Expert Advice on Dog-Friendly Camping and Hiking
Camping and hiking with your dog can be fun, but also a disaster.
When it comes to camping and hiking with your dog, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not researching your destination enough ahead of time. “Most of the popular parks have policies and rules about pets,” says Russ Boles, co-founder of Wagbrag, a pet wellness and lifestyle website. “Several years ago, while vacationing in NC, I drove about an hour to hike the trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, only to find out that dogs are not allowed on any of their trails.”
Aside from research, here are some other things to keep in mind when preparing for a dog-friendly outdoor trip.
Make Sure Your Dog is Suited for Outdoor Adventure
Most dogs will do well outdoors, as long as you’re willing to adapt the trip to his needs and abilities. “So it’s important that you have a good understanding on how your dog will act and respond during your hiking or camping trip and then pick an adventure to match,” Boles says.
For example, Boles cautions against taking a newly adopted dog on a big outdoor trip until you know him well and you have had a chance to bond. “The excursion trip needs to be a fun experience for you and your dog,” Boles says. “If the outdoor adventure causes stress to your pet or if she is a nuisance to others, then you should look into doing other activities with your dog instead.”
One word of caution: you might need to take additional precautions if you have small, elderly, or disabled dogs that might not be able to deal with a strenuous outdoor adventure. “Also, brachycephalic breeds (dogs with flat noses like pugs, bulldogs, and boxes) can overheat quickly so it may be better to hike with them during cooler weather,” adds Boles.
In addition, your dog should be up-to-date on shots, including rabies vaccine and tick prevention before you head out on your outdoor excursion. “And make sure your pet is wearing ID tags and is microchipped,” Boles adds.
Pack Properly for the Trip
Food, water, containers for both, and towels for drying or cleaning are the starting pieces for any outdoor trip with your dog. Add to that poop bags and a small pet first aid kit. In addition, Boles recommends bedding so your dog can stay dry and warm. “Even if your dog doesn’t typically wear booties, they are nice to have in case you come across rocky terrain which could cut your dog’s paws,” Boles adds.
Regardless of how well behaved your dog is, you should always bring a leash with you. “Think of the leash as a tool for added control” Boles says. “If your dog gets spooked or scared, he is likely to try to run away.” This is common during unexpected thunderstorms, for example.
Leashes can also keep your dog from taking off trying to chase other animals. “While hiking a few years ago in North Georgia, I spotted a family of deer grazing just a head of us off the side of the trail,” Boles says. “I was able to leash my dog before she spotted them—I strongly suspect that if I hadn’t leashed her, she would have been overly curious and likely she would have darted after them when they ran off.”
If you’re camping in a modern, well-set up campground, chances are you won’t run into much wildlife. But once you’re out on the trails or if you’re camping in the wilderness, you need to take additional precautions. “I tend to be most concerned about snakes—that is what I see mostly,” Boles says.
Because snakes are hard to spot, especially in overgrown areas, Boles says you should never let your dog swim in lakes and rivers if the banks are full of over grown grasses and bushes. “Be extra vigilant for looking for snakes after heavy rain storms—I tend to see a lot more around the trails and streams after a big rain,” Boles says.
If you run into a larger predator, always keep your distance and whatever you do, do not turn around and run. “That can trigger their prey instinct and you’re likely to get chased,” Boles says. “Back away slowly instead.”