Camping with Man's Best Friend

11:44 p.m. on December 7, 2008 (EST)
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The wife and I are planning for our annual 3-4 day outing in Red River Gorge at the end of December. We would like to take our dogs with us this time. One is a black lab/shepherd and the other is pyrenees/lab mix. I take them running every day for about an hour to get them acclimated to the cold.

Does anyone have any words of wisdom for dealing with (big) dogs and winter camping?


10:47 p.m. on December 9, 2008 (EST)
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Hi usersatch,
You did not say if you are backpacking or not, I am assuming you are.
I go on 3 or 4 trips every winter with my dog, some short, some long. I have an Akita, they are large and heavily coated.
One of the reasons I picked that breed was for it's ability to handle cold weather.
Acclimation over time does make a marked difference in the dogs ability to handle temperature extremes, but only to a point, and that point will be different from breed to breed of course. Coat type being the biggest factor.
The important thing is how well they can handle cold temps while resting or sleeping, it is of course easy to stay warm when hiking, and much harder when resting.
Just as our calorie intake doubles and triples with a lot of physical exertion, the same is true of dogs, they need enough nutrition to fuel their bodies for hiking with enough left over for staying warm at night.
I would talk to your VET about the best way to approach that goal with the breeds you have.
I have found that handling a dog is rewarding, but it is also a lot of work if they are not very well trained, all the new sights and sounds of a camping trip will just exacerbate any obedience problems, and that can be a real turn off for other campers.

Have you taken your dogs camping before?
Do they sleep outside in cold weather at home?
Will they be hiking a long distance?

8:51 a.m. on December 12, 2008 (EST)
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You bring up some good points. Yes, we will be hiking, maybe about 5 miles per day over fairly easy terrain (we will be staying away from the Gorge area itself). I didn't even think about the extra food and water! I will take your advice and call the vet.

They sleep inside at night, but they both have thick fur. We recently bought some air mattresses, so I was thinking of having them sleep on our old, thinner mats. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but I am hoping that if I cover them they will sleep under a light blanket in the tent. It might be wishful thinking to have them even sleep in the tent with us. I can imagine the accumulated dog breath in the morning will be splendid!

They have never overnighted with us outside, so this will be an interesting experiment, for sure.

11:28 p.m. on December 12, 2008 (EST)
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It will be interesting!
I do not claim to be an expert on dogs, especially after seeing someone who is, train my dog.
But I have learned a thing or two backpacking with dogs over the years. Also from my VET, and from the breeder I got my last dog from.

Not all areas allow dogs, so check ahead of time, maybe you already have. Most areas require the dog to be leashed.

It has been my experience that 5 miles is a cake walk for a medium or larger dog. A dog in reasonable shape, and good health, can leave most humans in the dust.

I start adding extra protein and fat to my dogs diet a week before a long winter trip, not so much for a shorter warmer trip.
But I would most certainly value the opinion of your VET over mine, or any others you receive from well meaning people, particularly because there is so much difference between breeds and their needs.

I once cut an older foam pad in half for my dog to sleep on outside the tent since I wanted to make sure my canine companion was comfortable. I awoke to a very happy dog who had repeatedly shook the pad to "death", the pad was in shreds and I had to pack it out. I would say give it a try, it might work fine for you. I've started just making a leaf pile for the dog to sleep on, but maybe that's not possible where you are going.
With the particular breed I have I am convinced he is just fine down to single digits. I used to worry about him getting cold but not so much anymore, although I keep a close eye on him below 20* degrees.
Only some experience with your own dogs will tell you just what they can handle in terms of terrain and exposure to the elements. I have found that my dog is much tougher than I am in his ability to handle cold, wet environments, but overheats easier than me during summer especially if wearing a pack.
I would think your dogs would be similar since they have thick coats.

I tried letting my dog sleep in the tent with me, but he just wanted to get up every couple hours and walk around camp for a bit, then sleep some more. I couldn't get any sleep, so he is banished to the vestibule unless the weather gets extra nasty. Your dogs may be different.

The biggest concerns/problems I have had in hiking with dogs
1. Cracked, or dry pads..........Take some petroleum jelly or one of the specialty products along and check the pads frequently, keeping them from drying out but don't overdo it and make them soft. Some people use dog booties to protect the feet on longer trips. Be prepared to clean and dress cuts to the pads as it does happen sometimes. I have found that duct tape is about the only thing that will adhere to the dogs foot well enough to hold a dressing in place.
I have fixed minor cuts before with superglue after rinsing them out, and then added a layer or two of duct tape to cover the area. Hey, holds.

2. Curiosity & running loose.........Don't be surprised if your dog tries to take on the local raccoons or other critters. Owners get bit trying to break up animal fights and infection or rabies from animal bites is a real concern.
Keep the dog leashed, at least while hiking on the trail or anywhere other people may be. In a lot of places it is required.
My first dog ran a very scared chipmunk right under my vestibule and in my tent once. I had left the tent open, a no-no, and the chipmunk was looking for somewhere to hide.

3. Poisonous plants.......Along the same lines as No. 2 Keep in mind that your loving, loyal dog is easily able to run through Poison Oak, Ivy, or Sumac and transfer it to you during or long after a camping trip. Ask me how I know!

4. Allergic reactions......Don't introduce anything new to your dog on a camping trip, this goes for food, medicine, bedding, or anything else. Try at home first.

5. Other hikers.......It is up to the dog owner to make his dog behave. Your dog may act in ways foreign to you on a first camping trip. Reinforce obedience commands before a trip and while hiking. I prefer to take my dog in places that see few to no other hikers but we always yield the trail to any other hikers out of courtesy, and my dog is trained to sit QUIETLY by my side as I greet the other party. Seeing an obedient dog puts most people at ease.

6. Wet dog........I like to take along one of those super absorbent, quick drying, lightweight towels just in case we end up in the tent together due to bad weather. Also bathe, groom, and deodorize the dog REALLY good before the trip.
Maybe you already do, I learned the hard way, he smelled ok at the house, not so good after the rain we hiked through.

7. Food........Your dog might decide to eat half your supper while your back is turned, leaving you with the kibble. Again, poor training/preparation can make for a miserable trip. This happened to me once (while I was off answering the call) and my dog had never done anything like that around the house. Surprise! Apparently he likes chilli mac too.

8. Dog packs........Last but not least, I strongly recommend getting a dog pack if this is something you may start doing, and introduce it to the dog slowly. Take some short walks with it empty, and work your way up over a couple weeks. The dog is more than capable of carrying his/her food and supplies as long as they are given some time to get used to it. Longer distances do require some conditioning just like we humans do. Make sure the pack fits well and does not rub or chafe the dogs legs while hiking. Some people use the little lightweight towel I mentioned for a saddle blanket as well.

There are a couple good books out on the subject, one is Backpacking With Dogs.
Hope that helps, I found it took a few trips to really figure it out. For me a good sturdy, alert breed, and obedience training made all the difference.
We have a blast together.
Hope you do too!

2:11 p.m. on December 14, 2008 (EST)
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Trout had some very sound points, I just want to add some of my own experience.

If you expect to see snow, maybe lots of it, then prepare for icelumps between the toes. Most nonpolar breeds get this, but this could be individual. My preferred preparation is to use a haircutter and shave off the tiny hairs between the toes and tread-cushions. If you do not do that, then some like to use oily substances like vaseline. Smear it on when you start walking, otherwise some dogs may lick it off. Third method is the method of many sledge dog trainers, to use socks. I always have socks with me for the purpose of avoiding mud into a wound, but I've never used them. Most dogs do not like socks, you loose some and they are sometime more a pain in the a.. instead of any good.

If you let the dogs carry backpacks, be sure to train them in advance. I started with water bottles, increasing the number till it was a realistic weight. My dog carries 1/3 of his weight, and it does not bother him at all.

To avoid stomac problems and still let the dogs eat enough, I use the same food brand as the daily food in a high energy package. For longer trips I increase the daily ration weight by 50 %, that is enough for him, and he is really put to work.

The dog in your avatar looks to be shorthaired, and you must have some insulation where he sleeps. A closed cell foam pad that you cut in two is enough, take a rug or something from house the dog likes to cover it.

Have a nice trip.

3:32 p.m. on December 14, 2008 (EST)
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Usersatch -three other sites to check out-
This Canadian site has a dog specific forum-go to the Message Board and look in the Discussion section for it-Hiking with man's best friend is the title.
Look in the forums for posts about dogs; you will probably have to use the Search function to find them, but they are there. Be sure to set the "newer than" window for at least 1 year.
This New England site has a lot of posts about dogs. As a guest, you won't be able to post,but you will be able to read the posts. Look in the General Discussion forum. Use the search function to find them if you don't want to browse through all the posts.

7:47 p.m. on December 16, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks for all the info!

I dont trust my dogs to NOT be on a leash in the woods, so THAT is a must.

I was worried about my dogs and temperature until I watched them lay in the snow for over two hours eating sticks today. I have not groomed them since that pic was taken (4 months ago?), so it's fairly long and thick right now. I checked with the vet, as well, and she says they should be fine.

I really like the idea about the vaseline on the pads and a first aid kit. I would have never thought of that.

I run 4-5 miles a day with them, so I'm not too worried about them being in/out of shape. In fact, when we're done and I'm busy sucking every ounce of oxygen from the surrounding air, they are doing racetracks and sprints around the yard for the next ten minutes. If that isn't youth slapping my old age in the face!

They sleep in my room at night, so I am already prepared for the pacing overnight (which they do now).

10:34 p.m. on December 29, 2008 (EST)
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I have a beagle that is 5 months old. I know she is a little young to carry a backpack now but for future refrence does any one know of a good backpack that is designed for a some what short medium sized dog? Does anyone know when a good time to start them with carrying a pack. She is a quick learner, did great hunting at only 3 months but im afraid that any weight would hurt her at a young age.

4:40 p.m. on December 30, 2008 (EST)
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Don’t do anything to the dog’s paws, the paws have natural hair and dryness to them for a reason. We upland bird hunt with lab mixes and the only thing you need to do is stop look at their paws and let them clean them. I have yet to see an iced paw on them; you may see small balls of snow which fall off eventually, but this does not harm the dog.

From experience with my French Mastiff on hikes, let them carry their own food, don’t take more food than they normally eat and invest in a dog pack. Also if they are good on the leash, get a long lead and let them drag it, this will save you the grief of being wore down from the dog. They are still covered under the leash law if they have a long lead; we only restrain our dogs when people are around, this way the dogs will enjoy the hike as much as you do.
My Mastiff refuses to go on winter walks or hikes, he does not leave the house other than to use the bathroom.

5:49 p.m. on December 30, 2008 (EST)
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Hi pktri148,

Check with your vet, but I don't see any harm in letting older pups carry an empty pack, no matter the dogs age it is best to start empty and let the dog get accustomed to the pack, building up over a couple weeks to a month.

As far as picking a pack most packs come in sizes.
There are several brands to choose from, maybe try Googling
'dog pack reviews'.

9:32 p.m. on December 31, 2008 (EST)
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@tdog69: According to my vet the cutting of hairs does not pose a problem, they grow out in a month or less. We live in different worlds, for here some dogs have big problems with snow between the toes. Climate here is more like Alaska. The problem is worse in newfallen snow around -4C to -10C, burt not all dogs are affected. My first two dogs never had the problem (Siberians)

@pktri148: agree with "trout", ask your vet. But the rule here is to wait until the dog is two years before they are used to carry or pull some weight. This is because at that age the bones are fully developed and settled. You could do serious damage if you start too early. Having a empty pack on the dog sure does not do any harm.

Dont know about beagles and dysplasia, ask your vet about this also. If in doubt have the dog checked.

11:39 p.m. on December 31, 2008 (EST)
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Otto said:

"According to my vet the cutting of hairs does not pose a problem, they grow out in a month or less. We live in different worlds, for here some dogs have big problems with snow between the toes. Climate here is more like Alaska."

We do live in different worlds.
I live in an area that has lots of slick mossy rocks, loose soil, leaves, and pine straw. We have occasional sleet, snow, or freezing rain. The most would be a foot or two of wet snow.

It is good to get advise from people who live in different climates. I plan to travel one day and wish to be informed as best as possible.

12:37 a.m. on January 8, 2009 (EST)
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I feel extremely blessed with my dog after reading all this advice about how to prepare and train a dog for hiking and camping. I must have the most naturally well mannered dog on planet earth. Dog just does fine no matter what I throw at her.

6:05 a.m. on January 8, 2009 (EST)
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pktri148 said:

I have a beagle that is 5 months old. I know she is a little young to carry a backpack now but for future refrence does any one know of a good backpack that is designed for a some what short medium sized dog? Does anyone know when a good time to start them with carrying a pack. She is a quick learner, did great hunting at only 3 months but im afraid that any weight would hurt her at a young age.

Recent reprint of an L.L.Bean catalog cover - Original, circa 1950's or 60's

My concern with your dog is that Beagles are natural chasers of wildlife. That's what they were/are bred to do. I've been around them all my life and, although I love the breed, (They are dedicated, loving, and selectively faithful - Think "Snoopy Come Home!") I would never allow one off leash on a hike/backpacking trip and I caution you likewise. Just when you think they are going to stay glued to your leg, they bolt after a random scent, live or dead. Sometimes running after an animal for an hour or more.

You have already established that your canine companion "...did great hunting at 3 months". That statement leads me to believe your pup WILL chase. This trait is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to break in Beagles. Chasing random squirrels, rabbits, AND DEER is bad enough, it rubs LNT advocates the wrong way and you'll anger a lot of hunters and wildlife people. Having a dog run off in the middle of a backpacking trip will certainly ruin a portion of it for you, but if the dog gets injured, or worse never returns, then the pain will be far greater.

This being said, if you plan to keep your lovable tri-colored "Nose with legs" on a leash while in the backcountry... Please disregard the previous portion of my post. If not, please reconsider. If not for your sake, for the safety of the dog.

Now, to answer your original question:

...for future refrence does any one know of a good backpack that is designed for a some what short medium sized dog? Does anyone know when a good time to start them with carrying a pack.

Ruff wear make some nice packs (see the Approach pack) for smaller dogs.



You can start getting your pup used to wearing an empty pack anytime now. The earlier the better. Begin slowly, only wearing the pack on the dog for a few minutes at a time. Then, only feed or play with the dog while wearing the pack. This positive reinforcement, knowing that good things happen when it is on his/her back, will eventually make the dog LOVE the pack. Be careful how hard you work your Beagle though. The breed can be prone to extremely painful anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, requiring expensive surgery to repair.

Just awoke from a nap in the sun. Who would want to lose her?!


2:43 p.m. on January 16, 2009 (EST)
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Not that I have anything to add to the discussion, but I wanted to acknowledge the nearly unsurpassed cuteness of a beagle pup. Adorable!

5:12 p.m. on January 16, 2009 (EST)
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That's what gets a lot of owners into trouble. Cute, they are. But they can be a real handful for the inexperienced dog owner.

2:34 p.m. on January 17, 2009 (EST)
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Agree with f klock/others and would like to add... before leaving home, would strongly suggest microchipping, along with current photos, vet records, tags with name/phone,and license tags.

As the founder of a rescue organization, with over 25+ years working closely with pounds and shelters (in addition to owning and fostering numerous hound dogs)... I would not chance taking any dog with me on trips. The pounds in my area are full of lost, fully trained hunting dogs, loyal lap dogs, and childrens pets. It is difficult enough finding a lost dog when he's missing from your own neighborhood, even more so when in an unfamiliar location, or in hundreds of wooded acres and brush.

Dogs can travel many miles quickly, through rough brush, making him difficult to track. I've personally seen the results of dogs that were not found until too late. I've worked in parks where you could hear the anquished cry of dogs whose collars are caught on brush, we find them a month or two later, and you can guess the results. Even though we have teams in the woods helping the hunters it is nearly impossible to locate any dog in hundreds of acres of trees and dense brush. And like I said these are fully trained dogs that "always" respond to the hunter's calls and whistles. Lost dogs may show up at the pound months after being separated from their owner, or at a pound in another state. Hound breeds have the lowest adoption rates and nearly all are euthanized. Rescue groups are filled to capacity, most hunters don't want to risk taking in a problem dog (if he got away once, he'll do it again, and pounds don't have the space to hold a dog past three days.

Would advise anyone taking a dog with them to carry a small packet with photos, records, etc., and tags attached to a harness rather than a collar. Each state has their own requirements, but generally a dog picked up without identifying information, rabies/license tags, microchip etc. will be euthanized within three days of being found. For me its not worth the risk on extended trips.

1:04 p.m. on January 19, 2009 (EST)
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How do you plan to keep your dogs from wandering off while you are asleep?

2:55 p.m. on January 19, 2009 (EST)
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Really good question. Many dogs are happy to be leased, others hate it - mine do. They walk just fine on a leash, but tie them to a tree and walk away or ignore them for a while. and they flip out! The bigger one chews through webbing leashes like we use scissors!

Also, dogs in a tent can be bad news for the floor of the tent unless your pups are used to booties.

4:34 p.m. on January 19, 2009 (EST)
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A lot depends on the dog, with my coonhound I was able to get away with using a retractible lead attached to a heavy gun belt around my waist. For my saint bernard, I used a steel cable attached to his harness, with the other end around my waist (try one of the heavy duty tie outs from your pet store). This allowed me to feel any pulling movements they made during the night. Since I was camping solo there was plenty of room to keep them in the tent and away from the skunks and racoons that frequented the area. At the time I was using an old canvas pup tent (made for pups right?). My new lightweight one holds up ok, I upsized so I'd have plenty of room for the dog. I use a lighweight tarp on top of the floor and it seems to work well. The trick is using a harness, the dogs have more freedom to move around without waking you up.

I don't recall the manufacturer, however there is a company that makes a GPS locater/collar for dogs. Its marketed for hunters to keep track of their dogs in the woods... maybe someone has the name?

6:51 p.m. on January 19, 2009 (EST)
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I don't recall the manufacturer, however there is a company that makes a GPS locater/collar for dogs. Its marketed for hunters to keep track of their dogs in the woods... maybe someone has the name?

I've heard of this one:
Ortovox D1 Doggy Transmitter

There's more info on the Ortovox site:

12:25 a.m. on January 20, 2009 (EST)
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Thanks Alicia, this looks like a nice one. I made a few phone calls after my last post. A friend of mine knows someone that uses the Garman Astro, and has heard of Globalpetfinder, and RomEO. He suggested doing an online search since there are a lot of companies now making GPS tracking collars for household pets, and for hunters keeping track of several dogs in the field.

11:25 a.m. on January 20, 2009 (EST)
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You're welcome, laughingbear. Hope you find something that works out well.

2:40 p.m. on January 26, 2009 (EST)
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Thanks f_klock
Sorry im just getting back to replying I have been busy with the start on a new semester in school and alot of other stuff and have neglected this sight.

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