How to Take Your Dog Camping for the First Time

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If you’re anything like me, you want to take your dog everywhere with you. Where I go, my dog goes; it’s that simple!

But I was pretty nervous the first time I took Pirate camping. 

Would he be able to sleep? Would he manage the long hike? Would he get too cold? Would he disappear over the hill at the sight of a juicy rabbit?

It all turned out fine. The dog and the woman each came home in one piece, and neither of us was scarred for life! But I’d probably do things a bit differently if I knew then what I know now.

Hopefully, this article will give you some helpful pointers, so you can feel more prepared than I did!

Before You Set Off 

Practice Run 

If your dog has never been camping before, you probably want to take things slowly. 

You could try camping in the yard for the first night so they can get used to sleeping in a tent in familiar surroundings. 

Your test camp is a great time to see if your dog is shivering. That way, if necessary, you can sort out a warmer sleeping arrangement for them on the trails. 

Also, make sure to get a dog-friendly tent.

Fitness Check

Also, make sure your dog is ready for the physical aspect of your trip. If you usually walk for only an hour a day, it’s going to be a bit of a shock for them to face an eight-hour hike before you make camp. 

If you’re car camping, this isn’t such a big deal. However, backpackers must run their dogs up to the big event more slowly. 

If your dog isn’t fit enough, you’re going to end up with a very tired and stiff camper the next day—one that doesn’t want to crawl out of their sleeping bag and hike back home. Or even better, they will just lie down on the trails and refuse to budge (good luck carrying them the rest of the way!).

Packing 

Don’t forget to pack:

  • Food (and a bowl!)
  • Plenty of water (and a bowl!)
  • A first aid kit 
  • A blanket or sleeping bag for your dog 
  • Towels
  • A long leash

Food 

If you’ll be hiking, your dog will need a lot more calories than usual. The exact amount will depend on the weight and age of your dog, as well as how much terrain you cover. 

Your best bet is to check the feeding guidelines on the side of your dog food. If you’re in doubt, I suggest giving your dog at least 50% more food than you usually do, but potentially even more.

If your dog food provider doesn’t have helpful information, try using a feeding calculator

Food Bowl 

Your food bowl should be pretty self-explanatory, but I would consider getting a gobble bowl if your dog eats really fast. 

This can help prevent them from vomiting in your tent, which would be a pretty nasty thing to deal with. 

Pirate isn’t particularly food motivated, so I don’t bother with this!

Water

Make sure you bring enough water and a bowl. This should be available all the time just outside the tent (not inside, or it might spill everywhere). 

If you’re hiking, your dog may well end up drinking from streams and rivers along the way. That’s fine, but you should still bring plenty of water in your pack, just in case. 

First Aid Kit 

Make sure to bring some basic first aid supplies with you. 

These should include a tick remover or pair of tweezers for ticks. You should also treat your dog for fleas and ticks before you set off. 

This is to protect against diseases like Lyme disease. 

If untreated, Lyme can lead to chronic illness in your dog, including sore joints, limping, and depression. The disease doesn’t usually start transmitting until the tick has been biting for a good 24 hours. That’s why you want to keep on top of things and remove any ticks every day. (Source)

Top Tip: Ticks particularly love armpits, so that’s a good place to check!

Be very careful with tick and flea drops. If your dog goes in a stream, the treatment can wash away and kill millions of insects. Only one dog flea treatment has enough poison to kill 60 million bees! (Source)

You’d be better off giving them an oral tablet, which won’t wash into the waterways. 

You might also want to consider bringing a dog sling for emergencies. This can help you carry a heavier dog safely back to your car if they get badly hurt on a hike. A sling will fold up nice and small in your pack. 


If you’re car camping, a dog sling probably isn’t necessary. 

Sleeping Bag 

Lots of people want to know if you need a sleeping bag for your dog. 

It depends on the weather. 

In the summer, a sleeping bag might not be necessary. But in the cooler months, it’s probably a good idea. You can get sleeping bags made for dogs, but they’re pretty expensive. I prefer to get any old sleeping bag that is falling to bits and then sew it into a doggy bag. 

Just cut off the end so that it’s the right size, then sew along the bottom to seal it again. It doesn’t have to look pretty, so don’t worry if your sewing skills are rusty!

Towels 

If there’s any chance of rain, you’ll want some towels to dry off muddy paws before you let your dog in the tent. Yes, in the tent!

Some people prefer to have their dog sleep outside, but I don’t think that’s fair. 

If I’ve brought my dog into unknown territory, I’d much rather he felt comfortable and with his ‘pack’ by letting him sleep in the tent with us. 

Some campsites also have rules that the dog must come inside with you (I think this is so they don’t bark all night and wake up everyone!).

Instead of towels for muddy paws, you might also consider a toweling bag. These are great if it’s really raining and you want your dog to dry out properly before they stink up the tent. 

Long Leash

Unless your dog has a spectacular recall, you’re probably going to have to keep them on a leash. 

At campsites, keeping them on a leash will likely be a rule. 

If you’re in the wilderness, your dog might chase wildlife and get lost (or just generally make a nuisance of themselves; we have to respect the home of wild animals when we’re out there!).

Pirate is an obedient dog, so I let him off the lead under supervision. But if I see any livestock in the distance, I pop him on the leash straight away. He probably wouldn’t chase them, but there’s no way I’m going to take that risk (dogs will get shot if they attack livestock, at least where I’m from).

That’s why I pack the long leash. I actually use a long line for horses, so he can jump up ditches and have fun exploring without getting too far away from me. 

You could also tie this long leash to a tree in the evenings, so your dog can still have lots of room to roam, but you don’t have to worry about them chasing something fluffy into the darkness. 

Check the Rules (Boring, I Know!)

I love camping in the High Pyrenees here in France, but the National Park has a no-dog rule, even if the dog is on a lead. 

This seemed so unfair at first. But then I learned that it’s because the mountain goats are protected by huge dogs called Patous. They’re trained to attack other dogs, as the mountain goats are often killed by strays. 

If people were allowed to hike up there with their four-legged friends, things could get really nasty (for the dogs, but also for the owners who tried to save them)! 

So, be sure to find out if dogs are allowed at campsites or on the trails you plan on checking out. These rules aren’t about excluding dog owners, and there’s almost always a good reason for them. 

If Your Dog Gets Lost


I want to share one last tip before I go. 

A great friend of mine took her dog camping, but he was nervous about the new surroundings. At one point, he panicked and bolted, and she couldn’t find him for hours. 

Eventually, she decided to hike back to her car and get help. But she left one of her sweaters on the ground because it had her scent on it. When she came back with her boyfriend, the dog was lying on the sweater.

If you ever lose your dog in the great outdoors, it’s worth remembering that little trick! 

Final Thoughts

To be honest, Pirate was a bit unsure of himself on our first camping trip. 

He wasn’t totally miserable. He just kept looking at me pointedly, as if he wanted to know what the heck I was thinking, and when I was going to call it a day and take him home. Lots of reassurance is key here!

Let your dog sleep in the tent with their people, and make sure they’ve had some practice hikes or yard camps, so it’s not all too weird for them. 

After they realize that nothing bad is going to happen, most dogs will love camping. If their tail starts wagging like crazy when you get your hiking bag out of the cupboard, you’ll know that you’ve got a happy camping buddy!

About the Author:
Rachel Horne is a freelance writer and journalist. When she isn’t writing about camping for publications like The Camper Lifestyle, she’s exploring the great outdoors with her rescue pup, Pirate. She hasn’t quite convinced him with Wild Swimming yet, but he’ll happily keep watch from the shore while dives into the mountain lakes.

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