Camping and Hiking with the Family Dog

by JP on Sep.21, 2009, under Camping, Environmental Issues, Hiking Trails, Outdoor Travel

Hiking and Dogs

Hiking and camping with man’s best friend can be a lot of fun, a good bonding experience with your pet, and great exercise for both of you.

If you’re like me, you may feel a little bad having to leave man’s best friend at home when heading out on a trip. Not to mention finding someone to feed your pal and take care of him. So why not take him along?

On one of my most recent camping trips, I decided that it was time to bring the family dog along for some hiking and camping. Even before setting out, I quickly found that camping and hiking with a dog presents several new issues to be dealt with. Now, many of the guides out there for having a dog on a trip presumes that you have one of these great, obedient dogs that always follows your every command. I will presume, that is not the case for most of us. My dog is a great dog, but not trained to listen to my every word, as some may suggest it should be.


When bringing a dog along on the family camping trip, or on a backpacking/hiking trip, you are essentially bringing an extra person that can’t talk or plan for themselves. As such, one needs to make sure not only to bring their own food, water, and gear, but also those essential needs of the dog. This includes not only dog food, but water, bowls for eating, a collar, a leash, and potentially a lead that can be easily tied to a tree while you setup camp. For long hikes, I also suggest a dog pack to distribute some of the weight.


One of the reasons I do not typically bring my dog camping with me, is that I typically camp far away from home. Transporting a dog can be really problematic. Cars are not really designed with dogs in mind. As such, one needs to make sure to have some method of allowing the dog to sit and lie in a way that prevents them from sliding and rolling on a quick turn or brake. Allowing a dog to roam in a moving car can be dangerous for the dog, the driver, and to other drivers on the road, due to how distracting the dog can be, and the likelihood of injury when the dog is able to move freely. Manufacturers have designed all sorts of dog seat belt harnesses, as well as various types of crates made for transportation in a vehicle.

Making Stops to and From

Another issue you may quickly realize when traveling with your dog is how much more difficult it becomes to make any stops on the way to and from your camp site, especially in the summer. Summertime temperatures in the South can easily reach 100 degrees. In a vehicle these temperatures rapidly go up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes. DO NOT leave your dog in the car in the summer. Countless dogs die each year from being left in a sweltering vehicle. Leaving the windows down and/or parking in the shade help very little.  As such, make sure you have planned your trip to minimize stops, try to plan for cool, shady areas when stops are necessary, and never stay out of the car for more than five minutes if the dog must be left in the vehicle. Do, however, allow time for your dog to get out of the car and eliminate waste, otherwise your drive will become a smelly mess. Dogs also need to stretch their legs, just like humans do.

Campsite Arrival

Once you and Fido make it to the campsite, you will likely want to setup your tent and campsite. Almost all campsites will require that dogs remain on a leash. As such, I suggest hooking your canine pal up on a lead that will allow him some room to roam within the campsite, while not bothering other campers. Typically a lead of around 10 feet ought to allow our dog some freedom while you set up camp, while simultaneously complying with park regulations on dog restraint.

Also, after a long drive, make sure to put some water out. Dog’s get dehydrated and over heat easier than most would think, and at a much quicker rate than most humans.


Once camp is setup, you may decide to take a hike, literally.There are a few things to keep in mind, especially if your furry friend has not done a lot of hiking with you.

Low Mileage Dogs

People often forget that dogs have muscles that need conditioning just like humans. It is easy to assume that an animal can naturally walk for miles at a time, but this is simply not true for the average domesticated animal. As such, know your dog. If your dog hasn’t been walking several miles a day with you at home, don’t assume that he is keen to hike those miles up a mountain. Let your dog get acclimated to hiking in the same way you did, a few miles at a time.

Check the Paws

Many trails in the south have extremely pointed rocks. While you are wearing hiking boots to protect your feet, dogs simply have a hard padded foot. These pads are not impervious, nor are they as strong as your boot sole. Watch your dog’s steps, and make sure that the ground is not injuring him. Dogs have strong feet, but you don’t want to have a 100 pound injured dog five miles out.

Stop and Smell the Roses, Trees, Plants, Sticks, Rocks, and Everything Else

Dogs love to smell and explore, and mark territory. These are natural instincts for dogs. Plan on taking more time when hiking with a dog. They may not enjoy the beautiful waterfall at the end of the trail, but they may enjoy the smell of a new tree. This may work in your benefit as well. Who knows what wildlife or plant life you may see if you were to slow down and look around while your dog is sniffing the ground.

As far as allowing your dog to mark his territory, I suggest keeping it to a minimum. One wants to explore the woods and leave no trace. With that said, let’s face it, hundreds of animals are “marking” areas in the woods. A little dog liquid isn’t that likely to cause more damage. Just use common sense, dogs won’t hurt a tree, but could kill fragile wildflowers.

Do not, however, allow your dog to dig, or trample in plant life. Dogs should be allowed to smell and enjoy, not destroy. Keep them on a leash, and make sure they are enjoying nature within the limits of responsible use.


Another reason one needs to plan more time when hiking with a dog is to give him or herself some protection from injury. Dogs must stay on a leash when hiking. Unless you have a dog that never pulls, and always listens, this can potentially lead to injury. Hiking along a precarious ridge, or when crossing a creek or river is tough enough without something pulling you forward the entire time. Holding on to a leash also limits your body’s natural kinesthetic balance. Take your time when hiking with a leash, it could prevent you from rolling your ankle or off a cliff.


One final thing to remember when hiking with your pal, is that he cannot really sweat. As such, Fido has a much harder time keeping his body temperature down. Your dog needs water, and more of it than  you. While you can go without water for a long time on a hike, your dog cannot, and should not have to. Anytime you take a dog on a long walk, carry an extra bottle of water for him, and a bowl for him to drink it from. Do not rely on running water that may be on a trail. Just like you, dogs can get sick from drinking unclean water, do him a favor and take care of his body like you would take care of your own, if you were covered in a coat in July, and could not sweat.

A Hard Day’s Night

After a long day of traveling and hiking, you and your pal may be ready to get some sleep.  Sleeping in a tent with Fido presents a whole new set of issues, some of which may not be overcome on the first trip.

As I said earlier, I do not have a dog that listens to my every word. As such, getting him to move over in a tent is not easy. Be prepared to shift around in the tent before sleeping, as big dogs tend to sleep in a big way. This can make it hard to sleep.

The second major issue is that dogs hear everything. While you may have learned to ignore the crunching leaves, or the sound of a mouse/ opossum / racoon/ bear in the woods at night, your dog probably has not. This can make for a scary and annoying experience for you and your dog. Your dog can’t see out of the tent, but knows something is out there, whether he’s simply curious, afraid, or wanting to protect you, Fido may decide that in the middle of the night he cannot sleep with all the wildlife. I don’t know how to overcome this issue, other than to take your pal camping more often and allow him to get acclimated to the new sounds. Nevertheless, that first night of sleeping under the starts with your pet can be a sleepless night.

Bring Him Along

With all of these issues to deal with, hiking with a dog can still be worth while. Dogs make great companions, and are a lot of fun to watch when exploring a new area. I highly suggest that you take man’s best friend on your next family trip to the great outdoors. Just make sure you plan for him, and he will likely love every minute of it and only serve to increase the positive memories you have of your hiking and camping trips.

If you have any other suggestions, or ran into any other issues let us know what they were and how you took care of them in the comment section below.

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