Regardless of the size of your dog, from a toy breed through to a giant breed, camping and hiking can make a terrific day, weekend or even several day outing. Most dogs love being in the outdoors and even those dogs that are a bit more comfortable in their houses will quickly adjust to living in a tent, camper or even a cabin, provided that owners help them make the adjustment.
The biggest consideration that people have to make when planning a camping or hiking holiday with their dog is how reliable their dog is when it comes to responding off leash. If your dog is prone to chasing squirrels and birds or often doesn't return on your call but rather continues hunting or exploring, this can pose a serious issue. Many dogs simply become too involved in following a wild animal track or scent or even chasing and quickly become disoriented and lost. This, needless to say, can really ruin your complete holiday, so working on off-leash training before leaving will be essential.
The other option is to plan for the dog to be continuously kept on leash or on a tether. There are many options for tethering dogs, either a line strung up between two trees that allows lots of movement or a ground tether. Either option can work but any dog on a tether should be supervised and monitored. There is too great of a risk of choking with these types of restraints to allow dogs on the tethers unsupervised. There are many different models of swivel attachments for collars that minimize the risk of choking, however they cannot substitute for immediate action from a person if trouble arises with the line tangling or looping around the dog.
For smaller sized dogs there is always the option of bringing along a portable pen. These lightweight yet sturdy pens provide a small, contained area that is perfect for most toy and small sized breeds. They can either push into the ground or anchor, however if your dog is very active or is prone to digging they may not be as secure. Portable pens are great for campgrounds or areas where you can easily drive into the camping area, however they may be a bit difficult to pack in.
Bringing along food dishes, water dishes and supplies for the dog is also important. There are several types of collapsible plastic water and food dishes that are specially designed for camping and travel, making excellent lightweight containers. Remember that dogs can get bacteria and parasitic types of health conditions from drinking water from streams, lakes, ponds or puddles. In areas where Giardia, Leptospirosis, Cryptosporidosis or Potomac Horse Fever, caused by Neorickettsia risticii is found, it is absolutely essential to either bring in bottled water or correctly purify or boil and cool water before your dog drinks. There are vaccinations and treatments for these conditions, but prevention is far more effective and less stressful and costly.
Besides bringing food and water, be sure to also bring along a basic first aid kit. Most of the staples in your first aid kit can certainly double for your dog, just be sure to bring along extra gauze and long bandages that can be used as a wrap for the legs or the body. Antibacterial spray and wound cleaning sprays and liquids can be purchased at any pet store or through a vet and are absolute essentials for your kit.
Planning a camping or hiking trip also means bringing along a few dogs toys, some treats and of course appropriate bedding for your dog. Generally most dogs are very comfortable curling up on the bottom of a sleeping bag, however for some breeds additional bedding or specific types of bedding may be required. The more comfortable and secure your dog feels and the more familiar things are to him or her the faster they will adjust. If you are camping in a cabin and can drive in you have a lot more options as to what you can bring along. If you are hiking in to your campground perhaps just a favorite toy or a ball is the best you can reasonably expect to bring.
Hiking and walking a lot during the day can be challenging for a dog, especially if they are more sedate or more of a couch potato when at home. A great way for both you and your dog to get in shape for hiking and camping is to start gradually increasing your walking time, speed and intensity every week or even a couple of times a week. Not only will this help the dog toughen up their feet but it will also help to build endurance for longer day hikes and outings. Gradually increasing exercise levels and intensity is very important for older adult dogs as it can reduce the risk of the dog becoming stiff and sore from a very sudden increase in exercise. Keep in mind that dogs are a lot like people and do need to build up to big activities. Don't forget to bring fresh water with you when you are out on the day hikes, both for yourself as well as your canine companion.
Knowing the terrain will help you decide what type of pre-trip conditioning you may need to get started. If you are traveling in very rocky or rough areas, you may want to consider walking your dog on cement or paved surfaces to toughen up the pads of their feet. Dogs that are only ever on grass or indoors will have very tender pads and may quickly become lame when walking over rocky or broken types of ground. The alternative may be to invest in a set of dog "shoes" which can be ideal in protecting the feet. Many very well conditioned dogs use these type of protective shoes to prevent any possible damage to the feet over the worst ground conditions. Typically most hikers and campers aren't going to be in that type of area, but if you are they are well worth the small price.
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