DOGS ALLOWED: Camping With Your Canines

I remember a ‘Peanuts’ cartoon from when I was a kid – actually, remember is too strong a word.  ‘Vaguely recall some fuzzy, shadowy parts of it’ is slightly more accurate. It involved a dog, who I can only assume was Snoopy, trying to get into various human institutions like stores, pharmacies and hospitals, only to be met with a hand-lettered sign and a low, booming, Darth Vader-ish voice intoning “NO DOGS ALLOWED’. I can hear it in my mind’s ear right now – Noooooooo dogs alloooooooowed!

Luckily, the modern world is a little more welcoming of our hirsute and 4-legged friends than back in the 70’s when I was a kid. Dogs now accompany us to cafés, museums, airplanes and all manner of once exclusively human domains. I think this is just a measure of how the human-animal bond has changed over the years, with dogs (and I gotta represent for the kitties here, too) moving towards a more central and don’t-wanna-be-left-out role in our lives.

One place where dogs are becoming more welcomed of late is at the campground. I think fewer dogs are being left at the kennel and are now being hauled along to Lake Wazzapamani to go camping with the fam, sing songs and make s’mores (medical note: chocolate should not be fed to dogs, and marshmallows will just stick to their lips and make you think they’re rabid; “Oh, my god – Spot’s gone rabid! No – wait; it’s just marshmallow fluff. We’re good, here, kids.”)

Before you fire up the station wagon (70’s again) and make for the lake, there are a few pointers to keep in mind to make sure that all goes well for you and the dogs.

  • Don’t release the hounds: Make sure you have them leashed at all times (unless you find an off-leash park) so they aren’t off bothering the campground neighbors or getting in fights. A stake that you can firmly place in the ground and a 15-30’ tether can keep them close at hand and out of trouble, while still giving them plenty of room to stretch their legs.
  • Have an exit strategy: If one of the dogs should take ill or get injured, make sure you have a way to safely get them to medical help. Knowing where the nearest emergency room is is not a bad idea.
  • Watch out for the other guy: Not every dog is as friendly or accepting as yours. Before you let your dog play with a strange dog, get to know their demeanor and stay on guard. Be especially careful when there is a size difference between the dogs – big-dog on little-dog violence is a common and potentially deadly occurrence.
  • Take it easy: If the day is hot and humid, sit it out – this is not the time to take the dogs on a forced march. If your dog’s idea of activity is sauntering over to the food bowl to see if any new kibbles (or perhaps also ‘bits’) have magically appeared, a 5-mile hike is not the place to start your commune with nature. Start with a stroll around the campground and work up to longer adventures. Hot, wet weather can precipitate heat stroke, and is especially hard on short-nosed (or brachycephalic) dogs like bulldogs, Pekingese and pugs.
  • Like the scouts say; “Be prepared”: Bring along food, bowls and any medications your dog is on. A favored bed might make for a quieter night if you have room. After sleeping in the same tent with my 2 dogs and waking at 3am with a cold nose in the small of my back, you might want to consider a separate ‘dogs only’ tent. (Hand-lettered sign reading ‘NO HUMANS ALLOWED’ optional). A dog first-aid kit is a great idea to bring along! (For more dog first aid info, see last month’s post: First Aid II: First Aid Techniques)
  • Leave the nature in nature: Make sure to clean up after the dogs and don’t let them chew up too much wilderness. They may want to go run after that squirrel and teach him who is boss, but make sure that the dogs don’t get up to too much mischief so they will be invited back again.
  • Don’t bring home unwanted guests: Nature is chock-full of creepy crawlies that would like nothing more than hop on your dog and follow you home. Fleas and ticks live in grass and underbrush and just sit there waiting for an unsuspecting dog to stroll by so dinnertime can start. To a flea or tick, you dog is just like an Old Country Buffet on 4 legs – all you can eat! (mmmmmmmmm….soft food you don’t have to chew….)  Applying a topical flea/tick treatment, like Sentry Fiproguard, can help make sure that your family doesn’t experience a flea and tick invasion after the last campfire embers have died down. Check dogs for ticks after walks in the woods and pull off any that you find (don’t worry about the heads staying in – that’s an old wive’s tale).

Take advantage of the fact that well-behaved dogs get to go more places nowadays; Snoopy worked hard to earn your dogs that right! This time of year, camping is a great way to unplug, relax and spend some time bonding with your family.

Whether they have 2 legs or 4 (or, if you are like me, you bring your ex-pirate uncle Erasmus “Pegleg” Barnstable along for the trip) camping is fun way to spend a free weekend. Just remember a few simple rules, and you’ll be safe and happy the whole time. Oh, and…a note to any aspiring presidential candidates out there – when you bring your dogs along on a family trip, strapping them to the top of the station wagon is no longer considered OK.


Photo Credits: Feature image from flickr by bugeaters. Other photo from flickr by RichardBH.

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