As dog owners, my husband and I enjoy spending as much time with our pups as possible. It includes bringing them along on our many adventures. At least once a month, we pack up our tent and all our camping gear and head out to explore the great outdoors as a ‘pack’, During our trips, we were met with some great questions from other campers, especially since we added a third dog to the mix. What’s the most common thing that we’re asked? People want to know how I trained my dog to tent camp without any of them destroying it.
If you’ve ever considered bringing your dog along on your adventures, you may be wondering the same thing. In this post, I’m going to break down how I trained our dogs. I will also share some of the things that I tried that didn’t work so you can avoid making the same mistakes.
After all, dog lovers like us need to stick together! Right?
Not Every Dog is A Camping Dog
Before we get started, I want to touch on this important point. As much as you may want your dog to love camping as you do, not every dog is going to share your thoughts on travel. It is crucial to pay attention to your dog, their personality, and what they tell you throughout the training experience.
If you know that your dog struggles with anxiety in new or unknown situations, bringing it along on your camping vacation could cause more harm than good. There is no arguing that a loving dog owner wants to spend as much time with their dog as possible. However, it’s your job to keep your pup safe and happy. It means finding a pet sitter or kennel where your dog can also enjoy a vacation.
A dog that doesn’t enjoy camping isn’t bad. Just like people, each dog has their preferences, and yours may prefer the comfort of home.
Purchasing the Right Tent
If you’re planning on introducing your dog to tent camping, the first step is to purchase a tent that will best accommodate your whole family. It will improve the overall camping experience. I recommend car camping for your first experience as this will allow you to pack a larger tent without worrying about the weight that it will add to your gear.
When my husband and I go camping, it’s just the two of us and our dogs. Our dogs are larger breeds, and we want them to be comfortable, so we purchased a bigger tent. Our current car camping tent is rated as being an 8-person. It provides room for our queen-size air bed along with dog beds for our two full-grown dogs and a crate for the puppy. There is also room to get up and move as needed without tripping over everything.
The best advice that someone gave me when it came to tent camping was to take a roll of painter’s tape and tape out the size of the tent that you are considering in your living room, on your back deck, or in the driveway. Place everything that you plan on bringing in this space and see how well it fits.
Basic Obedience Commands that Help
Teaching your dog basic obedience before traveling together will help to make your experience easier. However, there are a few specific commands that I believe are particularly important when considering tent camping.
Most parks and campgrounds that we have been to require your dog to be on a leash almost all the time except designated leash-free pet exercise areas. It means that your dog needs to be comfortable on the leash. However, it can be a point of anxiety for some, especially rescues that have had a negative experience with a leash in the past.
It is a controversial one as some dog owners are not a fan of the concept of using a crate. While we don’t use them in our house when they have grown, I believe in the benefits of crate training as a puppy. It becomes a ‘safe place’ to help your puppy feel more comfortable in new surroundings. However, any of our dogs will happily go in the crate to take a nap if we leave the door open to this day.
For tent camping, the crate is a great way to provide your puppy with some familiarity when everything is new. It also helps with housetraining and keeps your puppy from destroying the tent during the night if it is spooked. We keep the crate directly next to the bed, where we can interact with our puppy at any point if needed.
Recall training refers to training your dog to return to you with no command. Accidents happen, and equipment fails. Even the best dog owners taking every precaution possible may find themselves in a situation where their dog escapes their leash. Having a proper recall could make the difference between securing your dog quickly and hanging lost dog posters around the campground.
When you are outdoors, there is always the risk that your dog will discover something that could be toxic or dangerous if ingested. It includes toxic plants, sick or injured wildlife, or garbage that has been discarded by another camper. A strong understanding of leave it combined with careful supervision of your dog while you’re out and about will help to prevent any unnecessary medical emergencies.
Leave it can also be beneficial if you notice that your dog is interested in a specific part of the tent. Some dogs like to chew or pull on anything that extends from the walls, such as storage pockets, window flaps, or tiebacks. Teaching your dog to leave these items alone will help to keep your tent safe from damage.
The place command instructs your dog to go to a designated spot and remain there until released. If this command is taught using a specific item as their place, such as a dog bed, it can easily be transferred to the tent when camping. It makes it easier for my husband and me to get in and out of our tent at night and first thing in the morning without being rushed by the dogs (especially with multiple dogs).
Start at Home
Before packing up your dog and their belongings, start by getting your dog used to the tent at home. It could mean setting it up indoors in your living room or the back yard, if space allows, with the door tied back so that your dog can freely explore it. Don’t put any pressure on your dog during this time to stay in the tent, just allow them to sniff around.
You may need to encourage your dog to enter the tent if they are unsure by tossing some treats inside or feeding them in the tent. This creates a positive association with the space that makes it easier for your dog to feel comfortable when entering the tent.
After your dog has had time to adjust and feel comfortable with the presence of the tent, you can work towards being to close the tent door. A test run camping in your house or yard will provide the opportunity to test their comfort level while being able to easily call it off if you recognize that you need to take a step back.
Keep in mind that it is NOT a sprint. You will have better long-term success if you take your time and be patient.
Introduce Screens Slowly
The biggest concern that many dog owners have when it comes to having a dog in their tent is the possibility of their pup busting through the screen. Truthfully, it’s a real concern if your dog hasn’t been taught about screens before your trip.
While your tent is set up at home or in the yard, open the window and allow it to sniff at the screens and touch the screen with its nose. If you notice that your dog is trying to bite or paw at the screen, use the ‘leave it’ command to teach the importance of respecting the screen as a boundary. It can be confusing for dogs as you can see through it, so they may forget that it’s there.
The good news is that with patience and consistent training, your dog can learn to respect the screening on your tent. At this point, we no longer fear leaving the windows open with our two older dogs (we’re still training the puppy).
Pack All Necessary Dog-Related Gear
When packing for your trip, make sure that you pack everything that your dog is going to need to not only be safe but also comfortable on your trip. Our basic camping checklist for each of our dogs includes:
- Food and water bowls
- Dog bed and blanket (carrying their scent for familiarity)
- Leash, collar, harness
- Quiet toys (no squeakers out of respect for other campers)
- A towel to wipe paws when entering the tent
- Treats and food
- Proper identification and veterinary records
- Dog waste bags
- A dog-specific first aid kit
Additionally, if your trip includes other activities such as canoeing, kayaking, or hiking on rough terrain, you may need to pack specific equipment for those plans. Some examples include a dog’s life jacket or booties to protect their paws.
While At the Campsite
Your dog should always be supervised while you are at the campsite. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the leash laws and other pet-related restrictions at the park or campground that you are visiting, and be sure to follow them. Breaking the rules not only could cost you a fine or have you kicked out of the park, but it also gives all other dog owners a bad name. Also, be sure to clean up after your dog anywhere that you go, including your campsite, hiking trails, and the dog beach.
If tent camping is still new or you are concerned that your dog may be a flight risk, there is nothing wrong with keeping your dog on a leash overnight. Safety should always be a top priority!
Make sure that any plans during your trip are dog-friendly or that you have made plans for your dog to be cared for by someone else. Not only could leaving your dog unsupervised at your campsite lead to an unsafe situation, but it may also be disruptive for other campers in the area.
Most importantly, have fun! It is an opportunity to make memories and bond with your pup. Don’t take a single moment for granted.