Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it’s only natural to take along the family pet when camping. But bringing along the dog means a little more than just loading him into the car. Advance planning and preparation will insure that you, the kids, and the pets all enjoy the outing.
First, consider this is a good trip for Fido. If your plans include a lot of boating or biking or activities the dog can’t share, it might be better to leave him home rather than leave him tied up all day alone at the campsite.
But that’s the exception. Your dog belongs with the rest of the family when everyone’s having a great time discovering the outdoors. Just remember that dogs sometimes find the call of the wild irresistible and set off like a four-legged Lewis and Clark. Make sure there’s some identification on him. A set of tags firmly fastened to his collar is fine, but for additional insurance, buy a collar with his name and your telephone number embroidered into the fabric.
Campsite rules for both kids and pets are next. Most places require pets be tethered at the campsite. Even if it’s not required, it’s a courtesy to other campers who don’t share your love of animals or appreciate your dog inviting himself to lunch. While chaining the kids isn’t an option, they are also expected to respect the privacy of other campers, unless they’re invited over for a visit.
If your pet isn’t used to being restrained, break him into the idea at home before you start packing. The kids can help a lot with this project. Put out the stake in the backyard and hitch your dog to it for an hour or so at a time. He might think he’s being punished, so make sure you and the kids stay very close. Deliver a lot of praise and try to do things with or near him. As he gets used to the idea, gradually increase the time you leave him tethered, and let him spend some of that time alone.
If he has some favorite toys, keep those nearby, too, and bring them along on the trip. Just like your kids want their Gameboy for entertainment around the campfire at night, your dog will want his favorite bone or gnawed-on stuffed animal.
This is also a good time to get your dog used to walking on a leash, if he isn’t already. Many parks require dogs to be leashed even while hiking on trails away from campsites. It’s a safety feature as much as anything else. You really don’t want your dog to spot a deer and decide it looks like something that’ll be a lot of fun to chase.
A good compromise between a conventional short leash and letting the dog run free is a retractable leash. This lets the dog roam as much as 15 feet before reaching the end of the line. Putting the kids in charge of walking the dog is a good way to keep track of them on the trail, too.
Dogs and kids are really easy to pack for. Food is the first consideration. For the kids, it’s simple to come up with menus that are healthy but not hard to fix. Peanut butter and jelly, stews – precooked at home and frozen – or canned, simple vegetables and fruits, carrots and salads, apples and bananas, dry or instant cereals, and – of course – S’Mores, are all staples. Powdered milk is OK for cereal and cooking, but even the most calcium-conscious consumer cringes at actually drinking the stuff. Boxed juices are easier to deal with than powder or bottles.
Pets are even easier to plan meals for than kids. If you use bagged dry or canned food and want to bring it along, fine, but remember that those little cans get awfully heavy when you are carrying them on your back, and you have to carry out the remains of whatever you carry into the woods. A better idea is to use the small bags of prepackaged dog food. They are ideal: convenient, easy to store, and lightweight. And the small cellophane bag is a lot easier to dispose of than an empty can.
Get the dog used to the change in diet before the trip, though. Sudden switches in food give a lot of animals upset stomachs, with results that aren’t much fun to deal with. A week or more before the trip, add half a bag of the prepackaged food with each feeding and increase that until the dog is eating the prepackaged stuff entirely for a day or so before the trip. When you get back, reverse the feeding plan until your dog is back on his regular diet. If you have a lot of trips planned in a short time, it’s probably better to leave the dog entirely on the prepackaged food.
Kids know one of the great things about camping is that they’re supposed to get dirty and don’t have to take real baths until they get home. Bring along clean clothing, but don’t be surprised if the kids want to wear the same grungy t-shirt the entire trip. Also remember that wet denim gets very heavy and takes a very long time to dry. Have a backup pair (or two) of jeans, and have some pants in other material if you can.
For the dog, bring along several beach towels to dry him off when he finds a stream just before everybody beds down for the night. Where will he sleep? Do you want the dog inside the tent or tethered outside? Many animals are just as happy sleeping under the stars, but if your dog starts fussing and whining at the idea of being separated from the rest of his family, you don’t have much choice. You will undoubtedly wake up to find that he’s gently nudged you off your air mattress or is slumbering contentedly inside your child’s sleeping bag.
There’s a more serious side to camping with a pet that’s easily accomplished with planning and a little paperwork. Make sure your dog is up to date with all of his shots, particularly rabies. Even timid dogs can become protective of their families and take on raccoons and other camp visitors.
While there’s no vaccine for people, you can get your dog inoculated against Lyme Disease, and it makes a lot of sense to do so. This tick-borne disease is found in almost every state. There are kits available for removing ticks from pets and people. You should check everybody – dogs and kids – for ticks every day.
Get a tick and fleas collar, too. These can break or become undone, so don’t attach your dog’s ID to it. The commercial collars sold at the grocery store seem to work just as well as any other brand, but if your vet suggests using another brand, there’s probably a good reason for it, and you should pay attention.
Carry a copy of your dog’s shot record. If he is injured or if you need to put him into a kennel for some reason, proof of his inoculations that will satisfy vets and kennel owners is required.
No matter how careful you are, there is still a chance of your dog getting hurt. It’s not a bad idea to check the local telephone book and get the number of a vet or an emergency clinic in the area you’re planning to visit. If there is an emergency, you can’t be sure that the campground, park ranger, or local residents will have that information.
Unless you are planning to go deep into the wilderness, you probably won’t need to know how to set broken bones or suture wounds, but you should still have a good, basic first aid kit for people and pets. With luck, cuts and scrapes, bug bites, and poison ivy will be the worst things you have to deal with.
Camping is a great way to build good memories for the family. After the first trip, don’t be surprised if your dog is the most enthusiastic member of the clan!
Family Camping First Aid Kit For Your Dog
4″ square gauze pads: Dogs will try to chew off any sort of bandage. Bring lots.
Roll bandages. The cling-type (called vet wrap in horse supply stores) are better than the gauze rollers. Dogs will try to chew these off, too. Bring lots
Pain reliever: Aspirin can be given to dogs. Check with your vet for dosages.
Antiseptic solution: the dog won’t like the way it stings and will probably try to lick it off.
Bug repellent: Put around the dog’s ears and the non-hairy parts of his body. If a rash forms, or it really seems to bother the dog, wash it off.
Pepto-Bismol: Use the tablets. Trying to give dogs a liquid version of these products provides an evening’s worth of entertainment for the entire family, but very little gets inside the dog. Trust me on this one.
Tweezers: To remove splinters, burrs, or porcupine quills.
An old sock: Covers bandages, holds a dressing in place, and keeps leg injuries clean.
Leg from a pair of panty hose: It makes a strong, but gentle, restraint or instant muzzle
Duct tape: It works better than most first aid tapes.