8 min read • By Wyatt West, Staff Writer & Outdoor Fiend, Timberdog®
The weekend is coming up and you’re planning a car camping trip with some friends and your dog. Here is a fairly comprehensive (but not overwhelming) guide to ensure you and Fido have the best weekend out in the woods.
Topics covered in this blog:
- Dog-Friendly Campgrounds
- People Safety
- Bear & Wild Animal Safety
- Weather, Clothing & Dog Safety
- Bedding & Sleep Disturbances
- Food, Treats & Hydration
- Prescription meds; allergy meds if needed
- Flea and tick spray, comb, and tweezers
- First aid kit + styptic powder
- Paw protection
- Large towels
- Muddy paw towel
- Stain removers
If you live in a state like California, you probably know that campsites get snatched up months in advance. If you’re able to, book as far in advance as possible and make sure your campground is dog-friendly. If you are looking for a spot at the last minute, or your state’s recreational website is fully booked, head over to alternative sites like Hipcamp or The Dyrt. These sites have campgrounds off the beaten path and can often be better options for those with dogs, as private properties usually have wider spaces for dogs to roam, or, conversely, more secluded options for those with reactive pets.
When booking any dog-friendly site, private or public, make sure to read the rules regarding pets. Most of the time, dogs are allowed as long as they are current with vaccinations; on a leash no longer than six feet; bark minimally; and are not aggressive. Also, surprisingly, be sure to note that dog-friendly campsites are not so friendly when it comes to their trails or leaving the general camp area. Wooded areas and unpaved trails are generally off-limits to dogs, and sometimes, even paved trails have restrictions. Make sure to call ahead and ask where your pooch is allowed to go.
If your dog is not aggressive, but is still somewhat reactive to people, other pets, or children, it’s best to keep them leashed, monitored, and near you at all times. If it’s permissible to let them off leash, a muzzle is recommended. When using a muzzle, be sure that your dog is fully acclimated to wearing it, and that it fits properly and allows the dog to pant.
BEAR & WILD ANIMAL SAFETY
It’s not uncommon these days for wild animals to come into well-populated areas to scrounge around in trash bins, looking for food. It’s no different for campsites, with tantalizing spreads laid out on picnic tables. Bears are considered to have the best sense of smell on earth, with a nose 2100 times more powerful than that of humans. If you’re leaving your campsite unattended for a period of time, or getting ready to bed down for the night, make sure all of your food is put away in sealed bags and containers, and locked away in your cooler (which should remain in your car). Keep your trunk closed, car doors locked, and windows rolled up.
Always use the designated trash bins which are bear-proof, and, if you have nowhere to stash your trash or food, keep both in sealed bags inside a bear canister (we love the BearVault from REI; you can even use it as a stool). Remember that bears and other wild animals are dangerous not only to your safety, but to your pet’s well-being, as well.
WEATHER, CLOTHING & DOG SAFETY
Generally speaking, dogs do best in 60s-70s Fahrenheit (15-25 degrees Celsius), with special attention paid to brachycephalic, or flat-faced dog breeds such as pugs, bull dogs, and Boston terriers, among others. You know your dog best, so be prepared for any kind of weather with a thick jacket for the cold nights, and rain gear, if you don’t feel like having a wet dog in your tent! Anything below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and your dog risks hypothermia, while anything over 80, heat complications. Make sure your campsite has areas of shade, and be sure to provide plenty of water, regardless of what the temps are.
Looking for a tent that’ll hold up to your dog? We recommend the best tents for camping with dogs in one of our most popular blogs here.
As for other pieces of gear and clothing, make sure to outfit your dog with bright colors that are visible during the day, and lighted collars and reflective gear for the night. Also, attaching your leash to a harness rather than a collar is a better option to help your dog navigate over things like logs and puddles, and puts less strain on your dog’s neck. Finally, if you have an escape artist on your hands, a good GPS collar with your dog’s ID tag will help you and/or other campers find your dog in an emergency. Fi makes one of the best smart collars on the market to track your pet.
The night’s approaching and everyone around the campfire’s starting to yawn, including your pup, tuckered out from a day of exploration. As you head into your tent (we’ll cover Best Tents for Camping with Dogs here), ensure your dog is just as comfortable as you are. We have looked at a lot of bedding for dogs, but if you’re reading this blog, you may want the best product out there for safety and comfort. If you desire something outside of basic camp mats for dogs, we recommend a proper set up such as the one Timberdog has with its all-in-one product, RuffRest.
A multifunctional pet bed, the RuffRest allows you to carry all of your dog’s things into camp in a rolled-up, duffel-like configuration. Once at camp, you can unroll it to reveal a durable, moisture-proof bed that has memory foam and breathable sherpa fleece. The shoulder strap doubles as a reflective leash, which comes in handy in case you forget your dog’s leash at home or have to take your dog out for one last potty break at night.
The inner organizer of the RuffRest can be folded in thirds and kept inside the tent with you (it’s see-through, so once you turn on your headlamp, you can easily access any of your dog’s things without having to rifle through a bag), or you can hang it up in the car. If you are going to keep the organizer inside the tent, make sure that all smelly items (medicines, toothpaste, food, treats, etc.) are taken out and stowed in your locked car.
The best part of the RuffRest, however, is its built-in blanket, which converts into a sleeping bag when zipped up the sides of the bed. The bottom corners of the sleeping bag have air vents which allow you to control temperatures based on whether your dog sleeps hot or cold. If your dog isn’t a fan of covers like blankets, he can sleep on top of it for an added layer of comfort and insulation. If it’s a warm night, you can keep the sleeping bag stowed away inside of its dedicated pocket, which doubles as a bolster for your dog to lean against or rest his chin on.
You can see a demo of Timberdog’s ultimate pet bed, the RuffRest, here.
No matter what sort of bedding you take with you, your dog is likely to have a few sleep disturbances, especially on the first night of camping. That’s because there are new sounds and smells, as nature settles for the night and nocturnal creatures come alive. Your dog may be alert and vigilant for the first few hours, and this is normal. Tiring your dog out on the trail or throwing a ball for a good 20-30 minutes (I love Chuckit! products for these reasons) before dinner goes a long way toward ensuring all of you will be heavy-lidded come bed time.
FOOD, TREATS & HYDRATION
We like to keep things simple when camping with our dog, and recommend you keep your dog’s diet the same as she enjoys at home, minus anything that can quickly rot. (Unless your dog is big enough to consume a whole can of food at dinnertime, we don’t recommend storing leftover wet food. It can go bad fast, as meat degrades rapidly in warm temperatures.) Keeping the diet as similar as possible ensures familiarity at the campsite - often, dogs will not warm up to new foods right off the bat - and avoids digestive surprises and discomfort away from home.
We like to treat our dog at fun, new places, so we bring her treats along (including chew items, which we supervise her chewing). If your dog is generally well-mannered around the table, indulge her with some safe-to-eat “table scraps,” so she doesn’t feel left out. I like to feed the dog at the same time I feed family and friends, so that she’s occupied and isn’t lingering or begging around the table. If she’s used to certain human foods, I’ll mix a little bit of our prepared meals in with her regular food, so she can feel like she’s participating in all the tantalizing smells and flavors of our table.
As for hydration, water is a must all day long when outdoors. Dogs tend to pant more when outside, as they are more alert and active. Keep a large, clean bowl of water out for your dog under a shaded area, and be sure to refill it several times a day, rinsing the debris out as you do. We like to keep a small bowl of water in the corner of our tent at night, surrounded by heavy items, so the bowl won’t be tipped over. That way, our dog can quench her thirst whenever she likes.
For day hikes, we tend to bring along a Gulpie, which makes it easy to slake your dog’s thirst on the trail. Timberdog’s RuffRest, mentioned above, has a convenient, hidden mesh pocket to pack your Gulpie or water bottle - up to 32 ounces - so you don’t forget it at home.
Side note: if your dog is licking and eating up everything in sight at the campground, it’s likely he will have some mild intestinal disturbances, and may poop more often than usual. If your dog gets diarrhea for more than 48 hours, however, it’s time to pack up and head to the vet. To avoid this, make sure your dog is well-fed, hydrated, has plenty of safe toys or long-lasting treats to chew on, and is supervised as much as possible.
If your dog requires medicines at home, she’ll need them at camp, too. Remember to pack all of your dog’s medications, as well as allergy pills, if she tends to get allergies when out. Fleas and ticks are problems when camping, as well, so make sure you bring a tick comb and tick tweezer, and comb your dog’s fur every night before going to bed, checking for ticks. We like to spray our dog with a natural flea, tick, and mosquito repellent before even hitting the road, making sure to rub either Vet’s Best or Wondercide into our dog’s coat before she jumps in the car.
Finally, we pack a pet first aid kit for road trips and adventures, and always keep a small container of styptic powder in the car, in case of injuries. If you’re planning on long hikes (longer than 5 miles), make sure to also pack some paw wax for those dry, cracked paws. We trust Musher’s Secret or Natural Dog Company’s Paw Soother Stick.
No camping trip with dogs is complete without some sort of mess, whether inside the tent or out. We like to keep a couple of big towels handy - one to protect our car seat where our dog sits (we didn’t need to buy a large seat cover as our dog is 20 lbs.), and the other to keep hung on a nearby branch to dry off dogs who have jumped into lakes or gotten otherwise messy. Inside the tent, we recommend a smaller towel to wipe up spills or clean off muddy paws before they traipse all over your clean sleeping bags!
We also like to keep a Tide stick in the car as well, for small messes (can’t mess up our expensive camp gear and clothing!), and for larger stains, we recommend a popular stain remover that many dog owners swear by, Nature’s Miracle.
I hope you enjoy your weekend in the woods with your best bud. Have I missed any tips? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you bring to camping trips with your dog in the comments below.
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Photo by Jimmy Conover