I've been rediscovering my love of camping this year. When I was younger, we would take annual fall family camping trips to Coolidge State Park in Vermont. We would bring our dog, set up our tents and do the very typical, fall New England "foliage hunting." Somewhere in my parents' basement there is a *very* cute video of 8-year old Rachel with a microphone and camcorder, interviewing my sister and parents about "How was sleeping in a tent? Do you like camping?"
So after not camping or hiking much the past few years, I've started feeling the itch to get back out into nature and explore. Since travel is pretty limited these days, camping is honestly, the best option. Very little human contact required. And going solo camping with my dog, Benny, is the perfect excuse for us to get a little exercise, and to explore the various forests and rivers around Missouri and Illinois. And though he's little, Benny is a pretty sturdy camper and built-in security system.
Here are a few things I've discovered are important to keep in mind when camping with your dog:
1. Food and Water
Obviously be sure to bring enough food for your 4-legged friend. But also don't forget about water! We recently hiked up Bell Mountain in the Mark Twain forest, and there are no water sources on the trail or at the top. Be sure to check ahead if you have a reliable water source or make sure you pack enough water to keep you and your trail buddy well-hydrated!
And don't forget a dish for them! Benny has a little collapsible dual-dish that folds up flat which I bring with us whenever we go out. He knows that dish is his and (honestly) prefers his water served in it.
This is something that depends a lot on your campground set up. Are you pitching a tent? You might need to make sure you have room for your pup in the tent. Benny is (obviously) a super spoiled boy so he slept in the hammock with me on our recent trip. Whatever the arrangements are, it's usually best practice to be sure you're not leaving your dogs unattended at the campground. There are so many new sights, smells, and critters, you don't want them getting overwhelmed, or worse, for a bigger critter to decide to pick a fight. Benny is fiesty but small. so I keep him pretty close while we're out on the trail, once camp is set up, and while we're sleeping.
3. Ticks and other bugs
If you are venturing into the woods, bug protection is key! The same goes for your dog. Be sure they are up to date on all flea and tick medication, and look into the possibility of a tick collar or other dog-safe repellants. Even with precautions, Benny ended up with lots of little wood ticks in his fur after our hike in the Mark Twain forest. So no matter what, be sure to have an effective way to remove ticks and be sure to do some thorough checks!
Benny is an energetic trooper. He loves going for walks, runs, hikes, you name it. Even so, we don't usually go more than 4 miles or so and his little legs are only so strong. I picked a trail that was just over 5 miles and planned to take it slow. The trail ended up being just over 8 miles (a story for another day) and we actually kept a pretty decent clip the whole time. Even with all those extra miles, Benny loved it! We stopped a few times for water breaks and to take in the sights.
Even so, had I known how long the trail really was, I likely would have chosen another trail. However, I'm glad I didn't know because the view at the top was well worth the long trek. Just be sure to keep in mind your limits and your dog's.
5. To leash or not to leash
This is a tough one. In most state parks there are pretty clear rules about leashes (and I am, by-nature, a rule follower). So on the trail, Benny stays on his leash. He's a great walker and we are close enough that I wouldn't worry about him wandering much even if we weren't tethered together. Having a hands-free belt leash is a life-saver on runs and hikes and I completely recommend.
Once we arrived at the campsite, however, I don't feel the need to keep Benny completed lashed to my side. I left the leash and harness on so he was easy to grab should I need to, but let him relax in the shade while I set up camp. Ultimately, you know your dog best and as long as you are focused on keeping them safe, just be sure you are aware of your surroundings!