Taking your puppy on a camping trip can be one of the most rewarding ways to bond with your newest family member while also enjoying the great outdoors.
However, camping with a puppy requires a decent amount of pre-planning and care to ensure that you keep your pup safe and happy while you’re outside.
If you’re looking to take your four-legged friend on its first camping trip, it’s understandable if you’re feeling a bit nervous. So, here are our 20 best tips for taking your puppy camping for the first time.
20 Tips for Camping With a Puppy
1. Determine If Your Puppy Is Ready to Go Camping
Puppies mature and grow at different rates, just like humans do. So, while some dogs go on their first camping trip at 4 months old, others aren’t ready to go camping until they’re a bit older.
How do you know if your puppy is ready to head outside?
At a minimum, any camping companion should be able to follow basic commands, like sit, stay, and come, to ensure that it won’t run away from you while you’re outside.
2. Ensure Your Pup’s Vaccines Are up to Date
Your puppy’s vaccinations are its best defense against diseases while outside.
Therefore, it’s important that your dog be up to date on all its shots before your first camping trip. This includes everything from the all-important rabies shots to lesser-known inoculations like the leptospirosis vaccine.
The more you can do to protect your dog from infectious diseases, the better, so hold off on planning your trip until your puppy is fully vaccinated.
3. Be Reasonable With Your Expectations
Camping with a puppy is not like camping with an older dog. While seasoned adventure dogs are capable of hiking all day, puppies just can’t handle as much exercise as you might think.
For your first few camping trips, take things slow as your pup gets used to its new surroundings. Try to keep hikes short and manageable so that your puppy has the best possible experience while you’re outside.
4. Opt for a Dog Harness
The traditional collar and leash might seem like the simplest option for your pup, but harnesses are by and large the best choice for active canines.
Harnesses limit the amount of tugging on your dog’s sensitive neck area and provide better control over your pup if it happens to get overly excited about a squirrel. Therefore, harnesses are your go-to choice for camping adventures.
5. Do Your Research
Before you head out on your camping trip, check that your campsite and hiking locations are dog-friendly. Unfortunately, many popular hiking and camping locales don’t allow dogs (or have strict leash rules).
The last thing you want to do is show up at a campsite only to find out that your pup isn’t welcome.
Most national parks in the United States don’t allow dogs, so sticking to a national forest or state park might be your best bet. When in doubt, call your local land manager or campsite owner to learn more about any dog-related regulations before you leave home.
6. Choose an Appropriate Campsite
After you determine that your camping area is dog-friendly, it’s time to find a campsite that’s appropriate for your puppy.
For your first few trips, it’s best to choose campsites that are generally quiet and secluded to ensure that your puppy can enjoy its surroundings without feeling overwhelmed.
As your dog gets used to camping, you can start venturing out to busier campgrounds and backcountry areas where your dog can socialize with humans and other canines.
7. Learn Puppy First Aid Skills & Pack a First Aid Kit
Although we hope that you’ll never have to use them, knowing some basic puppy first aid skills can make all the difference if there’s an emergency during your camping trip.
The American Red Cross offers a short, self-paced pet first aid course, which is a good starting point for any pet owner. You can also download the Red Cross pet first aid app and pack a dog-specific first aid kit every time you go outside.
8. Bring Extra Food
Your puppy is a rapidly growing canine, so it eats a surprising amount of food on a day-to-day basis.
However, as soon as you head outside, your puppy will need to eat a whole lot more food to keep itself energized throughout your hiking adventures.
Therefore, pack an extra serving or 2 of food for each day of your camping trip to ensure that your pup is well fed.
9. Don’t Forget to Provide Plenty of Water
In addition to extra kibble, you’ll want to provide your dog with plenty of water while you’re outside. This means ensuring that your dog always has access to a water bowl while in camp so that it can stay hydrated throughout the night.
Additionally, don’t forget to pack a collapsible water bowl while you’re hiking, particularly on hot or sunny days. This can ensure your dog gets the fluids it needs while adventuring.
10. Be Attentive to Your Puppy’s Energy Levels
Puppies are notorious for their high energy levels, but even the most energetic of dogs will tire out eventually. Additionally, too much exercise can place a lot of stress on a young puppy’s growing body.
Therefore, you’ll want to pay attention to your dog’s energy levels and stop exercising whenever it starts getting tired.
11. Avoid Hiking in the Heat
Hiking in the midday heat might not be a huge deal for us humans, but for dogs, excessive heat is a no-no. Unlike humans, dogs can’t sweat and they happen to be covered in a thick layer of fur that isn’t exactly great at cooling them off on a hot day.
That means they’re more likely to overheat on a hot summer’s day than you are, especially if you’re out on a strenuous hike.
So, try to plan your hikes with this in mind. Avoid midday hiking and perhaps consider alternative activities if the temperatures are forecast to be above about 80ºF (27ºC), especially if you have a double-coated breed like an Akita, Husky, or Malamute.
12. Camp With a Friendly Older Dog
To help your puppy learn the social norms and expectations of camping, consider camping with a friendly older dog. Many puppies learn to listen to commands simply by following their older friends.
Therefore, you may find it easier to train your pup if it has a responsible canine to follow around.
13. Pack a Spacious Tent
Even if your puppy is still quite small, it’s worth bringing a spacious tent on your first few camping trips.
Dogs have a knack for taking up way more space on a bed than they need, so a larger tent can make camping more enjoyable for you.
Additionally, some dogs feel a bit claustrophobic inside small tents, especially during their first few camping trips. A larger shelter might help to put them at ease.
For more information on dog-friendly tents, check out this article where we reviewed the best tents for camping with dogs.
14. Introduce Your Pup to Your Tent Before Leaving Home
If your puppy is generally quite apprehensive, you can try introducing your dog to your tent before your first camping trip.
Doing so will show your puppy that there’s nothing to fear from your tent, which will make it easier for it to fall asleep at night.
15. Consider a Set Of Puppy Boots
For winter camping adventures, protective boots are a must to protect your pup’s sensitive paws from cold-weather injuries.
This is particularly true for long-haired dogs, as ice and snow tend to accumulate on the fur in between their paw pads, which can lead to frostbite and other injuries.
Alternatively, if you have a particularly active dog that often injures its paws, you might find that boots are a great adventure tool for year-round camping.
16. Use a Collar Light at Night
When the sun sets at the end of a long day of adventure, it can be tricky to keep track of your pup as it wanders around your campsite. This can be problematic if your dog wanders away from camp, especially in dark, heavily forested locales.
A small collar light can help resolve many of these issues, as it allows you to more easily keep an eye on your pup while in camp.
Plus, these tiny collar lights help ensure that wildlife can see your dog, thereby reducing the likelihood of not-so-fun encounters with the local fauna.
17. Set up a Dog Run in Camp
Unless you’re confident that your puppy won’t run away, it’s best to set up a dog run at your campsite so that your dog can run around and explore its surroundings without getting into trouble.
Setting up a dog run is a fairly straightforward process. You’ll need 2 large trees that are located about 20 to 30 feet (6-9.1m) apart, a durable piece of rope, and a medium-length leash.
Tie the rope to the 2 trees (sort of like what you’d do with a clothesline), clip the leash to the rope, and sit back as your pup entertains itself by running back and forth on the dog run.
18. Don’t Forget the Poop Bags & Trowel
Local regulations almost always require that you either pack out or bury your dog’s waste, just like you’d do with human waste while camping.
Therefore, you’ll want to bring a plentiful supply of poop bags for front-country camping or a trowel for burying dog poop in more remote destinations.
19. Pack a Blanket or Puppy Sleeping Bag
You’ll often find that there’s not quite enough room inside your sleeping bag to fit both you and your canine friend. Therefore, packing a blanket or dedicated puppy sleeping bag is a must for your camping trips.
Even if your pup does want to snuggle in your sleeping bag at night, bringing a sturdy blanket to protect your tent floor can help prevent your dog from accidentally ripping holes in your tent fabric with its sharp claws.
20. Consider a Dog Jacket in Cold Environments
Unless you have a Malamute, Husky, or similarly fluffy dog, you may want to consider packing an insulated dog jacket for camping trips in cold environments.
Puppies can get very cold, very quickly, so one of these insulated jackets can make a big difference in your dog’s comfort levels while outside.
Puppy Essentials for Camping and Hiking
Camping with a puppy is all about packing the right gear to keep your trusty canine happy and safe while outside.
Here are some important essentials to bring along when camping with your puppy:
- Water and food bowls
- Collar light
- Insulated dog jacket (for single-coat or hairless breeds)
- Harness and leash
- Collar with ID and rabies tags
- Blankets or a puppy sleeping bag
- Spare rope for a dog run
- Dog boots and socks
- Puppy insect repellent
- Plenty of kibble and treats
- Poop bags and trowel
- Towels (for drying off after swimming)
- Tennis balls and other toys
- Canine first aid kit
FAQs About Camping With Puppies
Can you take a 4-month-old puppy camping?
So long as your puppy is up to date on its vaccinations and is in good health, there’s generally no issue with taking a 4-month-old puppy camping.
However, some puppies don’t get their final vaccines until they turn 5 months old, so check with your vet before you plan any camping trips with your young dog.
Where do dogs sleep while camping?
Most dogs are more than happy to sleep in your tent with you while camping. However, some dogs find tents to be quite stressful. In these situations, your next best bet is to set them up under a tree or near your tent with a blanket where they can relax for the night.
Now you can start preparing your pup with our 20 tips for the upcoming adventure. However, the key is to have fun and relax. Remember that you are dealing with a very young dog, so keep your expectations reasonable. Happy camping!
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About the author
Gaby is a professional outdoor educator, guide, and wilderness medicine instructor. She holds a master's degree in outdoor education and spends most of her time hanging out with penguins and polar bears in the polar region. When she's not outdoors, you can find her traveling, reading Nietzsche, and drinking copious double espressos.