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Living the wild life: How to prep for your dog's first camping adventure

Dog sitting on a camping chair

Dogs and the great outdoors go together like roasted marshmallows and campfires. (That said, dogs and roasted marshmallows can get a bit messy.)

Sticky situations aside, we can't imagine a better summer evening than admiring the stars with your furry BFF after a day of exploring one of Canada's incredible provincial or national parks.

A successful dog-centric trip does require a good plan, but the payoff is an experience that neither of you will forget. Here's how to make sure you both return from the trip as happy campers:

Ready, set, pack

The first and most important step for a camping trip prep is to make sure your dog's vaccinations are up to date and that their flea, tick, and heartworm prevention plan is in place.

It turns out that parasites also think the outdoors are great. If you've never “ruffed” it with your dog before, a quick vet consultation will provide you with all the canine camping health info you need.

Your vet is also an A+ source for finding out what should go in your dog's personal first aid kit (think: gauze, tick tweezers, non-stick bandages, adhesive tape, pet-safe sterile eyewash, and pet-friendly mosquito repellent).

With the safety stuff handled, let's move onto gear. An illuminated collar makes it easier to keep an eye on your dog after the sun sets. And a tie-out line and stake allows them a little more freedom to explore the campsite on their own terms (while the humans make s'mores).

Pet carrier trail packs even allow small or older dogs to hitch a ride during a long hike, and plenty of outdoor toys will ensure your dog doesn't get bored on lazy afternoons at the site.

Of course your canine travel buddy will need the everyday essentials they have at home, and travel-friendly versions of those items make packing lighter and more efficient. For instance, collapsible water and food dishes take up far less room and an elevated, collapsible camping bed not only packs easily, but helps to keep your pup cool on hot summer nights.

If you're into hiking, you'll also want a combination water bottle/bowl to bring along when exploring trails with your furry bestie. Because of the added heat and activity, your dog is likely to drink a lot more than they do at home.

Pro tip: get your dog groomed before you camp (as illogical as that initially sounds). The tidier their fur is pre-trip, the easier it will be to remove burrs, dirt, and insects. And don't forget to pack extra towels and pet grooming wipes, so no messes are tracked into your RV or tent.

Dog looking out a window

Are we there yet?

You've prepped and packed everything you could *possibly* need and have finally reached your site. Now, it's time to set up.

Being aware of wildlife while camping is always important but even more so when you have your pup with you. You never want to leave a dog unattended — even on a tie-out line.

As for dog food, treat it as you would your own by storing it in a locked cooler, in the car, or some other safe place where four-legged park “locals” can't access it. Note: This can be a tall order considering the sheer number of clever and industrious raccoons who also love camping. Do your best to outsmart them. And definitely don't leave food outside the tent.

The abundance of new smells, sounds, and sights at the campsite will mean that your dog will want lots of time to explore. Before tackling a big project like setting up the tent or building a fire, give them some “sniffari” time to investigate their new environment. And be sure to watch for allergic reactions throughout the duration of your stay.

Most parks ask that you keep your dog leashed at all times and Parks Canada specifies that the leash should be no longer than three metres. This rule is not only for your dog's safety but for the security of wildlife as well.

Dog sitting with owner at a camp fire

Oh, the places you'll go!

Canada is home to an astonishing 48 national parks and almost all of these parks allow visitors to bring the entire family along. Before booking a site, whether at a public or private campground, be sure to check the rules regarding dogs. Some have very specific leashing requirements while others have rules around excessive barking.

The key is to choose a place that suits your dog's camping personality. Ask yourself, will they be able to relax in a tent? Will they like #vanlife? Is an RV more everyone's style?

Our national and provincial parks discourage campers with dogs from venturing into the backcountry to avoid potentially dangerous encounters with wildlife. Of course you should also take your dog's health and age into account when determining how rugged and/or remote a destination they can handle.

Canada is a country with no shortage of beautiful outdoor spaces to explore — you're guaranteed to find one that's the perfect fit for you and your furry pal.

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