Backpacking with a Dog
It’s late in the season but I still see RVs and cars loaded with camping gear heading out to squeeze for that last bit of summer. And of course, many of them have their dogs with them. Camping or backpacking with dogs is great fun for both you and your dog. Before you set out with Duke in tow, however, there are a few extra things to consider. Careful planning will greatly reduce the chance of fatigue, injury, and misery.
How to Backpack with a Dog
When asked for advice about hiking, camping or backpacking with dogs, I usually give the same advice I give humans. Right? “How much should I pack in Fido’s pack?” Well, what condition is Fido in? What’s the terrain? How far are you going? “What about Fido’s paws?” Again, what’s the terrain? Soft sand, dirt, or sharp rocky trails? If you’d stop to consider what boots to wear before walking up that trail, take a moment to consider booties for Fido.
First Things First
First, it’s important to assess your dog’s physical and mental condition. If your dog is the pooch equivalent of a couch potato, find yourself a nice campground that is family and dog-friendly. If, on the other hand, Duke is rough and ready with plenty outdoor experience, maybe it’s time to take him on a long backpacking adventure. Honestly assess your dog’s condition and personality. It’ll save you and your dog (and fellow hikers, backpackers and campers) a lot of discomfort and possible harm.
Nature by its, um, very nature is unpredictable. Animals, domesticated and wild, are just as unpredictable. Before you and your dog leave on your camping or backpacking adventure, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some rules & regulations and advice from experts. Here is some advice from the National Park Service:
Before You Take Off
- Find out if the campsite allows pets - Some parks may have restricted areas, like park facilities, lakes, ponds, creeks and streams, and the backcountry.
- Ask yourself if your pet is in good health - Are they in good enough shape to meet any physical demands of the trip? If your pet has trouble with longer walks and your camping spot requires a hike to get to, you might want to leave your pet at home.
- Vaccinations - Be sure your furry friend is up-to-date on all required vaccinations and protected against heartworm, fleas, and ticks. Dogs can encounter a variety of wild animals while camping, even if they are leashed. Ask your vet about the area you'll be camping in to be sure your pet is protected.
- Collars and ID - Outfit your pet with the right collar and ID tags. Your dog should always be leashed at a campsite, but in case they get lost- make sure they have their best chance at getting back to you. Keep a collar with ID tags securely on your dog at all times. Even well-behaved dogs can slip out of a loose collar and chase after a wild animal if they become too excited. Microchipping and registering your dog is an added measure you can take to ensure that you will be contacted if they are found.
- Hiking on Trails - Many parks do not allow pets on hiking trails or boardwalks. Always check park regulations if you plan on hiking during your stay.
- Ask yourself how included will your pet be - Pets are family members, but if you plan on spending a lot of time participating in activities that are not pet friendly, you may need to consider alternative like a boarding facility.
What to Bring
- Food and Water - This is a bit obvious, but don't forget to pack your furry friend's food, water and bowls. Find light or collapsible bowls, these take up less space and are easier to carry. Bring extra food if you'll be doing any strenuous activity. Like you, your pet will be hungry from exerting extra energy.
- Tether and Stake - A long leash or tether is a great way to allow your dog to explore the campsite while you relax knowing he'll stay in the area. Many parks will not allow you to tie your tether to a tree, so bring a stake to put in the ground. Most parks have a 6 ft leash policy, but check your park for specific rules.
- First Aid Kit - Be prepared for minor scrapes.
- Poop Bags - Pick up after your pet!
- Towels - Towels will come in handy while you camp. From lining your car or tent to wiping off your dog, you'll probably use your towel so much you might want to bring two!
While You're Camping
- Be mindful of restricted areas.
- Be courteous to other campers by picking up after your dog and control barking and other noise.
- Keep your pet on a leash. Some parks have a 6-ft. leash policy; check with your park for specific rules.
- Never leave your dog unattended, especially in a hot vehicle.
Find a trail that has fresh water
There’s some controversy about dogs drinking water from sitting water. It’s not controversial at all. Never let your dog drink from standing water. Standing water harbors parasites, viruses and bacteria that can wreak havoc on or even kill your dog. That being said, it’s very important to keep Duke hydrated. If you can, scout out a location with fresh running water. Your dog will be able to cool off and quench its thirst. If you cannot find running water then use the water you packed or purify water you’ve collected before letting your dog drink it.
Find an Appropriate Trail or Campsite
Whatever kind of camping trip or backpacking trip you have in mind, be sure to call ahead or research online to find dog-friendly campsites and trails. Be sure to research the leash laws. Some campsites require that Fido be on a leash at all times. Some others require you to have a strong voice command if your dog is not leashed.
To Leash or Set Free
Good Morning Shoppers! Please Keep Your Children with You at All Times! Do Not Let Then Run Around the Store Unattended! Thank You!
I’m a dog guy. Grew up with dogs. Never been without a dog. That’s me. But not everyone appreciates a strange dog running towards and leaping at them as the owner’s in the background yelling “don’t worry she’s friendly!” Recently I was walking my dog in our neighborhood park. As we walked along a path we approached a woman out for a walk with her baby in a stroller. When she saw the dog she immediately stepped in front of the carriage putting herself between her child and my dog. And of course, I said “hey, it’s okay. She doesn’t bite”. To which she said as she scowled at me: “Yeah? She got teeth don’t she!”
You know your pet well enough to know if it presents a threat to others. If yours is prone to nipping or charging, leave it home or make sure you practice strong voice controls before setting out. Use your judgement. But remember there’s also the chance that your dog goes rambling off and runs smack into a rattler, skunk, other lethal beasties.
And just as other people don’t want your dog jumping at them or shoving its nose where it doesn’t belong, they don’t want to hear howling and barking. Try as best you can to keep the noise level down.
Fox Tails, Small Rocks and Ticks
If you’re backpacking with a dog for a long distance, it’s a good idea to pause and check for ticks and to check your dog’s paws every so often. Make sure there aren’t any cuts or small rocks embedded. It’s a good idea to pack doggie boots or mushers wax. Of course, try to find places that are easy on your dog’s paws. Shady trails with cushy leaves or needles or soft sand. Hot surfaces can harm paws as well. Just use your commonsense. Would you like to walk barefoot along this terrain?
A Dog is Not a Donkey
Your dog is not a donkey so don’t overload Duke with a heavy pack. He’ll get fatigued quickly. Of course, it depends on your dog’s bred. My Rhodesian Ridgeback, although bred to hunt lions, does not do well with a heavy pack. I try to keep her pack at approximately 15% to 20% of her weight. Check the pack to make sure it’s not so tight that it chafes your dog. Both sides of the pack should be weighted the same.
Leave No Trace!
If a dog poops in the woods and no one picks it up, will someone else eventually step in it?
YES! So please, pick up behind Fido. Don’t just la-di-da away like your dog’s sh!te smells like roses.
Help your dog stay energized with snacks along the trail. Pack some Lil Links or some other treats for your dog. Treats will also help grab your dog’s attention when he’s about to get into trouble.
Keep em Warm
It’s a myth that your dog, with all that fur, is cold temperature proof. When the temperature starts to drop in the evening use a dog pad on top of a tarp to prevent ground moisture from reaching your dog. You can also use an extra blanket. I always sleep with my dog inside the tent. Doesn’t affect her hearing or sense of smell and protects her from what lurks in the dark.
I won’t write about dog transportation here. It is, however, important to research Best Practices for transporting animals in cars and RVs. I place my dog in an impact dog crate and use a dog harness. I also have a barrier.
Here’s a good list of gear for your adventure:
- Lightweight/collapsible dog water bottle and water bowl
- Water filtration system
- Emergency blanket or “space blanket”. It good for treating shock and cold
- Sleeping pad, blanket and tarp
- 6-foot Leash and fitted collar that is reflective.
- 10 to 20-foot lead and harness for hiking and tying out
- First aid kit for dogs
- All-in-one tools that include needle-nose pliers and tweezers for extractions
- Crate, if your dog feels comfortable in one
- Jacket or sweater
- Tick brush and key
- Plenty poop bags
- Doggy treats and snacks
- Dog pack
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