A tent, a starry sky, a trout stream somewhere handy: A couple of days in the woods is the best antidote to office overload, and a camping trip only gets better when you add a dog to the mix.
Canine campers are about as enthusiastic a breed as you'll find: athletic enough for a fast morning run, intrepid enough for a strenuous hike – and loyal enough to sit quietly while you wait all afternoon for a fish to bite. They never complain.
Still, taking a dog into the wild calls for a little planning. In the first place, not all campgrounds are created equal: Some don't allow dogs, so check with the management of the one you've chosen before you head off. For starters, dogs are not allowed on national park or national monument trails. On-leash dogs are sometimes allowed in national forest campgrounds, but there are exceptions, so call ahead.
The best bet – especially in the West – may be roughing it on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Forget the crowds, rules and restrictions, this is primitive camping, wild wildlife – and, above all – privacy. For help finding a campground within the system, check with your nearest BLM office, where you'll find detailed maps of almost any area.
Preparation and Precaution
Before you leave home, make sure your dog has up-to-date vaccinations, especially for Lyme disease. Also, update your dog's license and – if you don't already have them – get some dog identification tags.
A small first-aid kit is essential, and you should pack the following, in case of emergencies: Neosporin or any antibiotic ointment helps treat wounds. Vetrap – elastic bandages that stick only to themselves, not to hair or skin, thus eliminating the need for pins, clips and adhesive tape – are ideal for holding dressings in place. Benadryl can be given to your dog in case of bee stings or fire-ant bites. Check with your veterinarian for the correct dosage. You can put it into peanut butter for a snack. Also bring along a snake bite kit; alcohol and peroxide.
Make sure to bring insect repellent and flea and tick control products: Mosquitoes bite right through short-haired breeds and ticks carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichia. If your dog does get a tick, pull the tick off and douse the affected area with alcohol. Never stick a hot match on your dog to remove a tick. That's one ridiculous old remedy that doesn't work.
Food and Water
Always take plenty of clean drinking water for your dog – even if you figure there will be abundant water nearby and you're expecting cool weather. Your dog needs plenty of water, no matter what the temperature. While you're at it, bring along extra dog food (in case of emergency) and pack it all up into a bear-proof container.
Towels and Bedding
Bring your dog's bed to keep him from feeling homesick and take along extra towels that can double as blankets if the temperature drops. Or you can just throw a coat over your dog. He will effectively tent it, creating his own little warm house. If he starts to shiver or if temperatures drop into the 30s, bring him into the tent with you to prevent hypothermia. It will make both of you feel better; after all, dogs make great bed heaters.
No matter how well behaved you think your dog is, he still must be restrained when there are other campers around. Some dogs aren't particularly friendly to humans they don't know, others attack their fellow canines on sight. The unfamiliarity of a new campsite can make even a passive dog bite or bark incessantly.
You may have to muzzle your dog to keep him quiet, and you should always keep him on a leash while in camp. You might also want to bring along a strong tether designed to go around a tree or tent stake. If you have more than one dog on a tether, make sure you tie them at different ends of the camp to prevent tangles.
Probably the best thing you can do to ensure future camping availability for your dog is to clean up after him. Bears leave it in the woods, but dogs shouldn't. So, be a sport, and pack it out.
Nobody knows why dogs seek out and roll in the foulest-smelling substances known to man, or why they insist on slow dancing with skunks. An effective antidote to an overpowering dog perfume can be formulated by mixing one quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/4-cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of dish soap. Lather it on your dog and wash it off.
Before You Go
Below is a shopping list of products that can make a camping trip hassle-free. All products can be found at www.pets.com