When Can I Take My Dog Camping?

You’re the proud owner of a cute little puppy and eager to show him off. You can’t wait until they’re old enough to go on their first camping trip.

Having a furry buddy to go hiking, backpacking and camping with is one of the joys of being a dog owner, but some dogs just aren’t ready. Don’t just jump into camping the minute you bring home a new puppy.

Your dog needs to be well trained, big/strong enough to hike and at the end of his first series of puppy shots. So how old does a dog have to be to go camping?

What Age Can a Dog Go Camping?

As tempting as it might be, it’s never a good idea to take a puppy camping. You’re just taking a huge unnecessary risk without much to gain. You’re risking disease, injury, potential loss and just generally going insane.

Puppies are hard to train and take care of at home. This isn’t going to be any easier out in the middle of nowhere. Just wait until your dog is old enough to understand basic commands and has all of his shots.

What age can I take my dog camping? At the very least you need to wait until your dog has gotten his first rabies shot. This is usually right around the 1 year mark, which coincidentally is when most dogs start to really understand basic commands.

After you’re done with this post you might want to check out my article explaining where dogs need to sleep on a camping trip.

What Breed of Dog Do You Have?

Some dog breeds aren’t bread to seriously exercise. You should really reconsider buying a brachycephalic breed dog if you plan on regularly backpacking and hiking.

Brachycephalic breeds have flat faces and smooshed in noses, which causes breathing problems. Some brachycephalic breeds can handle exercise while others can’t. Boxers will definitely handle hiking better than a pug or bulldog.

Wait Until After The Puppy Shots to Go Camping

It doesn’t matter if you have the most well behaved dog in the world you need to wait until after their first series of puppy shots. You shouldn’t even be taking a dog to the park until after they have their first series of distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, parvovirus and rabies shots.

I know how exciting it is to take your dog outside to play, but you’re not being a good dog owner. Don’t put your puppies health at risk just because you think it would be fun to go camping. There’s a whole lot of risk with very little reward.

They Need to Understand Basic Commands

Before you can even consider taking your dog camping they need to understand basic commands and always listen. Your dog can learn basically everything they need to know in a basic puppy course. Just make sure you keep practicing once you get home.

It’s not safe to take a dog out camping if he/she doesn’t listen every time they’re called. My dog Zoey always listens when I have a treat in my hand, but she’s been known to ignore me when I don’t(she’s still young). Instead of having fun and going camping Zoey gets left with my parents in a safe fenced in yard.

Stay and Come

At the very least your dog needs to understand the basic stay and come commands. This doesn’t mean usually respond. You need to be able to get a dogs attention even if they start chasing after a rabbit, squirrel, etc.

My dog Duke does what I want without me even having to tell him. I was able to take him camping the first month after I picked him up from the shelter(about 2 years old).

Now, about 8 years later, we’ve been on countless camping trips. As he’s aged the hikes keep getting shorter, but we still hit the trail hard a few times per month.

Good on a Leash or Lead

If you go to just about any established campground you will run into other dogs. You need to make sure your puppy is properly socialized and good with other people/dogs.

This means no pulling on a leash, jumping and barking at people. Start off by going on short hikes at your local park and eventually they won’t even pay attention to the people passing by. You might also want to bring extra treats so they start to associate random people with getting extra treats.

Controlling a Pulling Dog

If your dog likes to pull you should start off by shortening the lead. This keeps the dog at your side and a little bit behind you. A short leash really limits the amount your dog can pull.

Some people recommend choke/prong collars, but they seem to do more harm than good. Most dogs start to panic when choked and get further agitated.

If your dog really likes to pull your better off using a martingale collar and eventually switching over to a harness. Martingale collars seem to give you way more control than any other collar on the market.

The picture above is an example of a martingale collar. When the dog pulls the collar tightens to give you more control, but you can adjust it so that it won’t choke the dog. It’s a much safer alternative to traditional choke/prong collars.

Switch to a No-Hands Leash

Once your pup has good leash etiquette you can switch over to a hands-free leash. They have a bungee cord setup so your dog can walk freely without pulling you off balance. The leash attaches to your waste and you really only need to grab it if the dog starts pulling towards somebody.

Just be careful, because you have much less control. If he takes off and runs for a rabbit you might end up laying in the gravel.

You can also use the hands free leash when you head in for bed. I usually wrap my old football belt around my sleeping bag near my waste and strap the leash to it. Thanks to the elastic band you can’t really feel normal walking around, but you’ll definitely feel a tug if he takes off.

Is Your Dog Physically Ready?

You need to make sure your dog can physically handle the stress of a long hike before you can go backpacking. Needing to pick up and carry a dog, because he refuses to walk is not fun.

Were you able to hike 10-20 miles the first time you went hiking? I highly doubt it! Why should you expect your dog to go from being a typical couch potato to super athlete overnight.

Start off with short 1-2 hour walks at your local park and slowly increase the distance. In a few short months (or weeks) they will usually be able to handle a longer day hike.

You should be ready for an overnight once your dog has matured. It’s usually sometime between the 1-2 year old mark depending on how well your dog listens. Wade into the water with a few quick weekend trips and slowly build up from there.

You might want to check out my post explaining how to start camping with your dog in a tent.