My wife and I lay in our hammocks admiring the sunset. My best friend, Stevie, a catahoula cur mix, lay under me joyously chewing a stick she had found earlier on our hike, her silver spots glinting in the dusky light. A soft fragrant mountain breeze caressed us. We were camping with our dogs, on the first day of our first big trip after our big gay wedding. If this was what queer family vacation was going to look like, I was definitely in.
And then Mick, our corgi, started barking. And barking. And barking. That dog did not stop barking for nine days. He barked in the car, in our tent, at rest stops, at campgrounds, and on beaches. He barked at mountains, at other dogs, at bugs, and at every other camper we saw. Mick became the bane of our gay holiday.
So as it turns out, bringing your dog along on a camping trip isn't always so great. That said, it can still be worthwhile — if you follow these tips, that is.
Vet your dog's behavior
If your dog is prissy, scared of bugs or animals, or doesn’t like getting wet or dirty, they will probably not love camping. And if they bark at people or other dogs in your neighborhood, chances are that they'll bark even more in unfamiliar territory.
This is not just annoying — it’s a quick way to make enemies in a campground, or worse, get kicked out. Most campgrounds, even if they do allow pets (and you should definitely check on this before you travel), have a disclaimer about behavior. And pro tip: there’s nothing worse than sleeping in your car with two dogs and another human when you planned a romantic trip to the beach.
To avoid ending up in this situation, try out an overnight trip close to home before your epic road trip adventure. This will help you determine whether or not your dog is actually suited to camping, or whether you're best off leaving them at home.
Consider the temperature
When deciding on a camping location, “make sure it’s not going to be too hot,” says New Orleans-based veterinarian Abbey Raaphorst. Dog paw pads, she explains, can "become blistered and raw if the ground is too rough or too hot. Rule of thumb if it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot, it’s too hot for your pup."
Keep in mind, too, that while any dog can get overheated, heat stroke is especially a risk for brachycephalic dog breeds (i.e. smush-faced pups like pugs and bull dogs).
And if you're camping during the winter, Raaphorst advises buying a jacket or booties for your dog, but only once you've made sure the temperature is manageable. "If it’s too cold for you to be outside — it might be too cold for your pup (especially if they are small)," she says.
Pack extra food and water
While you always need to bring all the mainstays of your dog’s daily life when traveling, you have to think about them a bit more comprehensively when on a camping trip. “Make sure there is plenty of fresh potable water and extra food," says Raaphorst, "in case the trip runs longer than expected or if the pup is hungrier than normal due to increase in activity."
When planning for a camping trip, I always pack at least 50% more of my dogs' food than they ordinarily eat. After all, there are a lot of things that can happen while camping that don’t happen in everyday life. For one, wild animals love pet food, so make sure you store the meals in an air and water-tight container and that you use a bowl with a lid that can be taken on and off (which will also help keep out bugs).
If you're camping in a place that doesn’t have a water source, you will need to bring enough for your pet. Dogs should drink about an ounce of water per pound of body weight in a day in ordinary circumstances, so bring plenty more when camping. Use a water bowl with a lid, and clean it every day. No one wants tadpoles taking up residence in their pet's bowl, right?
Get them vaccinated
All dogs should be on flea and tick prevention, says Raaphorst, but they're especially important for those going camping. And depending on where you're heading, your dog might also need some other vaccines. “I would recommend talking to your vet about which product is best for the area they are camping in," Raaphorst advises.
If you're taking your pet to an area where Lyme disease is present, for instance, you should get them vaccinated for that, and the same goes for locations with rabies and leptospirosis. Emergencies happen, and you want to be prepared. Speaking of which...
Buy a first aid kit
Before setting out, consider investing in or making a first aid kit specifically for your pet. You never know what’s going to happen or how quickly you’ll be able to get to a vet if something bad were to occur. It also can’t hurt to know how to perform CPR on your dog.
Additionally, bring any medicines that your dog takes regularly or even occasionally. Benadryl, too, is a great thing to have on hand, as according to the American Kennel Club, you can give your dog 1 mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight if you suspect that they are having an allergic reaction. Bonus: if your corgi barks all night, Benadryl will help you sleep, so it definitely does not hurt to have it with you on the trip.
Don't worry about bedding
Don’t bring your dog’s bed from home unless you are prepared to leave it behind. Wild animals will pee on it, bugs will infest it, and it will get really, really dirty. Instead, bring towels that you can use to make a bed for your dog if they need one (some dogs don't — Stevie is find with sand or dirt). You can also use the towels for other purposes, if need be.
Make sure you have a strong leash
When I’m camping with Stevie, I bring her everyday collar and leash, an extra collar and leash, and a tie out stake and rope. The tie out stake is really handy if you’re camping in a place that only allows pets on leashes or if you want your dog close at hand, because, you know, bears.
“It is important to keep them on a leash so they don’t get lost,” says Raaphorst, “and to prevent them from running off to greet a wild animal that may not be happy about their visit.” Like I said: bears.
In addition to a leash, "make sure the pup is microchipped, and that the chip is registered with updated information in case they get separated," says Raaphorst. If you're not sure whether your dog is microchipped, bring your dog to the vet, where they'll get scanned at no charge. And if you want to be extra safe, consider getting a GPS chip for the dog's collar, which Raaphorst notes are relatively inexpensive.
Mick might have caused some issues, but Stevie is the best camping companion I’ve ever had, including several ex-lovers. I’ve taken her to the beach in summer, to the mountains in winter, and to the desert in spring. She never complains about my car sing alongs and she loves sitting for hours doing nothing, just like me. Frankly, I’d rather travel with her than anyone else and I think she feels the same way. As long as I keep her safe from bears and her corgi sibling, we’re good.