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rec.pets.dogs: Canine Activities: Camping with Your Dog FAQ

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Archive-name: dogs-faq/activities/camping

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Last-modified: 27 May 1997

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This article is Copyright 1996 by the Author(s) listed below. 
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
alteration provided that this copyright notice is not removed.  
It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
than the URL listed above without the permission of the Author(s).  
This article may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in other 
documents without he Author(s)'s permission and is provided "as is" 
without express or implied warranty.

        Posted November 25, 1996
        Revised with new information as of April 1, 1997
   Please carefully read the disclaimer at the end of this document.
   In addition to my own experiences camping with my two dogs, this page
   uses material from the excellent Web site Hiking/Backpacking with
   Canines, authored and maintained by Terri Watson. I have prepared this
   page as a companion piece to hers.
                          Camping with Your Dog(s)
   Camping with a canine companion can be a joyous experience for both
   owner and dog. Just as with hiking, dogs can "point out" interesting
   features or animals that their people might otherwise overlook. And a
   dog is thrilled at the new smells and sites of a camp site.
   Unlike hiking with your dog, your dog does not have to be in the best
   physical shape to go camping with you, and you can take more supplies
   with you in your vehicle than you can when hiking.
  Table of Contents
     * Who Can Participate?
     * Preparations 
     * Equipment
     * Where to Camp?
     * Heat Exhaustion or Stroke 
     * Scoop It or Else
     * Winter parking lot danger
     * Be Nice and Help Us All Out
     * Other Resources
  Who Can Participate?
   Most people who can go camping without a dog can go camping with one.
   The additional constraints are that you must be (1) physically able to
   restrain your dog (or dogs) in the presence of distractions, such
   deer, squirrels, and rabbits, and (2) responsible enough to prevent
   the dog from being a nuisance to other campers or animals. This
   includes picking up after your pet -- many a campsite is made
   disgusting because of inconsiderate dog owners.
   If you are going to camp with a dog (or dogs), it is important that
   the dog(s) is(are) well-behaved around other people (both adults and
   children) and animals. Camping is a relaxing time - fellow campers may
   have just finished a long day of hiking or driving. While a campsite
   may be lively during the day, once night falls, it's time to settle
   down. Your dog will need to understand when playtime is over, and how
   to be quiet (no barking!). If your dog has never been to dog school,
   it's never too late to start. The cost is minimal and it will make you
   a better, more responsive dog owner, as well as a better camper with a
   On her Hiking/Backpacking with Canines page, Terri Watson makes this
   excellent point: "Good canine manners will go a long way towards
   creating good will and increased tolerance of canine presence. Know
   your dog. Be aware of what situations may make him act strangely or
   provoke an aggressive or defensive reaction. Then prevent these
   situations or, if unavoidable, be prepared to deal appropriately with
   them. You should never take a dog out on the trail if you feel there
   is any chance of someone being injured by him."
   _Dog-Aggressive Dogs_
   I have a lovely Australian shepherd mix, Wiley, as well as a cuddly
   Beagle/Basset Hound mix, Buster. Both dogs have great affection for
   people, particularly children, but Wiley hates most dogs with a
   passion, and will usually attack another dog upon sight. It's not easy
   camping with such a dog, but it can be done, through a great deal of
   caution, sensitivity to surroundings and responsibility on the part of
   the owner. I'll have notes throughout this guide on how I do it. If
   you have a dog-aggressive dog and don't think you can do all of the
   precautions I mention, I strongly urge you NOT to go camping with your
     * _Vaccinations and License_
       It is of absolute importance that your dog's vaccinations be
       up-to-date, as dogs often encounter unvaccinated animals while
       camping. Dog licenses should also be current. Also ask your vet
       about the areas where you will be camping, as some carry
       additional health risks for dogs and may warrant additional
       precautions. For instance, when I went across country with my dogs
       in May 1996, from California to North Carolina and back, I
       informed my vet of my travel plans, and he switched my dogs to a
       stronger heartworm medication for the trip.
     * _Physical Demands_
       While camping with your dog is not nearly as physically-demanding
       as hiking, for many dogs, camping will mean some increase in
       physical activity, however slight; there will be more
       opportunities for walking, running and exploring than are usually
       found in their day-to-day routine, and the terrain may be a little
       more challenging. A visit to the veterinarian to evaluate general
       health is a good idea before your dog camps for the first time.
       See the appropriate section on Hiking/Backpacking with Canines
       page for more information on evaluating your dog's physical shape.
     * _Training_
       No matter how well-behaved you think your dog is, it is both
       impolite and dangerous to other campers not to have your dog
       somehow restrained at all times. Your friendly, unleashed dog
       could wander into a campsite where there is a dog-aggressive dog
       (like mine), or a dog-aggressive person (yes, there are such
       people), and the results can be disastrous and even deadly. Don't
       chance it -- keep your dog leashed.
     * _Notify a Friend, and Sometimes, a Ranger_
       This isn't a tip for camping with your dog -- it's a tip for
       camping in general, and it's too important to exclude from this
       tip sheet: let someone know what your travel plans are. If you are
       entering BLM land (Bureau of Land Management Land) to camp, it's
       also a good idea to let the nearest ranger station know you are
       going in, particularly if you are alone. You may be more at risk
       for adverse encounters with wildlife or people when you're on your
       own. A cellular phone can provide some measure of security, but
       don't rely on it; coverage is not the best in many areas and
       technology is never perfect (batteries die, phones get dropped and
       break, etc.). Also make arrangements to check in with a friend
       upon your return, and let them know when that is supposed to
       happen; the check-in is essential because, if you often forget to
       check back with them when you get home, then when you're really in
       trouble it may take an extra day for them to realize that there's
       a problem and notify searchers.
     * _Dog identification tags_
       The s-hook-style attachments on collars for tags often fail. Use a
       small keyring to hold tags instead. There are also collars that
       allow tags to be fastened flat against the collar.
       In addition, consider having a data chip implanted in your dog;
       many veterinarians and animal shelters, even in rural areas, have
       scanners that will pick up this chip. The chip provides
       identification for the dog, as well as license and vaccination
       information. There are different brands of microchips that require
       different scanners (readers), so make sure that the shelters in
       your area have scanners for the chip you are going to have
       implanted. I got both my dogs "microchiped", then moved to a new
       city and got a new vet who used a different microchip; she used
       her brand of scanner to see if my chip would show up; it did,
       although not all of the information was readable. Still, as she
       pointed out, a shelter or vet with a scanner would at least know
       if the dog was owned by someone, even if the chip information
       wasn't readable.
       I don't recommend tattoos, as they are often hard (if not
       impossible) to find on the dog, and hard to interpret once they
       are found.
     * _leash_
       Be certain before setting out that you have a leash, snap, collar
       and buckle in good condition and will not break if the dog
       suddenly lunges. Carrying an additional collar and leash is a good
       idea in case of loss or breakage. I bring two leashes per dog --
       one style is a tough, thick leather leash, used when any other
       dogs are around, because it's the only kind strong enough to
       retain my dog-aggressive Australian Shepherd in such scenarios;
       the other style is the retractable kind, which is an excellent
       leash for when there are no other dogs around, and my dogs want to
       explore more freely.
     * _tether_
       Using the leather leash and a specially-designed tether that
       fastens around a tree, a picnic table leg, my truck's back tire,
       etc., I can create a really long restraint that allows my dogs
       total freedom within our campsite. If you have two dogs,tether
       them far apart -- just close enough so that they can be
       side-by-side only at the end of both restraints -- otherwise, dog
       tangles occur.
     * _harness (for the seatbelt)_
       You may be a wonderful driver, but many people aren't. Plus,
       driving on poor and/or curvy roads can send your dog all over the
       insides of the car, if not through the windshield. I put my dogs
       each in a dog body harness, then run a seatbelt through the
       harness. They can sit or laydown, and are quite comfortable, but
       can't be thrown around the car. It also keeps them in the back
       seat, which is the coolest place in the truck, when I have to run
       into a store or something.
       If you have a truck with a bed and don't allow your dog in the cab
       (which, in my opinion, is ridiculous, but if you insist...),
       please purchase a dog carrier and put your dog in it (the carrier
       should offer your dog just enough room to stand up and turn around
       in, but no more). Dogs die from falling or jumping out of the bed
       of a truck, from being thrown against the cab during a sudden
       stop; even leashing them to something in the bed of the truck is
       no protection, as dogs have also hung themselves while trying to
       jump out. A dog carrier is the only humane way to travel with your
       dog in the the bed of your truck. Padding the floor, ceiling and
       sides offers even better protection.
     * _bedding_
       When the weather is cold, bedding (a blanket, an air mattress,
       etc.) will keep your dog off the cold ground. For my dogs,
       bringing their beds along is as much behavioral support as
       comfort; they believe that wherever their beds are, that's home. I
       put their beds in the back seat for the ride, and they are content
       for the whole drive. The first time they slept in a tent, I put
       the beds in there, and they relaxed in the "strange" surrounding
     * _cold protection_
       My Australian Shepherd, Wiley, with his long, thick hair, loves
       the cold; my Beagle/Basset Hound, Buster, does not. If your dog
       has thin or short hair, outfit him or her in a dog sweater (yeah,
       I hate 'em too, 'cause they make your dog look like a wuss). If
       your dog is shivering, he's either in pain or he's cold or both!
       When sleeping in the tent in cold weather, I also throw my coat
       completely over Buster, including over his head (since I'm in a
       sleeping bag, I don't need it); within just a few minutes, he's
       created a body oven, and because the coat is so big, he can stand
       up and change positions without losing his cover. Bedding also
       keeps your dog off the cold ground (see above). Give your dogs
       additional insulation by letting them curl up against you.
       One poster to a dog hiking discussion group (see below) noted that
       she sprays her dogs' feet and tummies lightly with Pam for short
       jaunts through snow; this prevents them from picking up snowballs
       in their fur, then licking and pulling snowballs for hours.
       If it's below 30 degrees, I think it's too cold for Buster and,
       therefore, we sleep in the truck or, if it's really, really too
       cold, in a motel.
     * _booties_
       Depending on the type of terrain and the dog's tendency to tear
       footpads, or if there is going to be ice on the ground at the
       campsite, consider buying some booties to protect your dog's feet.
       Hiking/Backpacking with Canines goes into great detail about what
       to look for in booties.
     * _food and water _
       Clean drinking water is a must for both you and your dog. Although
       natural water sources may be plentiful near a campsite, the water
       may be contaminated with giardia (a protozoan parasite), or
       harmful bacteria or chemicals. In areas where giardia is a problem
       you should not allow your dog to drink from streams or lakes (call
       the nearest park ranger station to find out the condition of
       streams and lakes).
       When camping, I carry a 10 gallon plastic container of water. When
       desert camping, the 10 gallon container is our only water source,
       and it's also an excellent backup should the truck break down far
       from a water source. I also carry two one-gallon jugs of water --
       one for the dogs, and one for me (I carry one for the dogs because
       they like to lick the opening while the water is coming out into
       their bowls). The dogs get water at EVERY stop we make (getting
       gas, rest area, wherever); riding in the truck seems to really dry
       them out.
       Don't be fooled by cold weather. Adequate fluid levels are
       essential for heat maintenance in both temperature extremes. Drink
       plenty of water and encourage your dog to do the same.
     * _Dog Food_
       I take two-extra days of dog meals, just in case. Whatever you use
       for food storage, it should be sturdy and water proof.
     * _Towel_
       Even if you don't think you are going to be anywhere near water,
       bring an extra towel just for the dog(s). You won't regret it.
     * _First Aid Kit_
       Your dog does not face near the risk of injury or death just
       camping with you rather than hiking/backpacking with you... but
       the risk is there, none-the-less.
       Buy a standard First Aid Kit, then enhance it with extra items
       just for the dogs (extra bandages, extra swabs, etc.). Become
       familiar with the items in your First Aid Kit and what they are
       used for.
       If your dog becomes injured, do what you can to make your dog
       comfortable and get to a vet FAST. Your goal when giving a dog
       First Aid is to stop bleeding, prevent further injury, and to calm
       the dog enough so that you can transport the dog to a vet.
       Medicating your dog is very difficult -- a dog is not a human; his
       or her system will often NOT react the same way to medication as a
       human's. Your dog's weight is also a tremendous factor when
       considering dosage. I do not suggest you try to medicate a dog
       except in the most extreme circumstances.
       These are some of the suggestions regarding first aid kits made to
       the Dog-Hike list run by Terri Watson (also the author of
       Hiking/Backpacking with Canines. Taking all of these items,
       however, might not leave no room in your vehicle for your dogs!
       How far away from a town with a vet will you be when you camp?
       Consider that when trying to judge what of the following you need
       to add to your First Aid kit:
       Cheryl Kubart,, a backcountry EMT, suggests
       adding these items (to add the doggy stuff, look in your Pet
       catalogs or ask your vet):
          + Aleeve- Malox coated aspirn (don't give regular asprin to a
            dog, except by doctor's suggestion)
          + VetWrap- sticks to fur better without pulling out hair
          + Kwik Stop or septic powder
          + Small nail scissors
          + Ear and eye oitment- in 1/8 oz tubs (a little Ottomax and
          + Maybe some skin glue if you feel confident enough to close
            SMALL wounds
          + Good tick tweezers and maybe Tick Release
          + Hemostats are great, as are needle nose pliers and lighter
            Razorblade to shave hair from an injured area
          + Butterfly bandages- wound closure strips
          + Waterproof surgical tape
          + Sam splints
          + Secta-soothe
          + Mole skin irragation needle (to flush eyes and wounds trauma
            dressing and 4 x 4 bandages)
          + Snake bite
            (although Cheryl warns, "if your dog gets bit by a ratteler
            and you are way out, give him plenty of love and affection
            because no one is going to Medflight your dog out of the
            wilderness, unless it is a certified SAR dog. Sad but true.
       Cheryl suggests staying away from the suturing and/or gluing if
       all possible. "Closing a dirty wound is a good way to get
       gangrene. The wound will have to be reopened for the vet to clean
       it out and you also have 24 hours to stitch. Shave some fur, clean
       well, and use butterfly strips."
       She adds "one more thing to remember- dogs can indure a lot more
       pain then we can - or for that matter than we can watch them go
       Other suggestions:
          + Blood stop powder
          + Tube of triple antibiotic (works great for plugging puncture
          + kotex (to absorb blood and act as a dressing)
          + suture packets (sufficient to do the job, the sutures can be
            taken out later at the vet)
          + bandana
       Enclose items in a ziplock bag to prevent immersion. Backcountry
       EMT courses also teach how to improvise things in the field, such
       as duct tape if you have no Vet Wrap.
     * _Muzzle_
       I carry a strong, cloth muzzle for Wiley, my Australian Shepherd,
       the dog-aggressive-dog. It allows him to open his mouth only
       enough to drink or have a dog treat. You shouldn't only muzzle
       your dog in the presence of other dogs, because it conditions your
       dog to begin to worry as soon as you put the muzzle on. Instead,
       put the muzzle on whenever you leash your dog; then the muzzle
       means he's going for a walk -- always a good thing in a dog's
     * _Large Empty Plastic Soda Bottle_
       Yes, you read right -- an empty plastic soda bottle (2 liters).
       Take this bottle and hit yourself in the head with it. Didn't
       hurt, but made a terrible noise, right? This is my tool to stop
       dog fights -- my dog trainer recommends it. Taking plenty of
       precautions against dog encounters, I haven't had to use it in
       over a year, but, as the owner of a dog-aggressive-dog, I always
       have it around. Even if you don't have a dog-aggressive-dog, you
       could encounter one.
       You can also carry a can of Halt!, a mild pepper-spray, the same
       stuff many letter-carriers have on their belts. It can be bought
       for under $10 in many cycling stores. Halt! has no lasting effects
       and can be washed out of the dog's eyes with water. Halt! has a
       range of only 15' or so, and if there's a wind blowing, you or
       your dog can get a "back-blast" from it if you're not careful.
     * _Other items_
       Dog comb and brush, dog toys, dog treats, and extra bags for
     * _Vehicle Heating and Cooling Systems_
       If you are going to be driving through intense heat or cold, your
       dogs will need the protection your vehicle can provide. For my
       dogs, heat is the worst of the two extremes (they are both around
       more than eight years old, and I always worry about heat
       exhaustion or heat stroke) so I make sure my air-conditioner is in
       good working order before we take off on our trip.
  Where to Camp?
   Unfortunately, uncontrolled dogs and irresponsible pet owners have
   contributed to the closing of some campsites to dogs, and sometimes
   hostile reactions by fellow campers when they see you have dogs with
   you. Always ask at the camp station if dogs are allowed in the
   campsite, and respect whatever rules the station has regarding dogs.
   Camping guidebooks usually also list dog information. Remember: your
   behavior with your dogs effects all camping for dog owners!
   I don't do much hiking with my dogs -- short walks around our
   campsites and various stops along the way are sufficient for us. But
   you might want to choose campsites in areas where you can really hike
   with your dog. Remember that dogs are not allowed on National Park or
   National Monument trails. On-leash dogs are permitted on or near the
   paved, developed areas, but that's all. National Forests often allow
   dogs on their trails, but there are exceptions, so check first. Dogs
   are usually allowed on wilderness area trails, but again, check to be
   sure. Hiking/Backpacking with Canines has a great deal of information
   on this subject.
   I love camping on Bureau of Land Management land, because there's
   usually no one else around. However, your chance of wildlife
   encounters increase, so be extra cautious of such.
   Having a dog-aggressive-dog, I make sure I leave myself plenty of
   daylight to find a campsite, allowing for the possibility of having to
   move later (either because of the dog or because the guy in the
   adjacent campsite has an RV with a generator running all night).
   If you have a dog-aggressive-dog, it is your obligation to keep the
   dog well away from other dogs. If you have to camp near other campers
   with a dog, don't hesitate to let them know, in the most friendly but
   firmest way possible, that you have a dog-aggressive-dog, and that
   while you will have this dog restrained at all times, they will need
   to do the same. Most people will respect this; if you encounter
   someone who is unfriendly or confrontational, move; reason won't work,
   and it's not worth it to try with such people.
  Heat Exhaustion or Stroke
   Heat stroke is a life threatening condition for your dog (hey, and for
   you too) and you should be able to recognize the warning signs and
   know how to prevent it. Even on a cooler day, if it is very sunny, and
   your dog is working hard or is a dark-coated breed, they can get
   overheated. It can be as big a threat to a dog while camping as
   disease or animal attack.
   Watch your dog for signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. Particularly,
   unusually rapid panting, and/or a bright red tongue or mucous
   membranes. The dog's primary mechanism for cooling off is through
   panting. Since this cooling process uses evaporation the dog will
   require more water when he is panting heavily. Shorter-nosed breeds
   (eg, Bulldogs, Pugs) may have a less efficient heat exchange rate, so
   should be watched especially closely.
   Check with your vet for the best ways to cool down an overheated dog.
   There are also excellent suggestions on the Hiking/Backpacking with
   Canines page.
  Scoop It or Else
   Always pick up after your dog in a campsite -- dog waste is not the
   same as other animal waste, even that of wolves or coyotes. It is bad
   for the environment, particularly near water sources, and most
   bothersome to other campers.
  Winter parking lot danger
   John Conrard,, cautions:
   When going on winter hikes with your dog, keep a keen eye out for
       puddles of Antifreeze in the parking area that your dog could get
       into. There is a habit for some people to top off there antifreeze
       in the sno parks and spill, or have there car boil over leaving
       deadly puddles of antifreeze. All it takes is little bit, not even
       a table spoon. A musher in our club lost two dogs to this scenario
       last year. Even if your dog takes a lick and shows no immediate
       signs of problems TAKE THEM TO THE VET!!
  Be Nice and Help Us All Out
   Be friendly and courteous to other people in the campsite.
   Responsible, educated dog owners that bring their pets with them
   camping leave a positive impression on others, making it easier for
   the dog owners who follow you.
  Other Resources
   Please see Hiking/Backpacking with Canines, for outstanding
   information on hiking with a dog, as well as information on clubs that
   organize canine hiking outings, and additional reading.
   Members of the _rec.pets.dogs newsgroups_ compile and maintain an
   excellent FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions and their answers) that
   cover selecting a dog, choosing a dog or puppy, health care issues,
   canine medication information (including canine epilepsy and genetic
   diseases), training, behavior, discipline, and canine clubs. This FAQ
   is also available via the newsgroup (only the FAQs
   are posted to this newsgroup; you can read, but not post to, this
   A great place to purchase hiking gear for dogs, as well as other
   equipment, is:
   _Disclaimer _
   Hiking, camping and backpacking are potentially dangerous activities.
   The author of this document is not an instructor or an authority in
   any of these areas, or in veterinary science, or in the area of dog
   training in general. You are responsible for the health, welfare and
   actions of your canine companion. This document is the author's
   attempt to pass on information she wished she had had before she
   camped with her dogs the first time. The information is gathered from
   her personal experience as well as items heard from others, not all of
   which has she experienced firsthand. In other words, some of the
   content in this document is strictly hearsay. You should always check
   with your veterinarian and/or other experts when you are beyond your
   own area of expertise. The author assumes no responsibility for the
   use of information contained within this document.
   _Acknowledgements _
   Thanks to Terri Watson, author of
   Hiking/Backpacking with Canines, This page was
   prepared as a companion page to her document.
   Thanks also to everyone who contributed information.
   This information is always subject to change, per new experiences and
   suggestions. Please send suggestions to:

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