The family dog is a great companion when you’re camping. Their cuddles and company will keep you warm when the chill sets in, they can help fetch you some firewood and — with a little training — may even fetch you a beer for you from the Esky!
But there are a few things to keep in mind, so I thought I’d share a few tips to help camping with your four-legged friends.
It’s important to understand that not every dog is suited for camping, in fact, one that’s hyperactive or anti-social can be a real handful in a communal area. Your dog ought to be familiar with basic commands such as “sit” ”come” “lie down” and “stay” too. And they really need to do it reliably in the company of other dogs or people.
Without having these basic commands down pat, your dog will need to be kept on a lead if you’re to maintain control. Teaching your dog to “Leave It” is also vital, especially if something dangerous such as bait or snake catches their eye.
If your dog knows to stay in the car until you say it’s fine to exit, it will give you time to unload the bags from the top of the roof rack, without 20 kilos of pure adrenaline pushing you around.
You can save yourself a fair bit of time, too, if you teach your pup to use the toilet at your command, and if you can get her to return to you at the sound of the car horn, that’s a real boon, as she’ll hear this further than she would ever hear you.
There’s no doubt about it, the price for the company of a four-legged pal at camp is convenience, especially if you’re needing to restock or are just keen to enjoy a frothy with the locals in town.
Almost all national parks in Australia (except for a handful in NSW) ban dogs outright and so do many caravan parks, especially in high demand places or during the peak season.
Thankfully, the further out you travel the more relaxed things are, with many state forests, state parks and farm stays welcoming well behaved canine friends. In fact, you’ll find many country pubs are happy to welcome a friendly, well-mannered dog that’s willing to sit out on the front porch.
When it comes to exploring areas that aren’t dog friendly, check out the local vet clinics and boarding facilities, but make sure your pets’ jabs are up to date, as you risk being turned away. And finally, why not travel who also has a pooch, that way, you can take turns looking after the motley crew while the other explores, pet-free.
Dogs need shade and plenty of water throughout the day, especially when you’re unfamiliar to the climatic conditions. Dogs don’t sweat like us, they pant to cool down; to check for dehydration, pinch and lift up the skin behind the neck, to see how long it takes to fall down. It needs to return to its natural position straight away.
To assist a dog suffering in the heat, add some ice to their water so it’s nice and cool. Letting your dog lie on a wet towel can help, too. Some will dig a cool pit for themselves to sit in on a hot day.
Oh, and watch the tray if you’re planning on tying your dog to the back of a ute, as that surface can get mighty hot if you’re not careful. Shade is also very important as well.
Damp dog beds are a pain out on the tracks, so I’ll usually throw down a plastic tarp under the mattress to prevent it from soaking up moisture from the ground. Unused canvas bags make excellent beds for the dogs, just by adding a nice piece of foam. That way, if the bed gets wet on one side you can just flip it over and it’ll still be dry thanks to the canvas’ waterproof nature. Unless, of course, your dogs commandeer the camp chairs like mine!
Dogs just love the bush but it’s not without risks, what with ticks, baits, and snakes the major threats. Now, a dogger or farmer will usually sign areas where baits are set, but other animals will move them around, so keep this in mind if you notice any unusual behaviours.
Dogs who have ingested bait may get anxious, show increased sensitivity to sound and light, begin to run or howl uncharacteristically, fail to respond to you, vomit, convulse, or urinate and defecate inappropriately.
Paralysis ticks are another thing to watch, especially on the east coast. Thankfully, early detection really helps, so end the day with a simple check. Start by running your hands firmly against your pet’s fur, paying close attention to the ears, armpits and stomach. Inspect any bumps by pulling back the fur to see what’s there. Ticks vary in size and will become engorged the longer they’re there. Correctly removing a tick requires you to grasp at it as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers. A steady motion backwards should do the trick, just avoid touching or crushing the tick, or allowing a piece to break off to minimise infection. If your dog shows signs of poisoning, like wobbly legs, vomiting and laboured breathing, take him to a vet pronto.
Flea and tick preventatives are essential kits, and keep those vaccinations up to date, as it will help protect your pooch against exposure to viruses out on the tracks.
While it’s easy to gain a grasp of your dog’s own temperament when you’re travelling to a popular caravan park or a popular campsite you just never know who else is around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an aggressive dog rush over our camp, and that’s when a dog crate or cage comes into its own. It just buys you a bit more time in these situations.
When I am camped up in the bush, I run my 4WD’s winch cable out to a tree, and a tether chain to the dog’s collar to allow her more space to move. Use chain rather than cable or rope to tie the dog as it usually hangs to the ground, minimising the risk of a tangle. When securing your dog to the back of a ute ensure the chain is either long enough for them to get all four paws on the ground or short enough to avoid any legs falling over the edge. Be sure to account for the dog’s extra reach if they were to swing around backwards and slip their back legs over the edge.
And finally, never leave a dog chained up unattended.
If your dog listens about as well as a hyperactive ferret, then save yourself the trouble, as they’ll play havoc at camp. But if your furry mate’s well trained, and you go in with a plan, they can be excellent company out on the tracks. In fact, you may find it hard to imagine camping without them.
Adapted from Four Paws and the Great Outdoors, by Michael ‘Borgy’ Borg.
At Mars Campers we work hard to develop the best value for money camper trailers with a view of helping you create memorable experiences with your loved ones.
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