5 Things to Know About Camping With Dogs

I do not camp so the fact that I’m writing this is hilarious. My mom has said for decades that my idea of roughing it is staying at a five-year-old Holiday Inn. It’s true; I’m not a fan. I mean, I *like* nature but I don’t want it touching me. Imagine my surprise when the boyfriend announced we would be tent camping in Southern Arizona. In my 46 years on Planet Earth, I think this is the first time I have ever slept in a tent. On the ground. In the wild. With a dog.

#1 Shade The sun is ridiculously intense in Arizona all year long. Right now, I’m hot in the sun and cold in the shade. There is no in between. Our campsite near Cochise Stronghold had zero shade so we draped a tarp between our two vehicles to stay cool.

The cooler and water jugs kept moving around the vehicles throughout the day. Unless you have some kind of super tent or a camper with A/C, that’s not going to provide comfortable shade in the heat of the day. It will be like a literal oven and your dog will be miserable.

Depending on the sun and the ambient temperature, sometimes inside a vehicle with the windows down is the most comfortable spot. My test is always to climb in with my boy. If I’m uncomfortable, his hairy ass sure will be. Speaking of which, they will also get cold once you lose the sun. Sherman is a fuzzy bear and he knows not to get too close to the campfire but he was just sitting there shivering the other night.

I put him in the tent to curl up on our bedding and he was a happy boy. Not so much when I attempted to reclaim my sleeping bag. Also, now is not the time to debate whether your dog should sleep with you. The answer is YES.

Sherman prefers cabin camping to the tent. Less wind, more cushion.

#2 Leash Use it even when you think there’s no one around. Unless your dog is some kind of super genius who never disregards your commands, just use it…and not the retractable kind. You never know when another dog will come trotting around a corner on the trail.

And just because your dog is “friendly,” don’t assume they all are. If you’re camping with a dog, there will absolutely be others doing the same. Not trying to be a Karen here…it really is a safety issue, especially if your dog has a strong prey drive. They can easily get in over their heads. Raise your hand if you’ve ever chased a dog who took off after a rabbit, squirrel, or other creature. Now raise your hand if you’ve done it on a mountain in an unfamiliar location with shitty weather.

It’s fun to watch people working off-leash with dogs who have actual jobs and people’s lives literally depend on them not getting distracted. Chances are, those dogs don’t belong to you so use the damned leash.

#3 Water This one is painfully obvious but too important to skip. When we were in Mexico, we got in the habit of using five-gallon jugs and were pretty consistent in our usage so we know how long we can go between refills. There are tons of places to refill them with filtered water. Your favorite map app probably has water stations listed. Convenience stores can usually refill them or look for a standalone machine. Dogs are obviously built for unfiltered water but giardia and other bugs can still upset their digestive systems so take it easy on them.

Sherman actually got sick after drinking tap water at a hotel in Sierra Vista. I won’t get into how I know but just understand I know my dog and where he put his face. It was definitely the hotel water, 100%, final answer. Doggy diarrhea isn’t a fun travel component so if you’re able to find water in the wild, consider filtering it for your pupper as well. Remind your dog about water. They get distracted just like we do and often find their surroundings more interesting. Insist that they drink and watch for signs of dehydration.

#4 Wildlife I was looking for firewood near our campsite at Madera Canyon and found a dead calf at the edge of a wash. There are free range cattle up there so it wasn’t a huge surprise but I was glad I left my boy in the tent.

Sherman loves to pick up dead birds and once found a treasured dead rabbit. I never let him near that area because I knew what would happen. Pay attention to posted notices. In addition to the standard coyotes, you might have to deal with  bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. Javelinas *hate* dogs because they mistake them for coyotes, which are their natural competitors for…you know…survival and junk. They have terrible eyesight but can smell predators from an astonishing distance and will attack the hell out of your dog. Do not let your dog provoke a javelina or even attract its attention.

Once it warms up a bit, rattlesnakes will be a huge problem. Dogs love to stick their noses where they don’t belong and don’t assume you’ll hear a rattlesnake before it strikes.

Also bees! The bf and I were both stung about a week ago and I was concerned about Sherman but he hears their buzzing and heads in the opposite direction. We always have Benadryl just in case.

#5 Paws Watch out for thorns, stickers, and rocky terrain. If it looks like grass in Arizona, it’s probably stickers. Booties are an option if your dog is tolerant. Sherman is not. Last week I had to use tweezers to remove a tiny piece of thorn that broke off when I tried to grab it. Watch how they walk. Check the toe beans regularly and try to keep them on relatively smooth surfaces. Work up to seriously rocky terrain gradually.

Depending on the weather, you may invest in paw remedies like the sled teams use. When it’s warm, check the surface with the back of your hand. You won’t be able to keep your pupper from tracking debris into your tent or camper but I try to towel Sherman off before he enters to minimize it as much as possible. Dogs are gross…it’s a good thing we love them.

Bonus tip: Know when your dog has had enough. When left to their own devices, they nap throughout the day. If you have them out hiking and doing stuff and that’s not their normal routine, they will lose both energy and patience. If you notice your pupper is suddenly ignoring orders, a time-out nap may be required. You’ll both be happier when your hiking buddy is well-rested.

Caveat: I have no idea what I’m doing so follow my advice at your own risk.

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