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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Returning to the US: Back in the Dirty T

I arrived in Rexburg, Idaho at the end of January without a winter coat. That’s how my year was going. Then I learned there wasn’t really a place for the dogs: No securely fenced area for them to go off-leash and they weren’t even supposed to be in the house. It was beyond cold outside and them sleeping in an outbuilding alone in a strange place just wasn’t going to happen so we were able to negotiate main floor privileges. The bedrooms were all upstairs so we ended up on a sofa sleeper. Sherman was pupset and refused to poop.

Sherman also failed to understand why he wasn’t allowed to chase deer through pastures.

We were there just over three (very long) weeks and pretty much every day was exactly like that: The housing picture, the jobs picture, the weather picture…all bleak. I had forgotten about rural Idaho’s paved country roads being really shitty for walking dogs.

Lulu also didn’t enjoy the lack of freedom but at least she could scratch her back.

Literally every single thing I needed to do was a fucking struggle: Laundry, dishes, bathing, heat, you name it.  If you know me, you can imagine my mood. Due to reasons I still don’t fully understand, we ended up in a goddamned RV in the middle of winter with two big dogs and basically frozen everything.

The dogs were afraid of the sounds associated with de-winterization. They took refuge on my lap.

Ice Station Zebra was clearly not a viable solution for any of us. It was important that we experience it firsthand to know that area, while beautiful, isn’t the right spot. We both wanted to be in the warm sunshine so we made plans to head back to Arizona. Finding suitable housing close to human and canine recreation spots was super simple. The extreme difference in level of difficulty just reinforced my opinion that this was the right move. I couldn’t get loaded up fast enough.

The morning we (finally) left Idaho, I was dragged to the ground *hard* by my dogs bolting out of the RV to fight an obese chocolate lab. Because rural people still do not believe in confining their dogs. Thanks a lot, dicks. It wouldn’t be a road trip without a mechanical delay so we spent an extra night in Green River, Utah waiting for a new serpentine belt and roller for the truck. Under normal circumstances, I would have wanted to stop near Moab for some hiking but I was seriously so done with all of this shit that we just powered through the rest of the drive.

We arrived in Tucson late on February 24, making it a 40-day trip covering more than 3,000 miles. Both dogs immediately pooped in the bark park and suddenly all was right with the world once again.

Click the links below to see how we got to this point.

Returning to the US: Who Doesn’t Love a 1,000 Mile Detour?

Returning to the US: Motocross Heaven and the Tow of Shame

Returning to the US: He Literally Thought I Was Dead

Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to Poop

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

Returning to the US: First the Why

Stone Cold Killa

This is Sherman. Sherman is dumb as a bag of hammers but he’s very sweet. Because he’s such a lovable cuddle bear, people refuse to believe he has a ridiculous prey drive. (RIP all of the lizards.)

The other night, he and his sister, Lulu went outside at about 0300 for whatever dog reasons and I immediately heard them losing their damned minds. I ran to the backyard to prevent my neighbors from hating me and saw a coyote right on the other side of the view fence.

My house backs up to a wash with tons of cacti, trees, and rabbits. Coyotes and javelinas hunt back there all the time. Most nights, they go about their business quietly and my dogs sleep through it. But nooo…

Sherman was barking like an absolute lunatic and I grabbed his collar right as he tried to lunge at the fence. This coyote lunged at the fence at the exact same time. There is plenty of space between the wrought iron bars for noses. Sweet fancy Moses, my Sherman was less than two feet from fighting with a wild animal through the fence and still barking in kill mode.

I marched him inside, blocked the dog door, and went back to bed. My dogs jumped on the bed and crashed like nothing unusual had happened. I, on the other hand, lay there with my heart pounding in my chest like I had just run a 5K in my flip-flops. Sherman didn’t even thank me for saving his life.

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