Camping with Your Dog

Camping with your dog can be an exciting and memorable time for you both. All it takes is familiarity with the rules and safety guidelines, and some insight into how to maximize your time camping together with the right gear.

This guide will cover rules, training, and what to expect, to camping gear and activities to do with your dog when camping, so you don’t miss a thing when planning your next adventure.

Camping with a puppy? Here is a puppy specific camping guide.

Rules for Camping with Dogs

Nearly every campground, park, or outdoor area will have rule about dogs. From county parks to National Parks, the popularity for bringing dogs camping is growing and rules do apply for human and dog safety alike.

Failure to comply with the rules could result in a fine, or removal from the park or campground and no one wants that. So how can you be sure you comply with the local rules?

Rules can be found on the park or campground specific website. There may be a blanket set of rules that apply to all parks in a jurisdiction plus additional park or campground specific rules.

For example, dogs are generally permitted at all Wisconsin State Parks and campgrounds, but some parks have select campsites or campground loops that do not permit dogs.

Dogs are not generally not permitted in any buildings, structures, or cabins at Michigan State Parks, but a few shelter sites have been reserved as dog friendly in select parks.

Some state, county and national parks allow dogs in the campgrounds, but not on trails or beaches. Other parks may be 100% dog-friendly or have designated dog-friendly areas including dog beaches.

Generally, dogs are often permitted in areas where there is minimal hazardous wildlife concerns, few health or safety risks to humans, and designated nature areas.

Popular parks dogs are not allowed, for example, is most of Yellowstone due to the wildlife concerns, or on Isle Royale due to the indigenous wolf population. Areas where there may be health risks if dogs were permitted are picnic areas and beaches. Dogs are usually not permitted on designated nature trails to prevent dogs bringing in outside pollutants or causing harm to the local nature.

Learn more about dog camping and park rules.

Leash & Tie Line for Dogs

If dogs are permitted where you are camping or exploring, a maximum leash and tie line length may be listed in the rules. The most common leash length requirement is 6′.

When camping with dogs, be sure the dogs are under control and on a leash at all times. Having a dog off leash not only violates the rules, is also increases the chances of your dog wandering off or encountering wildlife.

A traditional dog leash works when you are hiking, but at your campsite you may want something that works to tether your dog safety and with the strength to hold your dog from running off.

The best way to tether your dogs when camping is a tie line. Tie lines are also know as dog anchors, dog hitch, or dog tie out. They all refer to a way to tether your dog on a line and attach the line to a stake or heavy item like your picnic table.

I recommend a tie line that has a waterproof covering to prevent rust or chain damage, and also prevents the line from gathering too much dirt and mud as your dog drags it across your campsite as they move.

I like the Pettest tie line because the covering is reflective making it easier to see at night (Avoid me tripping on it) and the clips make it easy to attached my dog to anything heavy, like a picnic table, without having to bring a stake with me.

Insider tip: What Rangers care about is that your dog is fully under your control and attached to something that keeps them in your campsite or on the trail with you. Rangers aren’t going site to site measuring leashes. However, if your dog approaches strangers, wanders off, or causes harm to wildlife you may find yourself with a hefty fine.

Poop Bags

Camping with dogs does not mean unlimited free poops. Dog waste can carry diseases harmful to the local area and wildlife, and may attract rats. Plus no one wants to accidentally step in any surprises along a trail or in your campsite.

Have plenty of dog poop bags on hand when camping and be prepared to carry that full bag to a disposal location.

Campgrounds and parks often have rules requiring owners bag and remove their dog’s poo, too. Pack extra poop bags to ensure you stay compliant and avoid a ticket.

I use the Earth Rated poop bags and dispenser. After years of poop bags breaking, ripping, or falling out of the leash holder, this is the only brand I have yet to have a complaint about. Going on year 3 this spring!

Insider Tip: 1. Put your dog’s poop bags on autoship if you haven’t already. Such a time saver. 2. Get a bag holder with a latch that holds used poop bags so you don’t have to carry them in your hands or backpack.

Rules About Barking

Dogs bark at things that scare them and excite them. Camping with a dog can be full of exciting and scary things and it is important to know whether your pup is likely to bark.

Dog barking is disruptive and may cause others in your campsite to complain. Many campgrounds have quiet hours and dog barking is a violation of that quiet time.

Having an anxious dog barking during a camping trip may cause complaints and fines, and will decrease the enjoyment of the outdoors. It will also mean a stressful camping trip for both you and the dog.

Before heading camping with your dog, notice if your dog barks at common wildlife around your home like squirrels, bunnies, or birds. If your dog is anxious at home, begin training to familiarize them and calm them around common outdoor creatures before taking them camping, or opt to leave them with a pet sitter or family while you are away.

Dog Training for Camping

Camping with an untrained dog can be stressful because you can’t take your eyes off them without them getting into trouble or confidently call them back from unsafe situations.

Campgrounds are full of sounds, smells, and sights that will distract dogs and may lead them to danger. It is important your pup be familiar with basic commands before you go camping with your dog.

The three most important training lessons to be familiar with before going camping with dogs are recall, leave it, and leash training. Familiarity with each of these commands can impact how safe and comfortable you will be during your outdoor adventures.

Recall Command

Should a dog get loose it is important to be able to retrieve them quickly. No one wants a lost dog.

The recall command may be important when a dog is on leash or tie line too. Should wildlife, like a skunk or raccoon, enter your campsite, you will want to quickly call the dog away from the animal and know they will respond accordingly.

The recall command has saved Gambit’s life during a hike. I was hiking with a partner who suddenly stopped, so I stopped to ensure he was ok. Suddenly, we hear a series of ATVs approaching the crossing we knew was up ahead but could not see because of the thick brush, and that was when I realized Gambit was not in sight.

Gambit must have kept walking up the trail. My partner and I start yelling Gambit’s name and nothing. My heart sank. No doubt he was at the crossing these ATVs were about to plow through. I yelled the emergency recall command and Gambit came running up to me.

Anything can happen in the outdoors from wild animals to crazy humans. Don’t underestimate the value of proper training.

Leave It Command

Dogs may encounter things you do not want them smelling or licking when camping together, such as wildlife, muddy or dangerous ground, or food and trash from previous campers. A dog constantly stopping to smell things on a hike will also become annoying and ruin the walk.

Being familiar with the leave it command before going camping together can ensure the dog leaves danger and harmful items which could disrupt the enjoyment of the outdoors.

If wildlife or something dangerous is in the campground or crosses your path, you may not be close enough to the dog to pull them back safely. Suddenly pulling on a dog’s leash or collar can be scary and dangerous for the dog.

The best way to ensure a dog will leave something dangerous alone is for them to be familiar with the leave it command.

Insider Tip: If your dog is not an all star at the leave it command, I recommend a harness with a handle. The handle will enable you to safely grab your dog and pull them out of a dangerous situation so you don’t have to pull on their collar or throat which may break your leash.

Leash Training

Dogs must always be on leash when camping. If a dog constantly pulls on the tie line or leash during a camping trip, they could cause themselves injury or pull themselves loose.

Should something exiting cross your path, you do not want the dog to unexpectedly pull the leash from your hand or pull the tie line from the ground. Dogs may get lost or run into danger if they pull themselves loose.

Practice leash training at home before going camping to know how your dog behaves when tempted by distractions and how they react when frightened.  By familiarizing yourself with how your dog is likely to react, you can plan how you need to respond to keep them safe.

Dog Camping Gear Essentials

Gear essentials for taking a dog camping are similar to the essentials needed at home: Dogs require food, water, and shelter when camping. But being outdoors also means dirt, bugs, and water.

Let’s breakdown the essential dog camping gear to pack and some recommendations from a pro.

I have a complete list of dog camping gear with insider tips here.

Camping Gear Basics

The basics for any camping trip with your dog are food, water, and bowls for your dog to enjoy them from.

Try to use the same food you have at home when you are camping to avoid upset stomach. Dry food is lighter to carry than wet or canned food. If you food your dog canned food, be sure to pack a can opener or buy the pull off tops.

Don’t forget to pack extra water and a bowl for your dog when you go on hikes and put out a bowl at the campsite.

Insider tip: Raccoons and skunks love dog food and the accessibility of a water bowl. Put away your dog’s dishes in the evenings to avoid unwanted visitors.

For food and water bowls, there two routes I recommend: either a puncture resistant durable bowl that is dishwasher safe like stainless steel, or collapsable bowls that are lightweight if weight or bulk is a worry.

Yeti is the leader for durable stainless steel dog bowls.

Dog Bed for Camping

Where does your dog sleep when your camping? Your dog should sleep where you do whether that be inside an RV, tent, or next to you under the stars on their own bed.

It is dangerous for a dog to sleep outside alone when camping. The elements of rain and temperature may harm the dog, and wildlife hunts at night. Because the dog will be tied down on a leash or tie line, they cannot escape danger that may pass through when you are sleeping.

Whenever possible, dogs should sleep in the same tent or shelter as the humans. If this is not possible, provide the dog with its own shelter.

When selecting a dog bed, consider three items:

1. select a bed that has a durable insulating bottom to shield your dog from the cold ground.

2. Select a dog bed your dog will want to use.

Humans like sleeping conditions similar to what they have at home when they travel. Dogs are the same. If your dog likes to sleep with you in your bed keep that in mind when you go camping. If they sleep in a crate, consider bringing their crate along for the few few trips as your dog adapts.

3. Washable. Your dog will collect dirt, dust and mud while exploring. the great outdoors and that will lead to a dirty and stinky bed. Look for an easily washed bed.

Insider Tip: The Yeti dog bed is great for all three concerns as it has a tough waterproof bottom to protect your dog from the ground, has a home and travel base so your dog has the same sleeping conditions at home and while camping, and easy to clean materials.

Other Dog Camping Gear Essentials

Don’t forget the tie out/tie line, leash, and poop bags to round out your essentials list.

As for strongly recommended items, have a towel designated for your dog so you don’t have to share. Your dog’s paws may get wet or muddy from something as simple as morning dew, puddles, or crossing river beds.

Quick dry towels are great because they have less fuzz and more wipe. Not to mention they are lightweight and pack easily. I have one for me and one for Gambit.

Dog shoes, booties or paw protectors to protect your dog’s feet from thorns, and other pokey things that can cause your dog to bleed. Dog shoes also work to keep your dog’s paws dry and safe from weather conditions and severe temperatures.

Tick removers. Dogs are the perfect height and environment for collecting ticks along walking paths. Even if your dog has a preventative flea tick medication it may require time to work, sometimes as long as 24 hours.

It’s best to do a quick tick check on your dog after a hike or long day before bringing them into the tent. Should you find an unwanted creature, a small tick remover tool can help you quickly remedy the situation.

Tick removes also work on humans in case the ticks don’t discriminate.

I use the Homesake tick remover set. It has three sizes and comes in a little resealable pouch, so I don’t lose them.

Here’s a full list of dog camping gear. For activity specific gear, like life jackets for water sports, check out below.

Camping Activities with Dogs

There are many adventures dogs can have camping. Form hiking and biking, or lounging and swimming there are plenty of fun memories to make together. Knowing what you want to do or try can help you prepare and have the right gear for the activity.

Outdoor Activities

No matter which outdoor activities you and your furry friend plan on undertaking together, it is important to pack essential dog gear and protect a dog’s paws.

Dog paws are bare feet. While dog paws handle the outdoors better than bare human feet, paws can get injured and sore on long hikes or rough terrain.

The shape, size and claws of a dog will vary based on its breed.

Extreme temps of hot or cold can cause long term damage to a dog’s paws, especially on asphalt, rocks, or concrete. Mud and burrs may cause general discomfort for you both.

Consider whether the planned activities require protecting the dog’s paws and get them the dog booties for the activity and terrain. Allow the dog to become familiar with the shoes and protectors while at home. Not all dogs are comfortable having their paws touched or walking in shoes.

All dog owners should pack extra water, a water bowl, and snacks for their dog for all activities. 

Insider Tip: Have your dog carry their stuff! If your activity requires a lot of gear, a dog pack may be helpful. Get a pack that is designed to fit your dog and know how much weight is safe and comfortable for them to handle.

Hiking While Camping with Dogs

Hikes vary in length and terrain. How long are your dog walks at home and how does that compare to the hike you are planning?

Knowing how long your hike will be and how well a dog handles long walks will help you prepare.

If your hike will have elevation changes, steps, or rocks, a hands free dog leash will help you keep your balance and hands free. Your dog’s size and leg height may impact their ability to climb rocks and steps.

Insider Tip: Shorter and smaller dogs exert more energy to keep up with humans because of their shorter legs. If you have a smaller dog, or dog not familiar with long walks, you may want a dog carrying backpack for the portion of the trail they cannot complete themselves.

Biking and Trail Riding with a Dog

Love riding your bike outdoors? Does your pup know how to keep up with you?  

Smaller dogs and dogs with shorter legs, may not be able to keep up with the speed of a bike. Consider installing a dog basket on your bike and placing the dog inside.  

How comfortable is your dog in a bike basket? A dog trying to jump out mid ride where may result in injury. Familiarizing dogs with bike riding, speed, and the basket while at home may reduce the unexpected when camping.

If the dog is larger and able to keep up with your bike, a hands free bike leash will keep the dog at a safe distance from your wheels and gears as you ride along.

Water Sports with a Dog

If you plan on taking a dog near water, it is imperative to know if the dog can swim before taking off.

While many dogs can instinctively swim, not all dogs can swim because they lack the instinct or have a body shape and density that makes it difficult to stay above water.

Insider Tip: Don’t assume your dog knows how to swim and familiarize them with water ahead of time. Dogs unfamiliar with water and swimming may panic when put in water and not all dog’s body shapes allow them to be swimmers.

Gambit didn’t like water for a few years. It took a number of tries to get him not to panic in the water.

When I did get Gambit in the water, he struggled holding items in his mouth and keeping his head above water because of his longer snout and short neck. Gambit can swim, but he can’t play fetch with common water toys. He is too small to swim against small wake, too. That’s ok, I love him anyway, but it does mean he wears a lifejacket anytime he’s around water.

Dog Lifejacket

If a dog does not know how to swim, avoid large bodies of water or get them a lifejacket.

If you get a dog lifejacket, familiarize the dog with the jacket ahead of time so they feel safe and comfortable when wearing it. If the dog panics while in a life jacket, they may not be the best companion for water activities until they are more comfortable.

Dogs that can swim should also wear lifejackets when on boats. Currents, waves, and the distance from shore may impact how well a dog fares in the water. Just like with humans, swimming can be exhausting and a lifejacket may save the dog’s life.

Learn about dog safety when doing activities

Towel

Dogs can get cold, dirty, and smelly when they are wet. If you plan on doing water activities, bring a towel designated for the dog.

Dog Camping Safety

Common Wildlife

There is common wildlife everywhere that while smaller than your dog, may act defensibly in a way that can harm your dog. Snakes may bite, skunks may spray, porcupines may strike.

These types of encounters may ruin your camping trip and lead to unwanted vet visits.

Before you go camping with your dog, be familiar with how your dog may react if faced with the common wildlife in your area. Will your dog chase it, or generally leave it alone? How well would your dog’s recall command work in a similar scenario?

Wildlife Predators and Dogs

Some wildlife may be dangerous to dogs and dog owners should be aware of which predators they may face when camping with dogs.

Predators may come from the sky as well as land. Large birds may carry smaller and younger dogs off thinking they are a tasty meal. Coyotes and bears are not afraid of leashed dogs no matter how loud your dog barks.

Research the wildlife that calls your campground home and have a game plan should the dog encounter any. Most wildlife is afraid of humans, but not all. If the dog’s safety is at risk, put them inside your tent or vehicle until the danger passes.

More dog safety tips

Bugs That Love Dogs

The number one outdoor nuisance to humans is bugs. While bugs are generally a bother for humans, they may be harmful or even fatal to dogs.

If a dog is bit by a mosquito carrying the Dirofilaria immitis parasite, it may lead to heartworms which could be fatal, according to the American Heartworm Society.

Fleas and ticks are common in the outdoors and can latch onto dogs from other animals, or low-lying brush and grasses.

Heartworms, fleas, and ticks can also spread to humans causing discomfort and illnesses like Lyme disease. 

Thankfully, all these pests and diseases are preventative. It is important for both the dog’s and your safety that the pup receive monthly flea and tick medication, as well as heartworm preventative, before camping with dogs.

The Weather

A dogs’ ability to feel comfortable in various temperatures will vary based on their breed history and fur type. Shorter hair and wired hair dogs may fair better in warmer climates, but get cold in temps as high as 60 degrees. Long haired dogs may overheat in 80+ degree weather, but feel comfortable in winter camping.

To prevent overheating, consider bringing a cooling buff for the dog, or decreasing activity in hotter temperatures.

If a dog is sensitive to cool temps, bring them a water resistant jacket and paw protectors to help them retain their body heat and keep off cold surfaces.

In all cases, have a place for the dog to rest that is waterproof on the bottom and has the appropriate air circulation and cushion to either cool or warm up the dog based on their individual needs.

Check out great weather gear for your dog.

Emergency Protocol for Dogs

From a hurt paw, to a battle with wildlife, the outdoors can bring the unknown. Emergencies may happen when camping with a dog. It is best to be prepared with proper information and first aid.

Research the closest vet office and the closest 24-hour animal hospital to the campsite and save the information in your mobile device. Cell phone and Wi-Fi signal can be minimal near campgrounds and in remote locations, so make sure the information is accessible offline.

Have the dog’s medical records and vaccinations saved to a mobile device too in case the local vet needs to review them. 

Have a dog first aid kit with you for minor wound dressing and bug removal. Be prepared to carry your dog to safety if they are injured away from the campground, like on a hiking trail.

Learn more about dog safety when camping.