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How to Camp with Your Dog for the First Time

How to Camp with Your Dog for the First Time

There are fewer things I love more than camping with my dog during the warmer months. Not only is it the most dog-friendly way to explore, but spending the night outdoors creates a wonderful bonding experience between you and your pup.

If you’ve never camped with your dog before, there can be a bit of a learning curve for both you and your dog.

Spending that much time outside introduces new stimulants for your dog. Before heading out for a night under the stars, make sure you’ve prepared your dog as best you can in order to set them up for a successful trip.

Train Your Dog

Many dog owners are so excited to do all the things with their dog as soon as they get them that they don’t take the time to properly train them in order to set them up for success and safety around other people, dogs, and on trails.

I’ve been guilty of this myself before I knew better and having a well-trained dog makes a huge difference in the enjoyment of the camping trip for you and your dog (as well as your camp neighbors).

The following are the three essential skills I think all dogs require to be a well-behaved camp companion:

Place – The place command will teach your dog to stay in a single spot until you release them. This is helpful for setting up the tent, packing, cooking, and relaxing.

Socialization – I’m not talking take-your-dog-to-the-dog-park-and-play-with-all-the-dogs-all-the-time socialization. I’m talking proper socialization. By that, I mean exposing your dog to the various sights, textures, and sounds of the world.

Recall – Should your dog get loose at camp, encounter wildlife or other dogs, a reliable recall will keep your dog safe and prevent them from bothering other people and their dogs.

Practice Camping at Home First

Dogs can be sensitive to new objects and environments, so making sure they love the tent is crucial for a successful camping trip. Start by setting up the tent in your backyard or inside your home and allow your dog to explore.

Offer plenty of praise and reward when they approach and go inside.

Once you’ve determined they feel comfortable, try a backyard camp out. This is a great way to test out your dog’s camping gear. This will also help your dog get used to sleeping outdoors and to nighttime noises.

No one wants their dog keeping them up all night growling and barking at every little sound they hear.

Pick the Right Tent

Snuggling is nice, but so is having enough space to stretch out. Include your dog as a person when selecting a tent for camping with your dog.

For example, I have an MSR Hubba Hubba NX. It’s a two-person tent, which has ample space for both Sitka and me, as well as my backpack or duffle bag, and then some.

Finding Dog-Friendly Campsites

One reason I love camping as much as we do, aside from the fact that I enjoy spending time outdoors, is that it is one of the most pet-friendly accommodations available.

It’s rare to find a camping spot that doesn’t allow dogs. Of course, check before heading out that dogs are indeed allowed.

I personally do not visit national parks, given the heavy restrictions against dogs, and instead seek other public lands, like BLM and National Forest areas that allow more freedom for dogs and generally attract fewer people.

They’re also great for off-leash hiking, as many spots allow dogs to run free. Just be sure to keep your dog on leash inside the campground.

Visiting a national park?

Here are several itineraries with plenty of dog-friendly activities nearby:

Mt. Rainier
Olympic National Park
Grand Canyon
Grand Tetons
The Great Smoky Mountains

Packing Dog Food

Depending on whether you are car camping or backpacking you’ll carry your food differently. In the car, either pack your dog’s food in a resealable bag, like a dry bag, or do what I do and bring a Cambro storage container with your dog’s food.

If you’re backpacking, then measure out the exact amount you need, plus one extra day, in case you are stranded for whatever reason.

Seal the food in a reusable zip top bag and feel free to make your dog carry some of the load in their dog pack if they are accustomed to doing so.

When you go to sleep at night, don’t forget to include the dog food when you pack your food in an animal-proof container or the car.

Raw Feeders

If you feed raw and are car camping, pack three day’s worth of food and keep it in the cooler with plenty of ice. It won’t stay frozen, but it will keep it cool enough. Three days is my limit for unfrozen raw food.

If you are backpacking, there are several brands of dehydrated and freeze-dried dog food that you can bring with you and pack the same way that you would back kibble.

Dog Food Bowls

I always keep a camping dog bowl in the car, just in case, so I just use that for camping. I love the Dexas Travel Cups. They’re big enough for both water and food for most dogs, BPA-free, and collapse into a very packable size.

I use the same bowl for both food and water to save on space.

Health and Safety

You never know what can happen, but you want to be prepared should something go awry. Know where the nearest veterinary clinic and emergency pet hospital are located, in case of an emergency.

Understand the local flora and fauna and be able to identify what can be potentially dangerous for your dog to ingest.

Pet First Aid Kit

Pack a first aid kit that contains medical essentials for you and your dog. It’s easy to toss in a few extra dog-specific items into your own kit or purchase one for you both.

Consider taking a pet first-aid course and and bring along Dog First Aid: A Field Guide to Emergency Care for the Outdoor Dog so you know how to properly care for your dog in a medical situation.

Flea and Tick Prevention

You’ll want to make sure that your dog is up-to-date on their flea and tick medications before venturing into the outdoors.

Perform a tick check after every hike, before getting into bed each evening, and once again in the morning. Ticks can hide really well! Make sure that your first aid kit includes a pair of tweezers to remove the little buggers.

If the bugs are really bad, I pop my dog into a kennel so he can have some relief. A lightweight, folding kennel was one of the best investments I made for our camping set up!


Double check that your dog’s ID tag is current with your contact information. If you move a lot like I do, then I just include my email and phone number, which always stay consistent!

Other Miscellaneous Tips for Camping with Your Dog

Bring a Towel for Your Dog

If it’s muddy or raining, you have to go through river crossings, or there’s a lake for your dog to play, you’ll want a way to dry them off before they get into the tent. Having a wet, muddy dog inside the tent makes it dirty, stuffy, and stinky. You want to keep your sleeping space as clean as possible.

I bring a small microfiber towel from Kurgo that does the trick.

Warm Gear for Your Dog

If you’re camping during the shoulder season or in high altitude where the temperatures can plunge at night, be sure to pack a blanket or dog jacket to keep your pup warm.

Where are your favorite places to camp with your dog?
What tips would you add to this list?

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Tuesday 26th of July 2022

Put a temporary tag on your dog's collar when at a campground listing your site number.