Those of us who have both camping trailers and pets will face this issue when planning a camping trip. This is a complex and often highly emotional topic. I have camped with our dogs in the past, and sometimes left them home. I’ll talk about factors to consider when making this decision.
The short answer to the question at hand is, of course you can. The underlying question is, should you, and are you willing to make the sacrifices required to take your pup along?
In this blog, I’ll talk about a dog, but of course this could pertain to any pet, and more than one. We’ve found that traveling with two dogs is much more difficult than one, and I’ll touch on that as well.
We will break this down into bite-sized chunks to help make the decision.
- What kind of camping do you do?
- Is your good dog a good camper?
- Is your trailer setup suitable for a furry companion?
- Is it worth it to you?
These four questions will help focus your thoughts and maybe temper your emotions in making this tough decision. Of course you want to be with your dog. You love your dog. And you love camping, or you wouldn’t have a tiny trailer. Doesn’t it make complete sense to want the two things you love to be together sharing the adventure? Let’s jump right in.
What kind of camping do you do? This may seem an odd first question given the topic, but I’ve found it really goes to the heart of the matter. In my experience, I think there are basically two types of campers; the people who camp just for the joy of camping, enjoying their campground, using their gear, and are pretty happy wherever the campground is, then there are those who camp to be at a specific destination and camping is the way to be immersed in that location. If you fall into the first group, it is easier to bring your dog if you are spending most of your time at your campground enjoying the camping experience. This can also be great for remote boondockers, traveling to isolated locations, with plenty of open space, and no strict rules, and few other dogs around. If you fall into the second group, it becomes more difficult. Campers who are focused on their destination (like us) are more inclined to use the trailer as a place to sleep, then go out to see all of the sights they planned the trip for in the first place. This group faces more challenges in both planning the trip and camping with their dog. If you are planning to leave your dog at the campground when you unhitch and explore, you need to make sure you are at a camping location that lets you do that. Some larger campgrounds actually offer day kennels. We have normally experienced campgrounds that do not allow dogs to be left unattended, unleashed or left in a trailer without the owners present. It is important to know this before you go, and adds another layer of preparation and research when planning your trip. If you can’t leave your dog at the campground, you either need to take it with you or somebody stays at the campground.
Also, some tiny trailer campers will sometimes stay at a hotel on the road for a rest, good cleanup and a shower. If you plan to do this with your dog, it limits your hotel options to those allowing pets, and there is almost always an extra charge. Most hotels also don’t allow dogs to be left unattended. If you put out the do not disturb sign and he doesn’t bark, you may get away with that for a short period, but it can get dicey with the hotel staff if they get complaints or a maid finds him.
The prospect of leaving your dog alone can be a very limited and unrealistic situation depending on what you are going, how long you will be gone, and what you plan to see. If you take the dog along, many parks have strict rules about where you can take your dog. After this photo op at the Four Corners, I learned that this was a sacred site to the Navajo people and dogs were not allowed. Oops.
Another example, on a trip to Arches National Park, we had our dog in the car as we drove to various spectacular rock formations, and he could be out of the car on a leash at many stops. However, we could not take him into any park buildings, and there were many trails where dogs were not permitted. Generally, we have found at national parks that dogs on a leash are OK on paved trails only.
Ultimately, if you are this kind of camper, you will make sacrifices in going places you want to go because you can’t take your dog and can’t leave him in the car. There were several trails we wanted to explore but couldn’t because our dog was with us. We still had a wonderful time driving through Arches, but missed out on some prime venues we would have enjoyed seeing.
Is Your Dog A Good Camper? In order to take your dog camping, let’s first talk about your dog. Is he socialized around other people or dogs? Is he aggressive or protective of you around strangers? Is he big and powerful, capable of causing serious injury? How does he do traveling in the car? Some dogs may be great at home, but behave differently on a road trip. Taking them out of the house introduces a different and unusual setting, and some dogs get uncomfortable and anxious. Our dogs associate a car ride with going to the vet or the groomer, and neither are something they look forward to. If your dog is anxious, it may be difficult getting him to stay calm while traveling, stay in the back seat, or relieving himself during stops. A highly agitated dog jumping around in the car is bad, but doing it while you are pulling a trailer is worse. Especially if you are the only person in the car. A dog Safety Harness is a good and inexpensive way to keep him in place in the car, and be safer during an accident or unexpected maneuver. Some dogs also don’t physically travel well, experiencing car sickness or bladder control issues. Also consider your normal feeding and watering habits. If your dog normally has constant access to food and water, the road trip will be a big change to this routine. If you feed at a set schedule, this may be easier once you are at a stopping place or destination.
Once at your camp site, can you leave your dog for a short period in your trailer, or does separation anxiety lead to barking, scratching, and ultimately complaints from other campers? You also should take into account any health issues your dog may have, making it difficult for him on longer than normal hikes, extended time in heat or cold, or other more than usual exertion.
Before you plan a camping trip with your dog, I suggest you have a pretty good idea of how he does in the car on a day trip, stopping for potty breaks, and walking on a leash while being around other people and dogs. Will he eat and drink water when presented? If things don’t go well during this test, it is something to work on before heading out camping.
Is Your Trailer Setup Suitable for a Furry Companion? The bigger your dog and the smaller your trailer, the more difficult your sleeping arrangement will be. Also, how easy is it to get your dog in and out? For our roof top tent, our dogs must be lifted in and out. Can your dog get in and out on his own, or do he need to help? Some people add a ramp to help the dog navigate on his own. Once in the trailer, is the entire interior made up of bedding, or is there a floor he can be on? If the immediate entry to your trailer puts him right on the bed, you may want a mat outside the door to help shed dirt and mud. We have had good luck with the CGEAR mat which we keep right outside the entry to reduce tracking in. If you need to let him out during the night, putting him on a leash in the dark takes some additional planning.
Is there a window to look out of? If you don’t have heat or air conditioning, will your trailer stay at a safe temperature while you are gone?
Ultimately, your trailer setup will play a big part in your decision to bring your pooch or leave him home.
Is It Worth it to You? After giving these things some thought, the ultimate decision comes down to, “Is it worth the trade offs in order to bring my dog?” For my wife and I, we have stopped camping with our dogs in order to focus on our destination. It is hard to leave them behind, but more of a problem when we take them. As I mentioned earlier, traveling with two dogs is more difficult than one, with them reacting differently to the travel, taking up room for two, having different potty break habits, etc. Luckily for us, we found an excellent dog sitter through http://www.rover.com who has been watching them for years. This company background checks pet sitters, provides reviews, and gives a good overall peace of mind that your dog is with a good sitter at a good place. We have always avoided kennels, where we know they would be caged, generally not attended overnight, and exposed to other dogs and potential diseases, dog fights, and who knows what else. We have found our dog sitter very cost effective and well worth it during our travels.
I hope that sharing some of our lessons learned over years of camping will help you decide what works best for you.
RIP to George, our white Shih Tsu (shown in most of these photos) who we just lost to cancer at age 12.