Ready to get out of the city for a while? Want to bring your dog with you? Good, because camping is one of our favorite dog-friendly activities. But the skills your pup needs to be successful in the backcountry or at a campground are probably different than the ones he uses day to day.
Fear not, we've got your back. Here’s everything you need to know to camp with your dog like a pro.
- Camping is healthy for people and pets. Your dog can satisfy his natural instincts while you benefit from nature’s mental and physical effects.
- Your dog will encounter new distractions on a camping trip. Expect other people, dogs, vehicles, bikes, and wildlife.
- Prioritize his impulse control and relationship with you to set him up for success. Handler engagement, recall, and “leave it” can keep your pup safe as you adventure.
- Pack for safety, comfort, and fun. Bring basic supplies, first aid kit, and up-to-date tags. Don’t forget the toys and treats too!
- Decide what kind of camping you and your dog will most enjoy. There are more kinds of camping than you'd expect. Ask yourself what suits you and your dog.
- Research your destination to know what to expect. Different campgrounds have their own pet restrictions, leash rules, and wildlife concerns.
- Make sure the weather is safe for a camping trip. Dogs overheat more quickly than we humans do. They’re also more sensitive to air pressure changes and loud storms.
- Be mindful of your neighbors when camping. Respect quiet hours. Keep your dog within your site boundaries. Always clean up after him.
- Don’t let your dog go wild. Keep him from running up to other people or dogs. Help him stay calm around distractions. Don’t let him to chase wildlife.
- When in doubt, ease into your dog’s new camping experience slowly. Consider camping during the off season, on a weekday, or in a secluded group site to start.
Why is camping a great dog-friendly activity?
Camping is a great way to spend time with your dog because it’s healthy for both people and our pups. You can enjoy nature’s mental and physical benefits like reduced stress and increased energy, and your dog can satisfy his natural instincts in the great outdoors. Plus getting out of your typical environment can help you and your pup develop a stronger bond.
Why camping is good for us humans
We all know fresh air is good for us. But it’s not always easy to get outside—especially when you live in the city, need to work in front of a computer, and have mountains (not the breathtaking kind) of other household tasks to complete. Even short camping trips can immerse us in the natural world.
Camping provides physical benefits
- Grounding—where you have your feet, hands, or entire body in direct contact with the earth’s surface—can reduce inflammation and speed up wound healing. (If you ever needed to be convinced to spend a night in a tent, here’s your push.)
- Being outside around sunrise and sunset can reset your circadian rhythm. Even just a single weekend exposure—a standard camping trip where you don’t have to take any time off work—can improve your sleep quality after a week with a lot of artificial light.
- Exposure to biodiversity can improve your microbiome. Researchers are still learning more about the gut-brain connection, but we know healthy digestion can impact our immune systems.
Getting out in nature is great for our mental health too
- Fresh air can reduce stress. Nature’s scents, like grass and flowering plants, have a calming effect (there’s a reason so many popular essential oils are botanical). If even just ten minutes in a natural space can start to positively impact both your body and brain, imagine the benefits of a few days camping.
- Spending time outside can boost your energy levels. Several different studies suggest a relationship between time outdoors and vitality.
- A healthy gut can lead to a better mood. Exposure to biodiversity isn’t just about physical health. A robust microbiome is associated with positive mental and mood effects too!
Why camping is good for our dogs
Camping can satisfy your dog’s natural instincts
The average domestic dog’s lifestyle is way different today than it was even just a hundred years ago (and it’s a far cry from the early days of our 15,000+ year partnership). Consistent food, shelter, and advances in veterinary care absolutely improve the lives of our pets. But tightly packed cities, short leashes, and lack of opportunities to “be a dog” can create conflict and frustration.
Domestic dogs aren’t wild animals of course, but they weren’t meant to sit inside all day either.
Camping can be a great “reset” for your canine. On a camping trip, your dog will have plenty of time to embrace his natural instincts. Interesting smells abound. Wildlife puts on a show. It’s mentally stimulating to spend time in nature, physically satisfying to move in the fresh air, and altogether healthy for your dog to experience the great outdoors.
Camping can strengthen your bond with your dog
The more you and your dog do things you both enjoy together, the stronger your bond will be.
Going on a camping trip is a great way to be more present with your pup sans the distractions that dominate day-to-day urban life. You’ll have opportunities to practice his training skills—like staying focused on you even when exposed to new things—and to sit back and relax together. Plus nature makes the perfect playground!
Playing with your pup is one of the best things you can do for his healthy development, since play is a key way that social mammals learn.
A change of scenery can put things into perspective, too, helping you see your dog in a new light. Maybe he’s a little nervous in the city but shines in the forest—or it’s simply fun to let him satisfy his curiosity with more space to roam.
How can you train your dog to be a camping pro?
Your dog will encounter plenty of new distractions on a camping trip. Expect to see other people, dogs, and wildlife. You can set your pup up for success by prioritizing his impulse control and relationship with you. Handler engagement, recall, and leave it can make your outdoor adventure safe and fun.
Common situations you’ll encounter when camping with your dog
Depending on where you live, camping might be a big change in scenery and environmental expectations for you and your dog. Here are some things to plan for:
Social interactions in traditional campgrounds
You never have to let your dog “say hi” to a stranger if he (or you!) doesn’t want to. But if you’re staying in a campground with neighbors, you do at least need to be able to calmly communicate with the people around you.
When camping, your dog might have to handle:
- New people and dogs walking into your campsite
- The campground host popping over while doing rounds
Distractions when sharing space with other campers
Developed camping boasts plenty of distractions for you and your dog to navigate. While staying at a campsite, you’ll probably see:
- People and dogs walking by your campsite or on shared trails
- Young kids playing nearby in their sites or the campground road
- Bicycles, scooters, cars, trailers, and other fast-moving objects
Exposure to nature and wildlife
Some campgrounds are closer to wildlife than others. It’s pretty much a guarantee that you and your dog will encounter at least a few critters, though. Squirrels and rabbits can be particularly hard for some dogs to resist! Depending on where you’re going, you can expect:
- Rodents scurrying along the ground and up trees (many campground chipmunks are tame because visitors feed them, so they might approach your dog more closely than usual)
- Raccoons investigating your site, especially overnight, to look for unsecured food or trash
- Larger wildlife like deer, moose, coyotes, and bears
Quiet hours and relaxation
Most people go camping to get away from the hustle and bustle. This means your dog needs to be able to chill even with all the exciting things going on around you.
- Campgrounds usually have quiet hours where guests can’t run generators, play loud music… or have barking dogs without getting a warning
- You’ll probably move around your campsite, walk to the bathroom, and take out trash—and you don’t want your dog trying to follow you or feeling stressed every time you walk away
Training your dog to handle common camping situations
Most of these skills come down to a combination of two main things: Impulse control (your dog’s ability to resist temptation) and a clear understanding of what you want him to do.
Engagement and handler focus
“Engagement” is one of the most sought-after things in dog training. But what exactly is it? At its simplest, engagement means your dog pays attention to you. He doesn’t have to be making eye contact the whole time—he can experience the environment on his own—but he is aware of what you’re doing. He’s ready to focus on you when asked.
If you can get your dog’s attention easily, you’ll be able to help him through different situations. This means you can handle so much more as a team!
Basically, your dog doesn’t have to be perfect on his own. Many camping encounters are out of the ordinary; it’s perfectly reasonable for him to need some help. But he does need to be able to accept your guidance when he starts getting distracted or overwhelmed.
Most developed campgrounds required dogs to be leashed at all times. Many dispersed areas welcome off-leash pets, though. And even if your dog is attached to a long line to stay within your site boundaries, recall can come in handy.
When you can call your pup to you from a distance, you don’t need to keep him on a shorter leash the entire time to make sure you have control if someone walks by or comes into your campsite. Even a loose informal recall can make your camping trip go smoothly.
Campgrounds and backcountry spots are unfortunately full of tantalizing—and potentially dangerous—debris for our dogs. From human trash to rodent burrows to animal bones to toxic plants, the great outdoors can be as scary as it is peaceful.
A solid “leave it” can ensure that you’re able to quickly tell your dog to leave something alone before it makes it all the way into his mouth. This goes hand-in-hand with “drop,” which you can use if he’s already picked up a treasure without you noticing.
Remember that dogs are natural scavengers. We humans think this stuff is gross—but our pets love it! If you’re constantly asking your dog to give up things he finds interesting, he’ll quickly get frustrated. Consider bringing some designated chews to occupy him during downtime (more on this in the next section about camping gear).
Neutrality to people, dogs, and wildlife
Neutrality doesn’t necessarily mean your dog feels completely neutral about what’s going on around him. It’s natural for canines to take note of the surrounding world and want to investigate! Instead, think of neutrality as behaving in a neutral way.
Can your dog keep his head on straight when new people and dogs approach? Can he watch squirrels in the nearby trees without actually leaping into a chase?
Environmental exposure is a huge part of developing neutrality. The more your dog experiences the world around him—and the more you show him what you expect in those moments—the more chances he gets to practice appropriate behavior. Over time, he’ll need less guidance and your outings will become easier.
The place cue has become increasingly popular among trainers and dog parents. For good reason: The skill is incredibly versatile! As its simplest, “place” means your dog goes to a designated bed, mat, or towel and stays there until released. It’s basically a geographical stay where he has freedom to adjust his physical position (think sitting versus lying down, standing up to scratch an itch or stretch a sore leg) but remains in one physical spot.
Place can be great for camping because:
- It’s easier to advocate for your dog if he’s in one set area as opposed to meandering around your entire site.
- The cue balances freedom with impulse control.
- It doesn’t require you to bring along bulky extra equipment like an actual dog great. Once your dog understands what “place” means, you can even use a sweatshirt or kitchen towel as his target.
Comfort being tethered
Like we talked about above, most campgrounds have some sort of leash requirement. Even if you’re in an off-leash legal area, you might consider tethering your dog so he can’t get into trouble if you encounter an unexpected deer or backroad ATV.
Many city dogs aren’t great at relaxing while on a leash, though. Think about it: The leash usually comes out right before a walk… which is probably one of the most exciting parts of your pup’s day! Because of our dogs’ incredible abilities to pattern map (more on that here) many puppies quickly develop an association of “leash = high arousal.”
Before going on a camping trip, consider getting your dog used to just hanging out with a leash on. If you’re worried he’ll hit the end of the line while romping around, you can have him wear a back-clipping harness to protect his neck as he learns.
Self-regulation and recovery time
Camping with your dog is a great way to balance exciting, high arousal activities with periods of slow, quiet relaxation. While obedience commands can go a long way in making adventures successful, so can something else: Your dog’s ability to self regulate.
This isn’t a requirement before going on a camping trip. It takes months before many puppies are physically able to control their own arousal—after all, their brains are still developing! But it’s a great goal to strive toward, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors.
You might have to train yourself some too
Pay attention to your dog’s body language
Your dog will experience new things while camping. That’s a huge part of the fun! But it can also be scary, stressful, or just plain overwhelming at times. If you’re able to notice your dog’s subtle signals—whether positive or negative—you can make the experience better for everyone.
You can read more about understanding your dog’s body language here.
Prepare to advocate for your dog
If you notice that your dog is showing some stressed body language? Step in and help him navigate the situation! Here are some simple examples:
- If your dog would rather not meet new people, you can gently intercept strangers who come up by offering your own hand for a shake, putting your body between them, or luring your dog off to the side to make space.
- If the squirrels in your campsite are driving your dog crazy, you might offer him a chew toy to help him relieve some pent up frustration or have him hang inside the tent or camper to calm down.
- If wildlife sounds are overwhelming at night, you might turn on a fan, play quiet music, or pet your dog calmly strokes to help him relax.
Be on top of your dog’s behavior
You can advocate for the people, pets, and environment around your dog, too. No one expects him to be perfect—but interrupting inappropriate behavior right away can go a long way in making sure your campground neighbors and surrounding wildlife feel comfortable.
What gear do you need to go camping with your dog?
Ever feel like your dog needs more luggage on vacation than you do? You’re in good company. When packing for a camping trip with your pup, make sure to bring basic supplies like shelter, food, and water. Your dog should wear a collar with up-to-date tags, and no outdoor adventure is safe without a first aid kit. Don’t forget toys and treats, too.
- You and your dog need a place to sleep. This could be a tent, camper, RV, or even hammock.
- Both of you probably also want a place to sit. Some dogs especially love lounging on collapsible camp chairs. Others are happiest with a blanket or dog bed on the ground.
- A good rule of thumb is to bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need (if you’re staying in a developed campground, drinking taps will probably be available).
- Pack your dog’s regular food in an airtight container. Bring an extra scoop or two just in case.
Collar and leash
- Your dog should wear a collar with up-to-date identification tags. This is especially important if he gets lost in an unfamiliar environment.
- Most campgrounds require dogs to be leashed. Consider a sturdy long line you can tie around a tree, attach to your camper, or anchor to a stake in the ground.
- Your dog’s first aid kit will look similar to your own. Make sure you have gauze, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers (or a designated tick-removal tool).
Toys and treats
- Camping can be a great training opportunity. Bring plenty of rewards to give your dog for a job well done!
- Playing can help relieve stress or uncertainty in a new environment. Pack a favorite toy or two for games in your campsite.
- Food enrichment can help your dog settle down if he’s overstimulated. Consider bringing a frozen stuffed kong, snuffle mat, or other puzzle toy.
- Depending on your camping destination and time of year, you might want to bring a battery powered fan or cooling vest for your dog to beat the heat.
- Some dog parents train their pups to wear goggles to protect their eyes while running through the woods.
How to plan a successful camping trip with your dog
Decide what kind of camping you and your dog will most enjoy. Do you want to go primitive with a backcountry tent site or stay connected to the grid in an RV? Then research your destination so you know what to expect. Different campgrounds have their own pet restrictions, leash rules, and wildlife concerns. Before you leave, make sure the weather is safe for a camping trip—and that your dog is up for the adventure, too.
Decide what kind of camping you want to do
On a scale from “roughing it” to “glamping”
“Camping” can mean a lot of different things. There’s no right or wrong way! Here’s what to think about when it comes to sleeping arrangements.
- Tent camping: Are you comfortable sleeping on the ground? Will your dog be able to settle throughout the night if he can hear all the noises outside? Tents are one of the most flexible ways to camp because you can set them up almost anywhere—but they can be hard for particularly alert dogs.
- RV, camper, or converted van camping: Are you okay with your campsite options being limited? Will it be helpful for your dog to have a hard-sized vehicle to relax in? Campers can’t make it quite as far into the woods as small tents can, but they provide extra security many dog parents appreciate.
- Hammock camping: Hammocks are growing in popularity (though most campers still opt to stay in a classic tent or camper). If swaying from a tree sounds fun, consider where your dog will sleep. Can he settle on the ground beneath you? Can you both fit in your hammock of choice? Experienced backcountry dogs regularly sleep below their owners without an issue, but you might want to wait if your pup is new to the outdoors.
What environment do you want to camp in?
Many dog parents love staying in developed campgrounds with friendly neighbors and a few amenities. Others want to get really out there traveling into the backcountry on their own.
- Traditional campgrounds: Developed campgrounds range from resort-like RV parks (complete with pools, WiFi, and tightly packed sites) to free primitive loops (that have nothing but an ancient outhouse).
- Public land: National forests and BLM areas are especially wonderful for dogs who have great recall or who struggle in crowded environments. You and your pup can get a lot of space to yourself! Many locations allow you to park and camp off of any service road, meaning you can reduce the odds that you’ll run into neighbors on your trip.
Research your destination ahead of time
Pick a dog-friendly campground
We know this sounds obvious. But all too often dog parents are turned away from popular campgrounds, especially those in national parks, because they forgot to double check the rules. Don’t be that guy!
Some campgrounds don’t bar dogs entirely but do have designated pet-friendly site loops. Be sure you’re reserving in the right area to avoid a headache at check in.
Know the leash laws
Most places have city- or county-wide leash laws. Some individual campgrounds add their own rules on top. Always check before unclipping your dog’s leash! In general:
- Developed campgrounds require pets to be tethered at all times. Some have strict length requirements (for example, no lines longer than 15 feet) while others are more flexible.
- National forests and BLM land allow dogs to be off leash if they’re under voice control. “Voice control” means your dog will stay within sight and come back immediately when recalled—even around distractions like wildlife.
Be prepared for wildlife
Speaking of wildlife: Unless you’re staying in a crowded RV park, you and your dog are going to run into some animals while camping. Spend a few minutes researching the types of critters near your destination. Dog parents commonly deal with:
- Squirrels, chipmunks, and other rodents: Small critters might drive your dog crazy—the way they scurry taps into canine prey drive—but probably won’t wreak havoc on your camping setup.
- Raccoons: These ingenious scavengers live pretty much everywhere. They’ve been known to casually stroll directly into campsites even in popular areas. Make sure you don’t leave any dog food out.
- Bears: Black bears are regularly attracted to campgrounds, especially in the western United States. Most developed areas provide bear-safe food containers (keeping supplies in a locked, hard-sided vehicle works too).
- Deer, moose, and elk: Prey animals are generally less likely to come all the way into your camp than their predator counterparts. That said, your dog might want to chase them—and moose are known for being aggressive at certain times of the year. If they think your dog is a threat, they can charge at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour.
Read reviews from other campers
One of the best ways to know what you’re getting into is to read experiences from fellow dog parents. Google Reviews and pet-specific sites like BringFido can provide firsthand information about what an individual campground is like.
(You can also check the satellite view on Google Maps to scope out a particular spot. Call it extra if you want… but no one regrets being over prepared.)
Make sure it’s a good time to camp with your dog
Is the environment suited to camping?
We love the great outdoors—but nature isn’t always paradise. You might want to postpone your camping trip if:
- It’s too hot. Dogs overheat more quickly than humans do, and your pup can’t verbally tell you how he’s feeling. If you aren’t sure there will be shade (or are worried about packing enough water to share) err on the side of caution.
- Storms are on the way. Watching a thunderstorm from the comfort of your safe, dry living room? Awesome. Being trapped in a soggy tent while the ground turns to mud around you? Significantly less so. And remember that your dog’s sense of hearing is more sensitive than yours—air pressure changes and sounds like thunder can be uncomfortable for him.
- Your dog isn’t on a tick and heartworm preventative. You’re pretty much guaranteed to encounter parasites when camping. Ticks spread diseases like Lyme, Anaplasmosis, and more, which can cause severe (and expensive) complications if left untreated. Mosquitoes can give your dog heartworm, which is on the rise in the United States. There are tons of options to guard against these risks depending on what each dog parent is comfortable with.
Are you and your dog ready to go camping?
It’s not just the weather that needs to cooperate. Make sure you and your dog are in a good position to go on an outdoor adventure, too! Consider staying home if:
- Your dog is injured, sick, or elderly. It can be harder for your pup to rest in a new, distracting environment.
- Your dog is too young to enjoy a camping trip. While we recommend exposing puppies to your favorite activities as soon as possible, not all babies are ready to hit the woods immediately. Talk with your veterinarian about vaccination schedules, monthly preventatives, and age-appropriate exercise restrictions.
- You’re working through reactivity with your dog. Reactive dogs can have a great time camping—depending on the environment. If your pup struggles to stay calm around other people or dogs, you’ll want to avoid crowded campgrounds until you’re further along in his training.
Tips for going camping with your dog
When camping with your dog, be mindful of your neighbors. Respect quiet hours, keep your dog within your own site boundaries, and always clean up his poop. Don’t assume that just because you’re in nature it’s okay for your dog to act like a wild animal. Prevent him from running up to other people or dogs, help him stay calm, and don’t allow him to chase wildlife.
Do: Be a good campground neighbor
- Respect the campground’s quiet hours
- Keep your dog within your own site boundaries
- Follow any leash rules (even if you know your dog has great recall, you can’t expect your neighbors to automatically feel safe)
- Ask before letting your dog greet someone new
- Promptly pick up your dog’s poop
Don't: Be that guy
- Don’t let your dog run up to other people or dogs without explicit permission
- Don’t let your dog wander your campsite off leash unless it’s a designated off-leash area
- Don’t allow your dog to bark incessantly (occasional vocalizations are perfectly natural, but interrupt any longer outbursts)
- Don’t let your dog chase wildlife
Camping with dogs FAQ
Not sure your dog is ready to go camping? Wondering how you can ease him into the experience? Concerned about something going wrong in the wilderness? You’re not alone. We’ve got you.
What if I’m not sure my dog is ready to go camping?
When in doubt, ease into your dog’s new camping experience slowly. Like any other training exercise—from teaching your dog to sit to conquering a test like the Canine Good Citizen—break things into small steps.
- Consider going on your first camping trip during a less-busy time. Weeknights or dates in the off season can let you test the waters without dozens of other campers around.
- Book your initial trip for just one night.
- Start with a group campsite. Many campgrounds have large, secluded areas for friends and family to share. If you reserve one of these on your own, your dog will have plenty of room without being crowded by strangers.
What if something goes wrong when we’re camping?
It might (nothing ever goes exactly as planned, right?). But if you’re prepared, “something wrong” can usually be handled without any real fallout.
- Make safety a top priority. Don’t skimp on packing a first aid emergency kit! Trust your gut if you’re worried about a particular campsite or hike.
- Respect the local wildlife. Understand how different animals might respond to your dog’s presence. Moose, for example, are more likely to charge campers and hikers who have dogs with them—while many other animals, like birds and rodents, are inclined to run away. Bears and raccoons can also be attracted simply to the scent of your dog’s toys (even if they’ve never had food on them) so be sure to pack those in overnight with the rest of your supplies.
- Be realistic about your expectations. If you’re dreaming of the most perfect camping trip to ever exist, chances are you’ll be disappointed in some way. But if you go into your adventure with a clear head? You and your dog will enjoy yourselves more fully! Don’t expect your puppy to suddenly have an adult brain and impulse control. Don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard of your dog never making noise or trying to chase a squirrel. Remember that as long as no one gets hurt, you’re doing just fine.
Why does my dog act totally different when camping?
If you get out to your camp for the weekend and your usually mild-mannered dog turns into an absolute maniac, you’re in good company. Here’s why.
- Your dog is impacted by his surrounding environment (just like we are). Behavior never happens in a vacuum. Everything from the fresh air to the novel smells to your own actions can influence how your dog acts on a camping trip compared to your day to day.
- Dogs sometimes struggle to "generalize” behaviors. Just because your dog has a stellar recall in your familiar backyard doesn’t mean he’ll be able to zoom past a tantalizing distraction in an exciting new campground. This is completely normal! “Proofing” obedience commands—teaching your dog exactly what each skill means in a range of environments—can be a long process.
- Your dog might not be getting enough sleep. Dogs need more rest than we do. Puppies sleep 18-20 hours a day while adult dogs average somewhere around 11-14. If your dog is struggling to sleep through the night or nap during the day because of campground distractions, they might show symptoms of being overtired.