The Complete Guide to Camping with Dogs

A German Shepherd dog is camping at a campground with his owner, a man who is playing guitar in the background.

Whether you’re an avid backpacker or a weekend car-camper, you probably already know that a few nights under the stars is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Want to make your camping trip even more awesome? Invite your favorite four-legged friend on your adventure. There’s no better companion than a dog for camping adventures big and small.

Adventure-loving dogs won’t complain about the weather, the bugs, or sleeping on the ground. They are equally happy hiking a mountain trail, paddling a peaceful lake, or relaxing next to a campfire. For your dog, every day is a new adventure. Ready to head out on some outdoor adventures with your best friend? We’ve covered everything you need to know about camping with dogs.

Training Your Dog for Camping Trips

photo credit: Tara Schatz

If you want to develop a relationship with your dog that allows you to embark on outdoor adventures big and small, training should be your very first priority. Before you start to panic, know that training is an ongoing process, and yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

With a well-trained dog by your side, you will find it incredibly easy to travel, hike, and camp. Your dog will stay out of trouble, respect your boundaries, and remain safe. You don’t need to teach your dogs fancy tricks to take them camping, but you should definitely work on a few critical skills. For basic information on how to train your dog, I would recommend starting with the articles on the American Kennel Club website. Here are some basic commands your dog should know before you go camping.

Come – A solid recall is the most important thing to teach your dog. It will allow him to be off-leash when permitted and keep him safe in emergencies. Practice come at home in a fenced in yard or on a long line (30 feet or so) until your dog will come reliably every single time you give the command. When camping, do not let your dog roam off leash unless he is reliably under your voice command.

Sit and Down – Both of these commands are useful for greeting people and settling your dog in new situations.

Drop it and Leave it – Perfect for  when you drop your s’mores, these commands will keep your food safe from your scavenging pup, and your dog safe from potential toxins.

Get Busy – Get busy is the command we use when we want our dog to do his business. Once your dog will pee and poop on command, you’ll wonder how you ever managed before. No more standing in the rain waiting for him to find that perfect spot!  Of course, you can choose any command you want, as long as your dog associates it with relieving himself.

Preparing for your Dog’s Camping Trip

A yellow Labrador sleeps next to a tent
photo credit: Tara Schatz

Preparation is key when camping, and camping with your dog is no exception. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your camping trip with your dog:

  • Prevent flea and tick bites. Spot-on treatments, like ‘Frontline’ or ‘Advantix’ offer prevention from flea and tick bites for about 30 days. If you don’t want to use a spot-on treatment, consider using a flea and tick collar or insect-repellent wipes.
  • Pack proof of vaccinations. Campgrounds and parks will often ask for proof of your dog’s vaccinations, especially rabies and distemper. While not required by campgrounds, you should also use a heartworm preventative, as heartworm, transmitted by mosquitoes, is incredibly hard to treat and can be fatal to dogs.
  • Make sure dogs are allowed at the campground. Most campgrounds do allow pets, but not all of them. Before heading out on your adventure, be sure that your dogs are permitted in the campground. Some parks may only allow dogs at campsites, but prohibit them from trails, beaches, buildings, and playgrounds. Leash laws are almost always enforced at parks and campgrounds.
  • Provide your dog with proper ID. When camping, your dog should wear a secure collar with an ID tag. Be sure your dog’s ID includes your cell phone number, so that you can be reunited if your dog wanders off.

Best Camping Gear for Dogs

A German shepherd lies inside a tent while camping
photo credit: Tara Schatz

While you don’t need a ton of gear to adventure with your dog, a few extra items will help make your trip successful and way more fun. Here’s a list of basic gear for dogs, suitable for most camping adventures. For more cool gear ideas, check out the awesome dog gear in this post.

  • Food and water bowls. You can bring standard bowls for home, or if you’re backpacking, lightweight collapsible bowls.  
  • 6-foot leash
  • Long leash (16-30 ft) for exploring and tying up at camp
  • A metal stake for tying-out your dog at camp. Using a tree is such a pain!
  • Poop bags for dog waste
  • Enough dog food for the length of your trip. For hiking and backpacking trips, the Honest Kitchen makes lightweight, dehydrated dog food.
  • Special, high-value treats for training and rewards
  • A treat pouch for training
  • Chew toys or bones
  • A dog bed. We love this one from Chuck It. It’s portable and waterproof on the bottom.

First Aid Kit for Camping with Dogs

Many of the items you keep in our own first aid kit can also be used for dogs. The following items will help you prepare for canine emergencies when camping. In addition packing items on the list, be sure to find out the number of the nearest veterinarian or animal hospital and program it into your phone. You can also purchase ready-to-go first aid kits for dogs if you don’t want to create your own.

  • antiseptic wipes for cleaning wounds
  • waterproof tape or or vet wrap, which is self-adhesive
  • gauze pads
  • A prescription pain medicine from your veterinarian. Rimadyl is great for muscle pain.
  • Tweezers or a tick key for pulling off ticks
  • Disposable gloves
  • Benadryl for allergic reactions or bug bites (check dosage with your vet)
  • activated charcoal in case your dog ingests a toxin

Campground Etiquette for Dog Owners

camping with dogs
photo credit: Tara Schatz

What? Not everyone wants to spend a weekend in the woods with a dog? Whether your dog is friendly or not, it’s best to follow some basic guidelines to keep the peace with your camping neighbors.

  • Always clean up after your dog. Always. Leaving piles around for your neighbors to smell and step in is a good way to make enemies.
  • Keep your dog quiet. Does your dog bark at every squirrel, dog, or person that walks by? You may want to consider asking for a more private site away from foot traffic. If you really don’t think your dog can handle the commotion at a campground, then backcountry camping may be for you.
  • Do not leave your dog alone in your car or at your campsite.
  • Keep socializations to a minimum. No matter how friendly your dog is, he really doesn’t need to meet everyone he sees. If your neighbors really want to meet your dog, they will let you know.

Ready to load up your adventure dog and head into the woods for a while? Whether you’re scaling mountain peaks or pitching your tent next to a quiet stream, your adventures will be all the better if you share them with your favorite canine.