Revised with new information as of January 2016
Camping with Your Dog

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Camping with a dog (or dogs) in the USA can be a joyous experience for both owner and dog. A dog is thrilled at the new smells and sites of a camp site. You will see new characteristics in your dog when you are camping with him or her (or them); my dogs, when we go camping, walk a little faster, open their eyes a little wider, and raise their heads a little more high when we're out in the wilds. Dogs discover interesting features you might otherwise overlook. Unlike hiking, your dog does not have to be in the best physical shape to just go camping, and you can take more supplies with you than you can when backpacking.

My favorite photos of me and my dogs.

This page was created as a companion piece to Terri Watson Rashid's excellent, Hiking/Backpacking with Canines back in the mid-1990s (I used to link to her page, but it's moved so many times and I can't keep up with it anymore). In addition to my own experiences camping with my dogs, this page uses some material from Terri's original site (with permission).


primitive drawing of me and the dogs in our truck

Who Can Participate?

If you think you could go camping without a dog, you can probably go camping with one. The additional constraints if you bring a dog, or dogs, are that you must be (1) physically able to restrain your dog (or dogs) in the presence of distractions, such as deer, squirrels and other critters, and (2) responsible enough to prevent the dog from being a nuisance to other campers or animals. This includes picking up after your pet!

If you are going to camp with a dog (or dogs), it is important that the dog(s) is (are) well-behaved around other people (both adults and children) and animals. Camping, particularly in the evening and mornings, is a relaxing time - fellow campers may have just finished a long day of hiking or driving. While a campsite may be lively during the day, once night starts to fall, it's time to settle down. Your dog will need to understand when play time is over and how to be quiet (no barking!). If your dog has never been to dog school, ENROLL NOW. The cost is minimal and it will make you a better, more responsive dog owner, as well as a better camper with a dog. In fact, you will have an even deeper relationship with your dog.

On her Hiking/Backpacking with Canines page, Terri Watson makes this excellent point: "Good canine manners will go a long way towards creating good will and increased tolerance of canine presence. Know your dog. Be aware of what situations may make him act strangely or provoke an aggressive or defensive reaction. Then prevent these situations or, if unavoidable, be prepared to deal appropriately with them. You should never take a dog out on the trail if you feel there is any chance of someone being injured by him."

If you take your dog camping without preparation and training, you are setting yourself up not only to make other campers angry and get yourself thrown out of a site, but also, to fuel efforts to ban dogs altogether from camp sites.

Dog-Aggressive Dogs
For 11 years, I had a lovely Australian Shepherd mix, Wiley, and for 15 years, a boisterous Beagle/Basset Hound mix, Buster. I then had an angel of a German Shepard-mix, Albi. Now, I have bouncy, skittish, curious, dog-loving Mexican mutt named Lucinda. All have great affection for people, and three of them were great with other dogs, but Wiley would attack another dog on sight -- and go for the kill. It's not easy camping with such a dog, but it can be done, through a great deal of caution, sensitivity to surroundings and responsibility on the part of the owner (me!). It was worth it to me because of how much he loved to go camping and how happy he was for many days after a trip. I have notes throughout this guide on how I did it. If you have a dog-aggressive dog and don't think you can do ALL of the precautions I mention, I strongly urge you NOT to camp with your dog.

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She adds "one more thing to remember- dogs can endure a lot more pain then we can - or for that matter than we can watch them go through."

Many of these will not make you popular with other campers or dog owners. But if you think you might need to break up a dog fight, these are your choices.

Someone also sent me this, and I think for large dogs, it's a great idea:

If you have more alternative ideas on how to humanely prevent or break up dog fights, please contact me. (I sure miss those soft plastic soda bottles...)

  • Other items
    Dog comb and brush, dog toys, dog treats, extra bags or newspapers for doggie-business cleanup, and large bags for garbage (please dispose of all garbage and collected poo bags in official garbage receptacles - garbage cans are plentiful in the USA, at every camp ground entrance, every grocery story, and every rest stop.

  • vehicle heating and cooling systems
    If you are going to be driving through intense heat or cold, your dogs will need the protection your vehicle can provide. For my dogs, heat is the worst of the two extremes (I always worry about heat exhaustion or heat stroke), so I make sure my air-conditioner is in good working order before we take off on a trip.
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    Where to Camp?

    I'm happy to say that there seems to be more places now to camp with dogs than there were back in the 1990s, when I authored the first version of this page.

    Most state parks allow dogs (sometimes even in cabins and yurts!), and a growing number also allow dogs on some or all hiking trails (dogs must be leashed at all times!).

    Private camping sites are hit and miss: some are very accommodating regarding dogs, allowing you to walk everywhere with them, and some limit dog walking to a tiny patch of ground that won't at all meet your dogs' walking needs.

    Dogs are allowed in the camp sites of National Parks, National Monuments and National Forests, as well as on or alongside paved roads, but they are usually NOT allowed on trails. The web sites for these always note the rules regarding dogs.

    If I have the luxury of using the Web to research camp sites, I do so. If there isn't enough information on the web site, I call or email the camp site. If I don't have that luxury, I have a look at the information board in the front of the camp site I want to stay in. Whether state park, national park or private site, the camp site bulletin board will give you the information you need regarding dogs.

    I love camping on Bureau of Land Management land, because there's usually no one else around. However, your chances of wildlife encounters increase on BLM land, so be extra cautious of such.

    Unfortunately, uncontrolled dogs and irresponsible pet owners have contributed to the closing of some campsites to dogs, and the hostile reactions by some fellow campers when they see you have dogs with you. Remember: your behavior with your dogs effects ALL campers with dogs! Keep your dog quiet, exhaust your dog with exercise, keep your dog on a leash at all times and never, ever leave your dog alone at a camp site.

    Having a dog-aggressive-dog, I made sure I left myself plenty of daylight to find a campsite, allowing for the possibility of having to move later (either because of the dog or because the guy in the adjacent campsite has an RV with a generator running all night).

    If you have a dog-aggressive-dog or people-aggressive dog, it is YOUR obligation to keep the dog well away from other dogs or people, especially children. If you have to camp near other campers with a dog, don't hesitate to let them know, in the most friendly but firmest way possible, that you have a dog that should NOT be approached, and that while you will have this dog restrained at all times, they will need to kindly stay away. Most people will respect this and even sympathize; if you encounter someone who is unfriendly or confrontational or hysterical, move; reason won't work, and it's not worth it to try with such people.

    A guy I met at a camp site in Billings, Montana had made a small printed sign in a clear sandwich bag telling people to not approach his dog. He hung it from a picnic table near his dog. You may not have your eye on your dog at all times, and such a sign helps warn anyone you might not see approaching your camp site.

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    Heat Exhaustion or Stroke

    Heat stroke is a life threatening condition for your dog (hey, and for you too) and you should be able to recognize the warning signs and know how to prevent it. Even on a cool day, if it is very sunny, and your dog is working hard or is a dark-coated breed, they can get overheated. Remember: dogs have a body temperature that is higher than yours! Dogs get hot very quickly, looooooong before you will. If you would be stifled in your truck were you wearing a sweater or your coat, it's too hot for your dog. Heat stroke is as big a threat to a dog while camping as disease or animal attack.

    Watch your dog for signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. Particularly, unusually rapid panting, and/or a bright red tongue or mucous membranes. The dog's primary mechanism for cooling off is through panting. Since this cooling process uses evaporation the dog will require more water when he is panting heavily. Shorter-nosed breeds (eg, Bulldogs, Pugs) may have a less efficient heat exchange rate, so should be watched especially closely.

    Check with your vet for the best ways to cool down an overheated dog. There are more suggestions on The Dog FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions and Their Answers) about this and other dog health issues. There is also more information about heat exhaustion on the archived Backpacking With Your Dog FAQs.

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    Pick It Up or Else

    Always pick up after your dog in a campsite or where anyone hikes or walks -- dog waste is not the same as other animal waste, even that of wolves or coyotes. It is bad for the environment, particularly near water sources, and most bothersome to other campers and hikers. In fact, its a temptation to many dogs to eat, and that is extremely unhealthy. You are contributing to people's bad feelings about dogs, and contributing to more campsites being closed to dog owners, by not scooping.

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    Winter parking lot danger

    John Conrard cautions:

    Be Nice and Help Us All Out

    Be friendly and courteous to other people in the campsite. Responsible, educated dog owners that bring their pets with them camping leave a positive impression on others, making it easier for the dog owners who follow you.


    My Favorite Resources Relating to Dogs

    Moving to Germany with your dog(s)

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    Hiking and camping are potentially dangerous activities. The author of this document is not an instructor or an authority in any of these areas, or in veterinary science, or in the area of dog training in general. You are responsible for the health, welfare and actions of your canine companion. This document is the author's attempt to pass on information she wished she had had before she camped with her dogs the first time. The information is gathered from her personal experience as well as items heard from others, not all of which has she experienced firsthand. In other words, some of the content in this document is strictly hearsay. You should always check with your veterinarian and/or other experts when you are beyond your own area of expertise. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.

    Please adopt a shelter dog, & please don't give up on your dog

    Also, see Prison-Based Dog Training Programs: Rehabilitation for Canine and Human

    Thanks to Terri Watson Rashid, author of Hiking/Backpacking with Canines.

    Thanks also to everyone who contributed information.

    This information is subject to change, per new experiences and suggestions. If you want to suggest a link FROM this page, please read this linking criteria.

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