I don’t have to tell you how much fun it is for everyone to see ‘ol Fido in his element jumping through streams chasing minnows so I’ll keep this introduction short. Here are over 50 useful tips when heading into the great outdoors with the family hound. The rest of what you need to know will come from experience and common sense.
Ask yourself if your hound is outdoor ready. Take them for a run to test their legs. Are they overweight? Trim them down a bit before taking them hiking. Prone to over-heating? Make sure to bring lots and lots of water if the location doesn’t have running water or clean sources.
Know the pet policy first. Visit the National Park System to get the skinny on pet policy from national parks via an interactive map. This resource covers rules across the park system, including Yosemite and Yellow Stone. For State Parks, use the keywords: (state) park pets. For example, Wisconsin has its own pet policy online on it’s Department of Natural Resources.
The Vet: Vaccinate for Lyme disease if you think it’s worth it. It’s worth getting x-rays done for longer backpacking trips to assess hip dysplasia. Always keep the tag and micro-chip data current. People may think that if a collar-less dog has somehow gotten astray, it’s their duty to harbor it until the owner is notified.
Grooming: A heavy coat can protect the dog from heat and injury, but extra unnecessary hair will pick up every burr and foxtail it passes by. A light trim at the groomer will make it easier to brush them all out at the end of the day. Trim your dog’s nails before leaving. Nails that are too long are susceptible to cracking, breaking, and getting stuck between rocks.
Training: If your dog likes to approach snakes, get it trained to avoid them. It’s safer than rattlesnake vaccine and more reliable. Make sure your dog is secured in the car and is trained not to jump out the moment you open the door or tailgate, which inevitably will happen in a crowded parking lot, next to a busy road, or right in front of the ranger. You can use the Sky Track as an in-car dog restraint. Use the straps to buckle through the above-window handles.
If you cannot control your dog’s barking, leave it at home. If complaints continue about your dog’s barking, expect a hefty fine or to be kicked out. Choose a campsite with shade or create shade. Let your dog dig a hole to further cool off in. Remember the ground is much hotter for the dog whose belly is exposed to the sunbaked ground. If water resources are not an issue, pour water into the hole to cool off the area.
Attach a disposable dog tag to the collar with your campsite or location written on it. Don’t rely on your phone to get your dog back when it wanders off into the hands of overly concerned strangers. Walk your dog around the campground so everyone knows it's your dog. In case it gets free and runs around, you’ll have help from your neighbors identifying its whereabouts.
The Tie Out. We recommend the portable aerial Sky Track Dog Run by Rover Roamer. The Niteline phosphorescent (glow in the dark) and reflective line helps visibility at night.
We never recommend leaving your dog leashed or tied, nor left in the tent or car while you’re away. If they start howling for you to come home, your neighbors may complain to the ranger. Mountain lions can be a real threat and a tied-up dog makes an easy victim. Wild fires may be a possibility during the summer. You never know what shenanigans your dog will be up to once you walk away.
Barking Control: Build a den for them populated with familiar scents. Get a piece of tarp and either the old dog bed or some old towels and blankets with your scent or the dog’s scent on it. If your dog feels at home, he won’t bark so much every time you leave to visit the restroom. If you must leave them behind, observe their behavior for several minutes from a hidden vantage point. Take them with you if they start chewing at the leash or barking incessantly. Give them a favorite toy to play with if they require some comfort. Dog bones might seem like a good idea to occupy your dog while you’re away, but they can also attract wildlife.
Dog toys are often chewed up and torn apart by excitable hounds channeling their inner wild. The muddied carcasses of stuffed animal and plastic bits are often left behind once you abandon camp. Be mindful to clean up daily. I personally got tired of buying expensive dog toys only to have to pick up the ravaged pieces strewn about a garbage-littered campsite. Sticks, swimming, hiking, grazing for leftovers, and chasing chipmunks seems to be enough.
Food: Don’t feed your dog human snacks, left over hotdogs, and marshmallows and other “gas-rich” foods. When it comes to sleeping at night together in the tent, your nose and loved ones will thank you. Dogs become a little wilder in the wilderness. It’s not beyond them to steal your steak while you get up to pour your glass of wine. Don’t leave food where they can access it. There’s something about living outside that makes a dog think it's on equal terms and all food is fair game. Also, be aware of food left out at night. This may attract bears, coyotes, rodents, etc. Your dog will keep you up all night barking at sounds. Store in the designated food bins, bear resistant food containers, or at last resort, leave in the car or hang from a tree.
Nighttime: Choose a reflective collar or harness and attach a light to it. It gets pitch black at night and latecomers will arrive at all hours of the night. Bring warm dog jackets for cold nights if their breed doesn’t fare well in the outdoors. Keep the dog inside the tent at night but crack the door open. We know dogs have a supernatural ability to suck all the oxygen out of a tent at night, making it stuffy and gamey, but it separates them from harmful critters like aggressive racoons and skunks.
If you have any worries that your dog may not endure long hikes, try taking them out on shorter hikes first to test endurance and hardiness. Even a short hike full of stimulation will have them exhausted at night.
Trail distance: Your dog may run up and down the trail but at 6,000 feet in the mountains expect some resistance halfway through your hike, especially on hot days. If your pooch is excitable and not quite used to the outdoors, try your best to manage your dog’s level of energy during the beginning of the hike by keeping them on a leash. A dog's joints can be damaged by too much distance or too much exertion too early. A six-month-old puppy can safely exercise about 30 minutes twice a day.
Plan hikes around known water sources during the summer months. Trail maps may show creeks and other water sources near the trail but in reality, may be completely dried up. Worse, whatever stagnant water is left over from the earlier rains may contain bacteria, giardia, and other diseases that will cause diarrhea. Hike with a water filter if you’re unsure about the available of water in the area.
Use a harness instead of a collar when on the trail to safely negotiate your dog’s passage. They are indispensable for hoisting up slippery rocks, cliffs, or fallen trees, crossing rivers or streams or really anything over your dog’s shoulders. Always have a short leash on hand for critical moments when you encounter aggressive dogs or wildlife.
Make sure your dog can respond to a “leave it” or “stay” command in cases that require a dog’s full stop command to avoid snakes, skunks, bears, horses, aggressive dogs, etc. Small dogs are prone to mountain lion attacks so treat them with special attention. If a bear chase ensues, be prepared for Rover to bring back an unwanted guest.
Give them plenty of time in the shade. On hot days, their underbelly is just inches away from the scorching ground. Bring a deep collapsible water dish but fill only 50% to preserve resources and minimize splashing. Labs tend to splash just as much on the ground as they consume.
Be aware that prolonged exposure to rough or hot terrain may cause cracking, chaffing, cuts, and wear on the pads of paws for most dogs that are only acclimated to carpet, grass, and sidewalks. Periodically check for foxtails and burrs between the toes if your dog isn't wearing booties. During the late summer months, the dry environment can be replete with them.
Bury dog waste 100’ from water sources or trails if you run out of poop bags.
Bring a dog life jacket for canyons and rivers no matter how well your dog can swim at home.
Backpacks: Don’t use a backpack until your dog is fully grown. Adult dogs can safely carry up to 25 percent of their own body weight. Invest in something nice. They are treated harshly by the dog and undergo more rigorous wear than our own pack. A dog can’t tell you if it’s uncomfortable or chaffing so a good pack will alleviate some common discomforts with better design.
You’ll enjoy watching your dog’s confidence and mental flexibility grow as it negotiates new terrain but be mindful of visible dangers however like canyons, jagged rocks, sharp knots protruding from fallen trees, and invisible dangers like poisonous mushrooms and berries.
Ticks: If a large concentric circle shows up, it may be a sign of disease. Keep the tick as reference in case you need to consult a doctor for analysis. Contrary to what I thought, ticks don’t fall from trees; they lie patiently in waiting with outstretched arms in low lying areas. They have olfactory, vibration, and chemical senses that allow them to perceive where hosts are and where they have been via urine, breathing, body odor, movement, etc.
Snakes: If your dog is bitten by a snake, immobilize the body part that has been bitten. Keep it at or below the level of the heart. Keep the pet calm and still. Carry the pet if possible. Get to a vet as soon as possible and try to identify the type of snake. Do not manipulate the bitten area any more than necessary. Do not cut over the fang marks. Do not ice pack or tourniquet the area.
Diarrhea: Common causes of diarrhea: kids feeding dogs human food, leftover old food from previous campers, stagnant water, horse manure and other feces, and over-heating/over-exertion. Boiled chicken and rice (no skin and bones) is a standard treatment if you have the resources to prepare it. Keeping the broth for water or putting a bouillon cube in the water dish may help them drink more if they aren't interested in hydration. Keep an eye out for loss of appetite, vomiting, and lethargy.
Worms: Check your dog’s feces for worms after a few days and when you get back home.
Most of these tips come from over 40 years of camping and backpacking but I also appreciate the resources below that I enjoyed reading:https://www.rei.com/blog/camp/camping-with-dogs-how-to-navigate-rules-and-regulationshttps://gizmodo.com/how-to-take-your-dog-camping-1575730467https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-care/travel/the-great-outdoorshttps://www.rover.com/blog/dog-camping-tips/https://www.aaha.org/pet_owner/lifestyle/17-tips-for-camping-with-dogs.aspxhttp://www.everintransit.com/camping-with-dogs/