First Time Camping with Your Dog Survival Guide
So you’ve decided to take your dog with you on vacation and go the camping route. I hear ya, camping with your dog seems more doable than trying to stay in a hotel with your dog, and in most cases, it is a lot cheaper to take your dog camping, than it is to stay in a hotel. Welcome to the club!
Our first time taking Kirby on vacation, we decided to camp. It was my first time camping with a dog and boy, did I learn a thing or two from that trip.
So in this post, I’m sharing how to survive your first time camping with a dog and avoid some of the hurdles we went through our first time!
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Before You Go:
Do A Trial Run in Your Backyard
I would highly recommend doing a trial run in your backyard. Not only does it take away the anxiety of the unknown for you if you are unsure how your dog will react to camping. This will give your dog exposure to a tent, being tied up for an extended amount of time, etc.
We did our trial run in my in-laws’ backyard and made food at the fire pit, the whole nine yards to really see how Kirby would do.
Check the Weather and Campground Policies
Camping in the rain or blazing heat without a dog is not fun, so with a dog, it will be pretty awful. You obviously can’t guarantee what the weather will be like when you book your camping dates, but it is a good idea to make sure it isn’t super hot when you plan to camp since you are outside the whole time.
Your dog will need shade, a cooling mat, or a shading device at the very least. If you know it is going to be scorching, it might be a good idea to bring a kiddy pool to fill up so that your dog can splash around and cool off.
Pick The right Campsite
So this was a big one for us. Our first time camping with Kirby, I booked a site near the water spigot AND a straight shot to the bathrooms. At night, people would cut through our site to use the bathrooms, and Kirby would growl and bark at the noises and flashlights. Never again…
I would suggest getting a site that backs up to woods or a corner site that will not have a lot of people walking through or by your site to get to anything. Yes, it may be a little more inconvenient for you to have a farther walk to the restrooms, but keeping your dog quiet at night will be so much easier.
I’ve attached a handy dandy example of a campground and what site would be ideal (Site 321) and not ideal (Site 392).
Bring All The Gear
Camping gear is a ton of fun to collect and shop for. Shopping for dog camping gear is even more fun. I have a separate post dedicated to just dog camping gear to get more in-depth product recommendations, but here are the must-haves:
- Camping Bed / Mat
- Collar Light Bulb
- Sun Shade Shelter
- Durable Outdoor Toys
- Tick Remover
- Food and Water Bowls
Clip Their Nails!
Our first time camping with Kirby we forgot to clip his nails before the trip, so the whole time we worried about him poking holes in the tent and our air mattress. Save yourself the stress and clip your dog’s nails before your trip.
We also lay a folded blanket at the end of our air mattress to protect the area where Kirby sleeps on our bed. You could get them their own bed, but if your dog sleeps with you at home, good luck trying to get them to not sleep on your bed in your tent.
You can also lay towels or outdoor rugs down on your tent floor if you are really worried about your tent getting scratched up.
At The Campsite:
Once you’ve arrived at the campsite there are a few things you want to do right away.
Pick Your Dog’s 6′ Radius Area
Make sure your dog’s “spot” for the trip is in view of the picnic table, the fire pit, and in a way that your dog can see you. You’ll want to make sure they can’t run into the tent or step on it or get tangled on other things in their six-foot radius. The reason I say six-foot radius is because most campgrounds have a policy that dogs must be on a 6′ leash at all times.
Set Up Their Area Before You Set Up The Tent
I would recommend that you set up your dog’s spot before you start putting up your tent. This way you don’t have to worry about where they are while you focus on setting everything up. Make sure to give your dog access to water right away as well.
Have Them Go Potty in the Daylight
This one is a must. Our first time camping with Kirby we arrived after dark, set up our tent in the dark and tried to have him do his business in the dark. He was not happy. He wouldn’t go and proceeded to wake me up every 2 hours all night long asking to be let out, only to circle and circle and not go. It was a nightmare.
Now, I make sure to take him to the area where he will be going potty during our stay. Once he finds an area that he likes, I make sure to take him to that same familiar area for the whole trip. Since he was able to see and understand his surroundings during daylight, he won’t feel afraid or unsure later on.
Be Mindful of Children
You will encounter a lot of children when camping, or at least we have. Kids tend to be less polite when it comes to coming up to your dog, so just make sure that you are paying attention to your dog so they aren’t taken off guard if kids come up to your site to meet your dog. If your dog is not super friendly or tends to get anxious, I would go so far as to put up a sign on a tree that says “Please don’t disturb the dog.”
After a day or two, your dog will most likely get territorial of your campsite and may start to be more vocal in guarding the area.
Keep Them Cool and Hydrated
Since your home away from home is completely outdoors, it is important to make sure your dog is staying hydrated and cool. Check the weather forecast before your trip and pack accordingly.
We make sure to have a cooling mat, a sunshade device, and access to cold water at all times. If it’s an unbearably hot weekend, you could also bring a little kiddie pool to fill up and let your dog cool off in it.
Give Them Durable Outdoor Toys
Kirby has a few outdoor toys that can be easily washed off and keep him entertained while we are cooking or in our hammocks.
In The Tent
In addition to getting your dog used to your tent before your trip, it is also important to take a few extra steps to ensure your dog is comfortable in the tent and is not disruptive at night.
Protect Your Air Mattress
We have an air mattress set up in our tent. Since Kirby sleeps on our bed at home, there was no way we were going to be able to get him to not sleep on our air mattress. To protect our air mattress, we bring a large blanket that we fold in half and lay at the end of the bed.
We also have a dog sleeping bag pillow that we lay on the tent floor in case Kirby jumps down and decides to sleep on the floor.
What To Do If Your Dog is Barking / Growling From Noises
Unless your dog is oblivious to the world around them, odds are they are going to bark or growl at noises outside your tent at night. This is why it is so important to pick a site that is not in the path of bathrooms or water spigot so you won’t have people cutting across your site.
Here are some troubleshooting tips to keep your dog from barking or growling at night.
- CLOSE WINDOWS HALFWAY: depending on your tent, if you have large windows, you’ll want to close them until your dog’s eye-level view is blocked.
- PLAY WHITE NOISE: Bring a Bluetooth speaker and play white noise at night to help your dog not hear all the other sounds outside.
- TRAIN THEM WITH THE QUIET COMMAND BEFOREHAND: This may not stop them completely, but it is a useful command to teach your dog so that you have better control over your dog if they tend to bark a lot.
Get Them Their Own Sleeping Bag or Bed
As mentioned above, we have a sleeping bag pillow for Kirby, so that he knows it’s his spot or “place”. When dogs are in an unfamiliar place, having an area or things that they understand are theirs helps keep them happy and comfortable.
We really like this one, since it is durable and machine washable for easy clean up after our trip.
Never Leave Your Dog in the Tent Unattended
This should go without saying, but please do not leave your dog in your tent unattended. Tents are not the most stable structures, and if your dog gets scared they could bring the tent down trying to get out. You don’t want that happening and you don’t want your dog to get hurt.
It is also common courtesy to others camping nearby. If your dog is alone and scared, they will probably be barking their head off. Take turns with your spouse or friend when going to the restroom, the shower, etc.
Camping with your dog is a great way to travel cheaply with your dog. After you survive your first time, it will get easier and easier. I really hope this survival guide helps you enjoy your first time camping with your dog! Let me know in the comments how it goes.