Getting Your Dog Ready for Colder Weather
Our home has never been without a dog. I remember being knee-high to a grasshopper, buried in the fur of my best girl, a chocolate lab I “inventively” named Cocoa. Saturday mornings were spent curled up on the shag carpet, watching cartoons together. We’d share a bowl of cereal, and play in the backyard once it warmed up. Cocoa never left my side. She could hold onto both ends of a cob of corn and nibble just like a human. She snored. She smiled. Cocoa was my best friend…a very furry, very slobbery best friend.
Cocoa was also my shadow and nothing went unnoticed by her; not a squirrel, not a whisper. Growing up with Cocoa gave me an unshakeable example of what canine companionship truly does for a person. Even during her battle with a spine disease, in which it ultimately won, she was my childhood hero. There was nothing we couldn’t accomplish, no mountain we could not climb, so long as we were together.
Dogs really are man’s best friend. They are the ones who keep the best secrets, tell the greatest truths, and provide the most comfort, usually with a single nudge of their heads. It comes to no surprise that they also make for great camping companions, especially if you’re looking to really dig into nature and explore every acre.
Don’t jump right into a crazy adventure unprepared, especially if you’re taking your best (furry) bud along. Camping with a dog is somewhat different than camping with a human. For one, they won’t be arguing with you, saying, “I think we should have taken that last left on the trail,” but they also won’t be able to tell you when they’re running low on fuel, either. Dogs can’t express when they’re tired or out of shape, so start small if your dog isn’t used to high-endurance activities or long-distance camping.
Build up their tolerance by modestly challenging them every week. Try new activities and be sure to reward them when they’ve done well. If they do poorly, do not punish them. A good dog always wants to please their master, so eventually he/she will get the hang of it, just believe in them and work with them to the best of your ability.
Training your dog to obey a series of commands is another very important aspect when you’re in the process of planning a camping trip with them. Naturally, you’ll want to teach your dog the basics, such as sit, stay, and lay down. Other helpful commands include: leave it/drop it, come/heel, and retrieve. Retrieving is good for when you plan to engage in activities with your dog on the trip, such as hunting waterfowl or fishing. Spending time with your pooch and taking the necessary measurements to ensure that they fully understand these commands will not only help your dog in the field, but will also build up a strong sense of trust between the two of you. Camping is a fun pastime, but you will be out in the middle of the wilderness, and there can be real danger, so prepare them accordingly.
You should always keep your dog up to date on shots and disease prevention treatments. Some campsites or RV parks will ask for proper documentation, so having this paperwork on your person is a good idea. Invest in a pack for your dog, just as you would for yourself, to hold essentials they will need, such as water and a mini dog-friendly first-aid kit.
Brushing up on basic care for your pet, should they become injured in the field, is suggested as well. If your dog gets poked by a sharp twig or a thorn, you should dress the wound immediately. If they wander a little further than you should have let them and get bitten or stung by something, you will want to have the knowledge required to take care of them. If you love your dog – just as we all do – you will naturally panic when they’re hurt, especially if you’re far from help. Do the both of you a favor, and be prepared to handle certain sticky situations, as accidents do happen.
It is recommended that you always keep a safety harness on your dog, consistent with some type of protective outerwear, to ensure their safety further. In colder weather, you’ll want to make sure they stay warm and, if in snowy conditions, have the proper gear to handle long-distance walks through the ice and sludge.
Stay together! Don’t let your dog wander ahead of you or trail behind you, especially in the early morning and late evening hours. Pack an insulated blanket for your pup to keep them warm, and plenty of food, because they’ll be exercising just as much – probably more! – than you.
I’ll never forget Cocoa or her loyalty. I still remember late nights around the campfire with her, age setting deep into her bones, but her heart just as young as ever. She would nestle herself just along the legs of my folding chair, and listen intently to the sounds of the surrounding forest, as she nodded in and out of a happy sleep. I don’t think either of us ever longed for anything more than what was given to us by each other in those moments. To this day, camping is still one of my favorite outdoor activities, simply because of the company I choose to keep.
Many campsites are dog friendly and will provide certain accommodations for your furry friend, but check campsite information in your area, either by stopping in the visitor center, or looking it up online. Your dog is more than likely the best choice when it comes to picking out a prime camping companion, because they will stay with you and protect you at all times, and they should get the same treatment in return.
Visit your state’s website for a full list of dog-friendly campgrounds.
Plus – Pet Friendly Campsites!
- Yosemite National Park & RV Resorts, California (pets welcome, must be leashed)
- Dauphin Island Campground, Alabama (public beach, dogs welcome in all areas)
- Pachaug State Forest, Colorado (one pet per site)
- Florida State Parks & Campgrounds (must be leashed, some parks excluded)
- Everglades National Park, Florida (roadside campgrounds only)
- Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (must be leashed)
- Chocura Camping Village, New Hampshire (dog swimming pond, off-leash access)
- Daggett Lake Campsite, Adirondack Mountains, New York (dog beach, pet-friendly cabins)
- Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina (must be leashed)