Camping is made better with friends, including our four-legged ones. I spent many months camping and hiking with my good boy Max while researching a guide book, Best Hikes with Dogs: Texas Hill Country and Gulf Coast. Max, a 70-pound mutt, developed a fascination with armadillos, so I could always count on him to alert me to the presence of the nifty little critters. Without him, I never would have noticed them.
Dogs can make great outdoor adventure companions, but if you’re new to camping with your pet, follow these tips to ensure that you both have a great experience.
Choose your campground
Dogs are welcome at almost all Texas State Parks, but must follow a few rules, including being leashed. LCRA parks allow pets (leashes required in camping and picnic areas). Some National Parks allow dogs, but restrict where they can go. Check individual park websites under Plan Your Trip and Basic Information for pet rules.
Make sure Fido is up-to-date on shots, in good health, and trained in basic commands such as “come” and “stay.” This is important for the dog’s safety and the safety of other people and wildlife. Couch-potato dogs should practice hiking before your trip; start with short distances to get in shape and work toward longer hikes.
The right gear keeps your furry friend safe and happy. It also makes things easier on both of you. Pack these essentials:
Tent. Sleeping in a tent with you keeps your dog from interesting temptations in the night. Spend time in the tent with him before the trip, and bring him a sleeping mat.
Doggy backpack. Let your dog carry her own gear. Keep it to about 15 percent of the dog’s body weight, and let her get used it around the house first.
First aid kit. Include the same basics as for humans, especially disinfectant and bandages. Paw cuts and scrapes are your dog’s most likely injuries.
Booties. These protect paws from hot or rough surfaces and stickers, and help a dog walk on an injured paw. Again, familiarize your dog with these beforehand.
Water, food, and collapsible bowls. Not all water sources are safe for dogs to drink (think blue-green algae). Dogs need extra calories when hiking, the same as you (just their regular kibble does fine).
Leash. Required in most parks and a good idea for unexpected encounters with wildlife. Dogs are instinctually prone to chase deer, rabbits, and other critters.
Trowel and poop bags. Always clean up after your dog!
Be prepared for hazards your dog could encounter in the great outdoors. Make sure you’re up-to-date on heartworm and flea/tick preventive medicines for your dog, and take insect repellent designed for dogs. Most camping trips in Texas include exposure to mosquitos, fleas, or ticks.
Snakes generally want to avoid you and your dog. Do your part to avoid them: Stay on the trail, be watchful, and keep dogs away from rocks, brush, and holes. If you see a snake on the trail, find a place to detour around and leave it alone.
Heat stroke represents a serious risk for dogs. Warning signs include her tongue hanging far out, and noisy, aggressive panting. If you think your dog is overheating, stop and find shade immediately and place your dog in cool water or pour water over her. Check surface temperatures with your hand – too hot for your hand is too hot for her paws. Don’t let dogs carry anything in their mouth as it interferes with panting.
Dogs enjoy doing almost anything as long as they get to do it with us. After a few trips, Max recognized our camping gear and grew happy at just the sight of it. That’s the kind of camping buddy you want.