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Camping, Picnicking, and Outdoor Adventures with Dogs: Your Survival Guide

Girls camping with dog

It’s summer! 

For those of us who endure long, cold winters, this is what we dream of. It’s time to pack the coolers, load up the car, and head to the great outdoors with the whole family, dog included!

Before you head out for your picnic, outdoor BBQ, or camping adventure, let’s get you prepared so that you have a stress-free, safe time.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How to keep your dog safe during outdoor activities

  • Foods to avoid giving your dog and healthier alternatives

  • What to do if your dog gets injured or sick while you're out in the middle of nowhere

Let's dive into the essentials of planning and enjoying outdoor adventures with your dog.

Planning to Camp or Picnic with Dogs

With a little preparation and planning, your outdoor adventures will go smoothly and safely! Here’s what to do.

Researching Pet-Friendly Locations

Not all camping sites welcome dogs, so it's important to research and choose a dog-friendly location. Look for campsites that have dog-friendly amenities, such as designated dog areas, and check the site’s pet policy before making a reservation.

Some campground areas have leash restrictions, so make sure to know those ahead of time. 

Packing Essentials for Camping and Cookouts with the Dog

Here’s a list of items that you'll need for an outdoor adventure with the dog. Throw them in a bag just for the dog so you’ll have everything in one place.

  • Water and Portable Bowls: Always have fresh water and collapsible bowls for your dog to stay hydrated. It’s a good idea to keep a gallon in the car anyway in case you should be stranded for a while.

  • ID Tags and Current Photo: ID tags are good, but the dangling kind can be torn off as you pup explores. It’s always best to microchip your dog…and make sure the information is up to date! Having up to date information and a photo are the best ways to get your pup back should you become separated.

  • Appropriate Bedding or Blanket: Provide a comfortable space for your dog to rest, such as their bed or a blanket from home.

  • Harness, leash, and stake or tether: It’s a good idea to tether your dog when you’re relaxing. Critters can be very tempting and your dog might be off and running before you can act.

  • Dog meds, vet records, and medical information: Make a copy of your dog’s records the next time you go to the vet and store them in your vehicle. 

  • Outdoor toys: Sniffing and exploring won’t be enough to keep your pup entertained for the duration.

  • Extra towels and a brush: All good adventures involve getting a little of the outdoors in your fur and between your toes!

  • Blanket or bedding: For chill-out time 

  • Rain gear and paw protectant: The weather can change quickly, and hot, cold, and rough surfaces can be tough on the paw pads.

  • Poop bags: There’s nothing worse than finding dog poop at the perfect spot. Always leave yours better than you found it.

Outdoor Adventure Safety while Camping with Dogs

Just as safety is top of mind with the kids, it should be the same for the dogs, too.

Leash Up

Woman hiking and camping with dog

It’s really tempting to let your dog roam off leash, but even well-trained dogs can get surprised by people, other off-leash dogs, and wildlife. Many campsites and picnic areas have leash requirements, and it’s really the safest for your dog. We don’t recommend retractable leashes as they’re notorious for injuries to both dogs and people, but a long lead or tether set to a stake can give a sense of freedom. Always designate someone to be watching at all times.

Crate or Harness

You don’t think of putting a child in a crib as being “mean,” and you shouldn’t consider putting your pup in a crate as being mean either. They’re both for the little one’s protection! If your pup is already crate trained, bring it along with you so they have a safe space to nap and travel in the car. At night, make sure you have a tent big enough for all of you! Don’t leave your pup in the crate outside the tent. For pups who aren’t crate trained, invest in a harness seat belt for the ride there and back. You’d never want your dog to become a projectile should you need to slam on the breaks!

Managing Interactions with Other Animals and People

Campsites can be bustling with other campers and their pets. It's crucial to manage your dog's interactions to avoid any conflicts or accidents. Always ask permission before allowing your dog to approach other dogs or people…this is important when adventuring and while out on walks in your own neighborhood! Be aware of your dog's body language and remove them from situations where they seem uncomfortable or stressed.

Protecting Your Dog from Environmental Hazards

Nature is beautiful, but it also comes with its own set of hazards. Keep an eye out for plants that can be toxic to dogs, such as certain mushrooms, oak acorns, and hickory nuts. If you suspect your dog has ingested something toxic and you have a cell phone signal, call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.

Dog playing in lake while camping

Steer clear of areas with sharp rocks or thorny bushes. Additionally, be mindful of the weather – make sure your dog has plenty of shade and water in hot conditions, and keep them warm and dry if it gets chilly or rainy.

First Aid Kits for Dogs

A well-stocked first aid kit is a must-have when camping with dogs. There are several good quality commercial ones available, but you can easily pull together supplies on your own.

Sunscreen for Dogs (if applicable)

If your dog has short or light-colored fur, they can be prone to sunburn. Dog-friendly sunscreen can protect areas like the nose, ears, and belly. Make sure to choose a sunscreen specifically designed for pets, as human sunscreen can contain ingredients harmful to dogs.

Tick Prevention, Tick Removal

Do NOT use commercial tick repellents or collars. They contain a chemical called Isoxazoline that has been shown to cause tremors, seizures, and ataxia in dogs. This chemical kills ticks through neurotoxicity…and the same chemicals attack a dog’s nervous system, too!

There’s no need to chance that. Simply use a natural deterrent mixture of water, apple cider vinegar, and neem oil. You can find the recipe HERE. Bring it along with you and spray on your dog frequently to naturally protect against ticks.

Then, after every outing, check your dog all over in case one slipped through and got attached to your dog. There’s a special technique to remove ticks so that the mouth of the insect doesn’t stay lodged in the skin. Using the tweezers from your first aid kit, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up in a slow, steady motion. You can read more HERE.

Food and Treats: What to Bring and What to Avoid

There’s nothing like a meal cooked outdoors! The hot dogs, the hamburgers, the s’mores…yum!

Of course your dog will want to join in on the fun, and you’ll want to share all the good food, but beware. Not all campfire or grilled fare is good for the dog.

Travel Food and Treat Tips 

Changes in food can be hard on a dog’s digestive system, making them – and you – pretty miserable. It's essential to bring their regular food to avoid any digestive issues that can arise from sudden diet changes. Pack enough of their usual food to last the entire trip. 

Bring along some dog appropriate treats to reward good behavior or keep your dog occupied. Animal and veggie chews are great options. For a deep dive into the best chews for your dog, check out our blog post HERE.

Picnic, Campfire, and BBQ No-Nos

Many common camping foods can be harmful to dogs. Here are some foods to avoid giving your dog while camping:

Foods to avoid feeding your dog while camping

  • Steak bones: All cooked bones are no-nos, even ones that are marketed for dogs. They’re brittle and can cause choking and intestinal damage.

  • Hot Dogs and Processed Meats: These can contain high levels of salt and preservatives along with artificial sweeteners.

  • Corn on the cob: Never give your dog the cob to chew on. They can cause serious intestinal blockages.

  • Chocolate: Even small amounts of chocolate can be toxic to dogs, so keep all sweets out of reach. Watch the s’mores fixins!

  • Grapes and Raisins: These fruits can cause kidney failure in dogs.

  • Onions and Garlic: Both can damage a dog's red blood cells and cause anemia.

  • Alcohol: Even a small amount of alcohol can be dangerous for dogs.

What to Do When You Get Home

After you’ve unpacked up the car and recovered from singing a chorus of 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, your dog needs a little post-adventure care, too.

Checking for Ticks and Other Parasites (Again!)

  • Inspect Fur and Skin: Run your hands through your dog’s fur, feeling for any small bumps. Pay close attention to areas around the ears, neck, underbelly, and between toes.

  • Use a Fine-Toothed Comb: A flea comb can help you find and remove any smaller parasites.

  • Remove Ticks Promptly: If you find a tick, use a tick removal tool to carefully remove it. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it out slowly and steadily.

Cleaning and Grooming After an Outing

Everybody needs a good scrub post outdoor adventure!

Muddy dog after camping

  • Bathing: The Healthy Animal Healing Center carries a variety of natural shampoos and conditioners made for dogs.

  • Brushing: Brush your dog's fur to remove tangles and mats, and to check for any hidden parasites.

  • Paw Care: Clean your dog's paws, checking for cuts, thorns, or other injuries. Applying a paw balm can help soothe any irritation.

Monitoring Your Dog’s Health and Behavior Post-Adventure

Keep an eye on your dog for a few days after the trip to ensure they haven't picked up any illnesses or injuries:

  • Watch for Unusual Behavior: If your dog seems unusually tired, is limping, or shows signs of distress, it might indicate an underlying issue.

  • Check for Signs of Illness: Monitor for symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, excessive scratching, or coughing. Contact your vet if any of these symptoms persist.

  • Maintain Hydration and Nutrition: Ensure your dog continues to drink plenty of water and eats their regular food to recover from the physical exertion of the trip.

There’s nothing like taking your best pal with you as you enjoy the great outdoors! I hope these tips help you feel organized and prepared. 

The fresh air and togetherness are good for canine and human bodies, minds, and souls. Happy camping, picnicking, and BBQing!

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