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How To Prepare Your Dog For Your Next Camping Trip — If You Decide To Go There

There are some stereotypes about Californians that just ring true. We love spending time outdoors and we love spending time with our four-legged friends.

So, growing up in Southern California, my family and I often took our dogs camping with us whenever we had a long weekend or a summer vacation.

I grew up with two huskies, and I can still remember the look of wonder and pure excitement in their eyes when they got to play in snow for the first time. These trips were a time for me to bond with my pet and do something we both loved together. And for a family vacation, it feels wrong to leave behind even the furriest of members.

But as most dog owners know, any change in routine or environment can stress a poor pup out. So, if you are planning a camping trip with your dog this summer, it’s important to keep a few things in mind to ensure their safety and comfort. That way you both can enjoy the trip.

To Bring the Dog or To Leave the Dog

Now, while many of us want to spend as much time with our dog as possible, the first question to ask when it comes to bringing them on a camping trip is — whether you should or not.

Some dogs may be too old or too restless, and oftentimes, compromises have to be made in order for your pup to be included.

“The cost benefit analysis would have me say that does the dog have to come with you?” said Katya Lidsky, a dog coach and writer in Los Angeles. “Can the dog go to a doggie daycare, stay with a friend, a pet sitter? Do we have to have the dog?”

Lidsky said that we often expect a lot from our dogs and from our trips with them. “And there is nothing wrong with that. But I think maybe just checking in and taking a moment to shine some awareness onto why do I want my dog to come?”

Do you want to bring your dog because they enjoy nature and you think they will have fun? Is it because it will make you feel safer to have them there or make them feel safer to be with you?

“I really think at the end of the day, the feedback loop is between a pet parent and their dog,” said Lidsky. “You know your dog better than anybody.”

Now if you decide a trip with your dog is the right call, here’s how to prepare.

A stoic huskie sitting on snow and staring at you

Nevada, one of my family’s beloved huskies.

Before You Hit the Road

  • Check the rules and regulations of where you want to stay and camp. California is unique because of its many different national parks and public lands, but every place has its own rules about keeping dogs on leashes and off trails. Many national parks only allow dogs on paved trails and bike paths so as not to interfere with the natural wildlife.
  • Make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations and shots. This includes rabies and tick and flea medication. Part of the great outdoors is getting to experience wildlife, but that can put your dog at risk of catching diseases or harboring a new pest. “You can’t control everything that’s going to come up, so having your dog be extra protected vaccination wise beyond just the normal rabies is recommended,” said Lidsky.
  • Make sure your dog is well-trained. “I would love a dog to be solid on recall,” Lidsky said. She suggests practicing recall with your dog outside. “Sometimes dogs do a great job listening inside, but they don’t generalize well, so they don’t always translate that into the outdoor space.”
  • Get your dog used to the space they will be staying in. It may be beneficial to do a trial run so your dog can get acclimated to staying overnight in your tent or RV. 
  • Pack a bag for your pupper. There are checklists like this one for dog camping essentials to bring, but in general make sure they have enough food and water, and bring a favorite toy or two. If you can, bring their bed. You want your dog to be comfortable whether you’re in a tent, an RV, or glamping in a cabin.

The Road Trip Before the Camping Trip

  • Set up a comfortable space in the car for them. For road trips with my dog, my family and I would usually lay one of the back seats down for our dog with lots of blankets so she was comfortable. Lidsky recommends keeping your dog in their crate and giving them a chew toy or a Kong filled with a treat. “They can entertain themselves and mentally stimulate and burn some mental energy,” she said.
  • Lidsky also recommends playing classical music during the car ride. A trick animal shelters use. “It has been shown to just overall create a calm environment, and I think it’s because our dogs like it, but I also think it’s because we’re calmer,” she said.
  • Make sure you take plenty of potty breaks. Any change in routine or environment can throw them off balance which can be stressful for you and your dog. Lidsky said to try and be within 20 minutes of a bathroom space while on the road.
  • Drive slowly and smoothly. You can buy a dog seat belt, but for some dogs and cars, strapping in your pup may not be feasible. So, take care that your dog is safe, especially avoiding sharp turns and abrupt stops. This will also help keep your dog from getting car sick.

At The Campsite And On The Trails

  • Keep your dog on a harness and long leash. With lots of new sights and smells you want to make sure they can explore but do not stray too far away from you.
  • When my family camped with our dogs, we would try to pick campsites with a few trees so we could set up a zipline to leash them to. That way they could roam and explore the boundaries of our campsite without fear that they would run away. But excellent recall is always the way to go.
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended or alone at the campsite. If there is an activity you want to do that isn’t dog friendly, skip it.
  • Be courteous of your temporary neighbors. All dogs bark and some bark more than others. Most campgrounds have quiet hours after a certain time, so be mindful of how loud your dog might be around new people and places.
  • Bring items and incorporate cues to make your dog feel comfortable and minimize stress in their new temporary home. This includes bringing their favorite toys, keeping their eating and sleep schedule, etc. “Try to keep some consistencies that let the dog understand, or at least get the cues that they already associate with safety,” said Lidsky.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

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