Ready to swap your cushy bed for a sleeping bag and a side of dog breath in the morning?
That's my kind of weekend.
Double-check the weather
If the weather's looking sideways before you leave, consider rescheduling. Extreme heat or cold can be tough on your furry friend, and it can make camping a WHOLE lot less enjoyable for you (Read: Mud. Everywhere).
And because mountain weather can be generally unpredictable, it's a good idea to have a Plan B. You can still have an awesome time in a sprinkle, but you don't want to be stranded on a 15-mile hike during a mudslide.
Make sure your dog is parasite-protected
Before you hit the road, make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date and they're fit for travel. If your dog's not already on a parasite prevention plan, ask your vet for their recommendations.
Not only are these insects super annoying (MOSQUITOS, LOOKING AT YOU), they can carry some nasty and potentially life-threatening illnesses.
I typically use a combo of the usual oral flea and tick medications plus a made-for-dogs natural spray repellent like this one to deter insects. And train yourself on how to recognize and remove ticks so you can be on the lookout for hitchhikers on your pup.
Plan the sleeping situation in advance
If you don't let your dog sleep in your bed at home, you probably don't want them to curl up in your sleeping bag while camping—it won't stop when you get home.
Make sure you figure out the sleeping arrangements beforehand, whether that's a cozy bed in the tent or a separate pup tent completely.
I've actually had my Shepherd sleep in the family truck when our tent quarters were too tight, and he looked 100% more rested than we felt the next morning.
Test your gear beforehand
OK, so a note about that pup tent: if you're pulling it out at the campsite on night one and expecting your dog to snuggle in quietly, you might be in for a rude awakening (literally).
Even the best-behaved dogs can get anxiety when separated from their owner in a new environment, so you're going to want to get them used to being in that tent BEFORE you head out.
Pull it out, set it up in the house (or outside), and put treats in there—along with their bed—so they’ll associate it with comfort and safety.
The same goes for any other special gear you're planning on using. Get your dog used to new tethers or lead situations beforehand, so they're comfortable with them on site.
Double check on campsite dog restrictions
Not all campsites welcome four-legged guests, so do your homework.
Look for pet-friendly spots and understand their rules (dogs on-leash only is a common one) to avoid having to make a u-turn at the gate.
Don't try to sneak your pup in; the camp hosts won't look kindly on that.
Put your dog's stuff on the packing list, too
I know you're already overwhelmed with the sheer amount of belongings it takes to spend TWO NIGHTS in the wild, but dogs need stuff, too!
I can tell you from personal experience: It's not fun to rely on one dog bowl for both water and food, or to try and fashion a leash out of a tie-down. Make your packing list in notes (or wherever you make it) and save it so you can reuse it every time you camp.
I've refined my list over time, and you're welcome to copy it:
Dog food (measured out + extra just in case)
Dog treats (avoid anything requiring refrigeration)
Water and food bowls
Portable dog water bottle or bowl for hikes
Collar with ID tags (+ GPS if you use it)
Their usual bed (water-resistant fabric is awesome, but you can also put a tarp down)
Interactive puzzle toys
Plush toys (if your dog doesn't eat them)
Jackets, sweaters, or booties (depending on the dog's natural coat and the weather)
First aid kit specifically for dogs (should include tick key or remover)
Your list might look different because no two dogs are alike, but the basics will always be the same. You don't have to go ultra-fancy, but if you're looking for reasons to upgrade your leash or pup's gear to eco-friendly options, we've got you covered.
Aim to keep your pup on leash or lead
I KNOW. This one's soooo hard. Your dog's going to be itching to explore all the new sights and smells while you're struggling to set up your tent.
Unfortunately, the call of the wild is just too strong for most dogs to resist, and I've seen far too many wild-eyed owners running around shouting "GUNNER!" HAVE YOU SEEN GUNNER?! A GERMAN SHEPHERD? YOUNG?!” to think it's a good idea. (Gunnar could use some recall training.)
Unless it's a campsite requirement, I always keep my dogs leashed at first so I can figure out where they gravitate most (usually the remains of s'mores or other dangerous foods at the fire pit) and potential dangers that might be lurking nearby. After a while, I will sometimes let them off for controlled games of fetch. Eventually, they're calm enough to come off the leash and relax at our feet.
One other option is a longer lead attached to a tree. But since trees aren't a guarantee at every campsite, it's worth getting something like this you can anchor securely to the ground.
(Be forewarned; they'll get tangled around the legs of your camp table no matter what you do.)
Don't let your pup make BFFs with wildlife
Yes, videos of dogs making friends with deer are adorable.
But IRL, you want to avoid wildlife encounters at all costs. It's not just dangerous for your dog; it's also dangerous for that racoon family to get too comfortable with humans and pets. It’s another reason to keep your pup on a leash, even on a short walk around camp.
Oh, and be careful about letting your dog wander into another dog's campsite or turf to say hi. Your dog might be the friendliest camp host of all time, but not all people (or their dogs) are fans of impromptu visitors.
Leave no waste
What goes in must come out (yup, I'm referring to dog poop).
Be a responsible pet owner, and keep the campsite clean for all the other pups and their parents who visit. It's the wild, but domestic dog poop isn't, and it's one of the ways that serious illnesses like parvo can spread.
Know some basic dog first aid
Accidents happen. Carry a basic pet first aid kit and know the nearest vet in case of emergencies. But let's be real—there's only so much you can do to prepare your pup for their first camping trip.
Basic pet first aid training can go a long way, but there's a lot of unpredictability in the wild. In cases where your pup gets into a sticky situation, it's nice to have a dog insurance policy in place that helps reimburse you for unexpected accidents and illnesses!*
Know your dog's triggers and limitations
The wild can bring out the wild in all of us, your pup included. Your formerly calm and collected Newfie might suddenly get squirrel-crazy, or your Vizsla might decide it's time to howl at the moon...all night long.
While you can't plan for everything, knowing even the basics about your dog's personality and what triggers bad behavior can go a long way.
For instance, if you know your dog struggles with severe separation anxiety, don't leave them alone, even just for a trip to the (lovely) vault toilet.
Camping with a dog means you're invariably going to need to adjust your schedule and activities around them and accommodate their basic needs. In doing so, you'll be rewarded with a much happier camping buddy.
That about wraps it up!
May your nights be starry, your fires warm, and your adventures pawsome.
*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.