Happy Campers: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy the Great Outdoors With Your Dog
When the mercury hits 90 degrees outside, you have two options: You can flop on the couch, lounging in the respite of your air conditioner. Or you can plan a camping trip to the mountains, where you can enjoy cool breezes and take refreshing dips in lakes and streams.
It’s no secret what your pooch would probably prefer — the great outdoors, please!
But before you load Fido into the SUV, there are some things you should know — and a few things you should pack — to keep your camping trip from turning into a complete disaster for both you and your dog.
Before You Hit the Wooded Trails
The first thing you want to do is pick a dog-friendly campsite, with hiking trails that also welcome pups.
“When I’m researching destinations, I check all the rules and regulations, so that I can abide by them — but I’m also looking for a place that suits my dog’s needs,” says James Hogarth, assistant product manager for Eastern Mountain Sports and the owner of Jed, a Lab-Shepherd-Rottweiler mix. “Jed likes to run around and explore — without going too far — so I make sure that the campsite doesn’t have a strict leash law.”
Keep in mind that a lot of state and national parks don’t allow dogs. To find pet-friendly campgrounds and hiking trails near you, check out bringfido.com and hikewithyourdog.com.
Once you've chosen the right site, you’ll want to make sure that your pup has his basic commands down. “You may even want to take a quick basic training class to brush up on sit, stay and come,” says pet lifestyle and wellness expert Jenn Fadal. “You don’t want to be that annoying dog owner whose pooch is barking and whining all night or running through the campground begging for hot dogs.”
Fadal also advises first-time campers to take their dogs on a day trip to a similar destination before going on a full camping excursion. “It’s better to introduce your pet to the great outdoors with short experiences, so they can get used to it — and so you know how they’re going to behave,” she says.
Canine Camping Safety Musts
Woods and mountain trails can be hazardous for even the most experienced hikers, which means they can also be dangerous for your dog.
But if you take the necessary precautions, you and your pup can have a safe and fun experience.
Call Your Vet: “Before you head out, check to make sure that your dog is up to date on his rattlesnake and Lyme disease vaccines,” says Dr. Cynthia Jones, DVM, a veterinarian with the Humane Society of Fort Worth, Texas. Your dog's rabies vaccine should be current, and ask your veterinarian if other vaccines, like leptospirosis, should also be on your to-do list. And even if your dog is on a monthly preventive for fleas and ticks, you may still want to pack pet-safe mosquito spray to keep the pesky critters at bay.
Buy a Dog Emergency Kit: Plenty of companies sell ready-made first aid kits, including the American Kennel Club, or you can build your own. Dr. Jones recommends including gauze, an elastic wrap, adhesive tape, nonstick sterile pads, antibiotic ointment, bandage scissors, alcohol wipes, tweezers, eye wash, hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds, Benadryl (contact your vet for the proper dosage for your dog, and then write it on the bottle), a chemical cold pack and the number for the Animal Poison Control Center.
Keep Track of Your Pup: Camping is a great opportunity for your dog to explore and get some exercise — but it’s also an opportunity for him to get lost. Make sure that your dog is wearing an ID tag with at least two contact numbers — yours and one for a friend or relative who's not camping with you, in case your cell reception is spotty in the woods. You can also invest in a pet GPS tracking system that can ping your dog’s location on your smartphone. Finally, look into reflective safety gear, so you can see your pet — even at night.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate: “Similar to humans, water is the most important thing you need for your dog when you’re hiking or camping,” Hogarth says. “Dogs tend to overheat fast, which can cause them to lay down and get lazy.” Dr. Jones adds that it can also lead to heatstroke, so make sure that you pack a collapsible water bowl and bring plenty of water for everyone on the trip. “Dogs need more water and shade than you would expect,” Dr. Jones says.
Great Outdoors Doggie Gear
Fifty years ago, no one had even heard of a doggie backpack, much less a canine sleeping bag. But the camping industry has heeded the needs of its customers, producing plenty of gear to make camping more comfortable for your pup.
Although the following items aren’t necessities, if you plan to take multiple trips to the mountains, they might be worth the investment.
Footwear: You probably don’t want to hike barefoot — and chances are that your dog might not like it either. Booties can protect his sensitive paw pads from thorns, briars and other hazards on the ground.
Hands-Free Leash: If you're camping where strict leash laws are in place, consider a leash that wraps around your waist, so you can walk unencumbered.
Doggie Duvet: Don’t want to lug around a sleeping bag for your pup? Check out Molly Mutt’s outdoor, water-resistant duvet covers. “They roll up compactly,” Fadal says. “And you can stuff them with clothes to create a comfy bed for your dog.”
Cooling Accessories: If lots of hiking is on the agenda, water may not be enough to keep your dog cool and comfortable. You can consider a cooling mat system, like the K-9 Koolee, or a Kool collar, which you can pack with ice cubes or freezable gel packs.
Canine Backpack: Let Fido carry his own food and water with a satchel like the Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack.
In the Event of an Emergency . . .
No matter how prepared you are, accidents can always happen. If something bad should befall your pooch while you’re on the trail, keep a calm head, and then follow this advice from Dr. Jones: “Treat your animal as a human being — clear the airway first, and control the bleeding second. After you’ve gotten your pet settled, call for help immediately.”