by, which results in a lot less barking and a lot more relaxing.

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  13. bring dog friendly mosquite repellant – we use listerine mouth wash to spray the dog – just cover their eyes –

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  14. Great tips! When we are setting up we tend to leave the dogs in the car so that they don’t get into trouble. We don’t tie Barbie out because she can slip any collar or harness we put on her if she has a solid point to pull against, I either keep her tied to me or in the shed or in the car 😉

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  15. I’m not much of a camper, but I think you have some great suggestions! Another reason we take water from home is that sometimes our dogs won’t drink water from strange places. Having a long line for hiking is really handy, too, since we don’t let our dogs off leash, and most places around here require it anyway.

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  16. I was going to mention to bring a “doggie” chair, but I see that Shiva already has one! If I didn’t bring jersey’s chair along, I think that she would pee in our sleeping bags.

    Bringing along extra towels for drying off is handy if everyone is going for a dip in the lake.

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  17. We are not a camping “family” but I have one child who LOVES it, and a sister-in-law with all the accoutremonts, including a dining tent and a battery-powered milk frother. If we take the dog camping, we have to leave the province, as our province does not allow dogs in provincial parks, where the best campsites are. We didn’t go this summer, but maybe next we’ll take him along, and I’ll be sure to bring this list too!

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  18. Between your list and all the great suggestions in the comments I think you’ve got everything covered! I particularly like the one about using Listerine Mouth Wash!

    I’m not a camper, I like my home comforts too much. I’m sure Frankie would love camping though. I’d like a self contained motor home for us to travel around in … but I don’t want to drive one, lol. Looks like my travelling is going to continue being via blogs and TV!

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  19. I love the fact that Shiva has her own chair Too cute . And here’s one to add as #8, for any raw feeders out there: There are some great dehydrated raw food options for your dog, which definitely beats packing frozen raw food while camping.

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