Gazette Vet: Camping with Dogs

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Photo: John Andersen

Summer in the Blue Ridge! Living in this amazing area, many of us in Crozet will wisely retreat into the mountains for some outdoor time. When it’s 95 degrees and humid down here, it is often 10-15 degrees cooler and a lot less humid up in the mountains, and it cools off a lot more at night. One of the best ways to get away and reconnect with the outdoors is to go camping. Whether doing a multi-day hike on the Appalachian Trail or car camping with the family at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park, camping is a great way to relax and live a much more simple life, even if for just a day.

And naturally, many of us will bring our dogs! Dogs love being outdoors. If they could talk, they’d also say, “I just love reconnecting with nature!” as they sniff and explore their new surroundings.  The combination of hiking and then sleeping outside must be recharging for them, awaking their inner wolves just a little.

Camping with your dog does take a little planning to keep it fun and safe while you give them a great outdoor experience.

Where will they sleep?  When we camp with the family, we all pile into one big tent—dogs, child, and parents. It’s fun, but the sleep is pretty terrible!

Most dogs tend to stay on alert for threats, whether in your home or in your tent. Thus, the occasional wild animal walking by may cause a sudden barking from your dog in the middle of the night. We embrace this craziness and just realize we won’t get good sleep. At least no bears will be coming into our tent!

Also, consider the expected evening temps. I’ve had more than a few camping experiences where it really didn’t cool down very much at night. With all the humans and the dogs in the tent, it got a bit warm. We were woken up by panting dogs several times, which made for a rough night’s sleep. Pro tip: camp somewhere where it will cool down at night!

We often consider other sleeping arrangements for the dogs. If we are car camping and it’s cool, we will have them sleep in the car so we all get good sleep!  We have also brought two tents and had the dogs and one person sleep in the second tent so we weren’t so cramped. The last option would be to attach them to a tie or let them loose outside of a tent, but you have to balance this with the risk of their getting away in the middle of the night.

Water!  There are a lot of wonderful trails and camping areas that are flush with streams. This is great. You don’t have to worry about bringing water for the dogs and they can also keep cool by getting wet. However, with Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway being along the ridgelines at the top of the mountain, there is not much water up there. Bringing water is easy if you are car camping, but it takes extra thought if you’re doing a backpacking trip. Be sure to plan for where you will get water, and also be sure to have a bowl for them, especially if it’s warm outside!

Leashes.  Many of us have dogs who are really good off leash, meaning they won’t run away and they generally stay close. However, in a crowded campground, don’t assume they can be off leash.  Besides finding strict leash policies at a lot of campgrounds, you will also find a lot of other campers with food right next to your campsite. Our dogs are great off leash, but if I let them off leash up at Big Meadows for example, they would soon start rummaging through other people’s campsites looking for food and stealing burgers! It’s good to consider this so you’re not disappointed or frustrated when you have to keep your dog leashed or tied while you are lounging at the campsite.

We’ve camped at other places where our dogs could indeed roam free and the dogs had a blast.  However, our dog Boone once was sick for many days after a trip like this, presumably from making very poor decisions with what he put in his mouth! So just beware that with more freedom comes more likelihood of finding and eating a dead animal, etc.!

First aid.  Hopefully, you won’t need any first aid for your dogs, but it’s always good to be prepared. Cut paws, bee stings, and snake bites are not uncommon for this area. Some things, like a snake bite or broken bone from a bad fall, are emergencies that will end your trip, but plenty of other minor things could probably wait until you get back. I recommend having a small human and dog first aid kit that has some bandaging supplies in case of a cut, and also some Benadryl in case of an insect sting (dogs can safely take 1 mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight). Also, I recommend bringing small scissors and some extra water in case you need to clean a wound.  One of the first and most important steps in caring for a cut on your dog is to trim the hair around it, otherwise the hair will quickly hold on to dirt, blood, and debris making it impossible to clean the wound.

If you haven’t been camping before, get out there this summer and take your dogs! (Don’t take your cats!) Nearby campgrounds include all the campgrounds off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Sherando Lake just south of Waynesboro, Crabtree Falls and Montebello Campgrounds, and of course Misty Mountain campground right here in Crozet, to name a few. And of course there is endless backcountry camping in Shenandoah National Park as well as primitive campsites in the national forest off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Happy camping!

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