Camping With Dogs

By: Jerri Johnson

May 1, 2023

This weekend I celebrated the end of camping season with a two night trip out to the lake with my two dogs.  Both my dogs love camping and I love camping with them.  It really gives us a chance for a great deal of one on one bonding time.

I just recently purchased a used camper van.  I love it, but it’s pretty cramped quarters for a couple of people and two medium sized dogs.  Also neither of my dogs really love riding in a car and the noise and sway of a camper van is something to overcome.  They are doing better and better with each trip though.  Fortunately this was a short drive to a nearby lake.  

Because school is already in session, the campgrounds were busy but not crowded.  The weather was beautiful and there were many other people out camping with their dogs.  The experiences and interactions I had with other people and their dogs this weekend got me thinking about camping etiquette when it comes to dogs.  First there are the do’s and don’ts if you are camping with dogs.  Then there are the do’s and don’t in how to interact with others that may be camping with dogs. 

Posted at the entrance to the park and campground were some simple rules for pets.  First and foremost was that all pets be on leash.  Second was a reminder to clean up after your pet.   When I go camping with my dogs, I take two sets of leashes.  A set of regular 6 foot leashes for  short walks around the campground, and a set of 15 ft. leashes for “sniffari” hikes.  I do not allow my dogs to roam off leash.  Although both my dogs have excellent off-leash control, I realize that campgrounds and close interaction with nature can present unusual circumstances.  For example, as we relaxed by the fire on our first night, 5 deer grazed in the field not 25 yards away from our campsite.  Part of being a respectful nature lover, is making sure that my dogs do not harass the wildlife.  Both my dogs were tethered on leashes.  When I noticed the deer, I held the leashes and made sure there was no barking.  We were able to just sit and watch.  Later that same night, raccoons made their way to our campsite.  Luckily the dogs were inside the camper and gave just a couple of low “woofs” to let me know we had campsite invaders.  

I keep my dogs on leash for other reasons too.  One of my dogs is reactive to unfamiliar dogs.  If we are walking and need to pass another dog, I give me and my dog a little extra distance so she doesn’t bark or growl.  This weekend we encountered 3 off leash dogs as we walked on leash.  The first two were on our hikes.  Both of these dog’s owners had great off leash control and were able to call their dogs and leash them.  We passed with a friendly “hello” and “thank you for leashing them”.  The third encounter we were not so lucky.  This one happened as we went for a short walk on the campground road.  As we were walking, a dog came out of a campsite and began following us.  I knew my dog would not like the interaction so I kept moving.  50-75 feet later the dog was right up in my reactive dog’s face and no owner was to be found.  Fortunately, my dog maintained composure as I yelled at the dog to “go home!”  We were back at our campsite before I heard the person 4 campsites away calling their dog.  They did not realize how lucky their dog had been that my dog did not react and become defensive or that their dog did not wander off further.

In thinking about do’s and don’ts when camping with dogs, I should mention that you should really consider whether your planned trip can accommodate being with your dog all of the time.  I say this because your dog should not be left unattended.  I witnessed two concerning situations this weekend.  The first was a dog, that was left unattended and barking in an RV for most of the day.  I’m guessing that the campers went boating and thought it best to not take Fido.  Although I could only faintly hear the barking, I’m sure the closer campers were at least a little annoyed.  The second and more concerning situation was a dog that was tethered, unsupervised outside a travel trailer.  What made me notice the dog, is that it shot to the end of the tether, barking as children rode by on bicycles.  This situation was both dangerous for the children and the dog.

Children and dog interactions can always be risky.  Camping is no exception.  On a previous camping trip, I packed up and left early because campers next to us had children that kept running through our campsite, screaming.  Apparently, the children found great pleasure in teasing the dogs to bark.  The adults seemed unconcerned and seemed to feel that, because it was a campground, their children had the right to roam where ever they wanted.  Rather than argue, I packed up my dogs and left.   Apparently, it needs repeating, “Never approach a dog without asking”, no matter where you are.

If I had to give some hard and fast rules for camping with dogs based on my experience, this would be my two cent’s worth:

  • Keep your dogs on leash.
  • Don’t leave them unattended outside.
  • If you must leave your dog inside your camper, make sure they are content, and only do so for short periods of time.
  • Bring your dog the comforts of home:  a bed, food, water, medications, etc.
  • Don’t interact with other people’s dogs.
  • Tell your kids to stay away from other people’s dogs.
  • Only bring your dog if they can be comfortable and quiet in the given environment.
  • Always pick up your poop – even if its in the woods because not everybody stays on the trail and poop is not fun to step in.


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