Boondocking With Dogs- How To Keep Them Safe

PublishedDecember 8, 2020

Camping with dogs can mean snake bites, heat, fires, getting lost, and more.

Much as we love to have our pets along with us, these are just some of the hazards that, when dry camping with your pets, can kill them.

Camping with your dogs at campgrounds is one thing. Boondocking with them is a whole different animal.

Dog lying down in Colorado meadow

Naturally, our canine (and some feline) friends want to join us on our camping trip.

Dogs bring us so much joy, companionship, and entertainment. We owe it to them to take the very best care of them and to keep your dog SAFE when you bring your dog camping. Right?

I've got plenty of experience trying to keep my two VERY FRAGILE dogs alive 'out here' at any given boondocking campsite.

And I have succeeded for 5.5 years. Almost lost one once. LEARNED.

I want your camping trip to be as dog friendly as possible. 

So, here are the best dog tips for camping I have found in 5.5 years of full-time boondocking with dogs to keep your pets happy and safe!

Use a GPS Tracker

I once lost Trixie on an evening walk while boondocking. I turned around and my baby was GONE.

Three of us looked for her for an agonizing hour and a half. I'm the luckiest fur mom in the world that she was found.

I had considered GPS trackers before, but (stupidly) balked about the monthly fee.

When I was beside myself looking for a lost Trixie, I realized I'd have paid ANYTHING per month to be able to find her.

What a scary lesson that was. You bet your butt I ordered my GPS trackers the next day.

Dog tracking GPS devices

They have paid off.

The peace of mind they offer is priceless.  I have two different types. The Whistle for Trixie and the FI for Gizmo. I wanted to see how they compared.

They both work well. They alert you when your pet is out of range of both your WIFI and your cell phone.

You can instantly track them when they are lost. The maps on the apps even use satellite, so you can better tell where your pet is.

I find that the FI battery lasts longer than the Whistle. (FI lasts a couple of months, maybe?) It's not as dog friendly for little dogs as I'd like- it's too big. I disconnected it from the collar and attached it to a harness for her.

If you don't leash while on your adventure, your dog may take off after a deer or some birds. When camping with dogs, you could lose them forever without a tracking device to keep your dog safe.

Heat and Cold Safety

It's fun to bring your dog camping in an RV in the summer. But your camping destination will likely get HOT. RVs can heat up fast. They get deadly hot. Which is not dog friendly.

I've found this out the hard way, but luckily, I was using a pet temperature monitoring system that alerted me before my dogs died from overheating.

Dog with head out car window

Pet temperature monitors can be used in your RV but also in your car or truck.

When hooked up to a power source, you may think camping with your four legged friend is fine in the heat because of your AC.

Think again.

Power outages are fairly common in RV parks. Your pedestal could trip a fuse. Your AC could break down. When you're dry camping you won't have AC.

If you're in cold climates, it can drop below freezing. What if your heater stops working while you're away?

This is also dangerous for your pup. 

I cannot recommend a pet temperature monitoring system any harder- again, you get PEACE OF MIND! We've tested the MarCELL and the Waggle.

Additionally, there are a few weather-related rules of thumb to follow when boondocking with pets:

Temperature Rules For Dog Friendly Camping

Vent and Fan!

1

You MUST vent your RV if the temperature gets over 65. Use an overhead fan to keep air circulating as well. We recommend the Maxxair.

Stay Home

2

If the temperature is going to be over, say 80 degrees, you probably need to stay home with the dogs and keep your camper fully open.

Awnings

3

You can't depend on having your awning shade your RV when you're away. Your awning, caught in unexpected winds, will rip right off.

If You Get Lost Or Injured

This should be obvious, but leave plenty of dog food in their dog bowl, and put plenty of water in their water bowl before you leave.

Something could happen to you while you're away from your campsite. If such an event happens, and your dog is left alone for a few days, it won't die of thirst or starvation.

Speaking of water, bring along plenty of drinking water for them when you take them on a hike during the heat of the summer.

More Cowbell

Yep, doesn't hurt to have a bell of some sort on your dog's collar when you're on a camping adventure. This way when you are out walking off-leash, you can hear if your four legged friend is keeping up behind you.

If they get out of your sight when they move you can once again locate them through sound. 

If you can find/think of some type of noisemaker on your pup's collar that you can activate through remote control, that may be good as well. Still, nothing beats having a good GPS on your pet.

Fire Hazards

RVs, when they catch fire, burn up fast.

There are a few warnings you should heed here to avoid fire when you're away from your camper.

  1.  Turn off your refrigerator. Fridges are one of the most common starters of RV fires. Turn it off and you won't have to worry. Your stuff will stay cold for a good number of hours while off. OR, buy a safety device (try to overlook the horrible website for that link) for your fridge.
  2. Don't use propane. While away, don't use a portable propane heater such as a Wave or a Buddy.  My girl Trixie would sometimes stand too close to the Buddy heater and it would singe her fur. Simply don't leave one on while away when RV camping with dogs. To be extra careful, you may choose not to use your RV furnace, which also uses propane.
  3. Fire Extinguishers. Keep fire extinguishers all around your RV and teach your dogs how to use them. (Heh. Wouldn't that be nice?) Seriously, keep fire extinguishers all around your RV. Especially in your bathroom, and in any area without an easy escape route. This is ESSENTIAL camping gear unless you're tent camping.
  4. Charging. Don't charge appliances/computers while you are away. More than once, using my 12-volt system, something has started smelling like it was burning. You simply never know. Better to be safe than sorry.
Trixie burned tail from buddy heater

Trixie's singed behind

Snakes and Camping With Dogs

Snakes are a prime danger for pets pretty much anywhere in the USA. Rattlesnakes are especially dangerous.

They can strike as far as half the length of their body and will do so any time they feel threatened.

Your dog or cat  is going to be a threat if it noses at one, accidentally steps on one, or even just comes too close.

Snake coiled up

Photo by Ana Meister from Pixabay

Some promote a vaccine called antivenin. But others state that the efficacy of them have not been proved.

Even others say that even if your dog has had the antivenin, the treatment will be the same.

And treatment is EXPENSIVE. It can cost, just for the vial, between 450 to 700 USD PER VIAL. And several vials may be necessary.

If you take your dog camping, and they get bitten, you MUST get them to a veterinarian ASAP. Your first aid kit won't cut it. 

Keep Your Dog Safe From A Snake Bite

How do you keep your dog safe when camping with your dog? Well, most dog owners (and dogs) love to let them off-leash when boondocking.

This isn't the safest practice, but it's common. Especially when on hiking trails. Keeping them on a leash is your safest bet.

If you let your pup off-leash, at least make sure your dog is within view at all times. The closer they are to you, the better.

Trixie running thru grass field

This way you can see and hear any cries or changes in behavior ASAP.

However, in 5.5 years of boondocking, I have rarely encountered a snake in the wild (That I know of.)

EXCEPT for one very un pet friendly stop- a spot near Monte Vista, Colorado.

That boondocking spot was basically a SNAKE PIT! The whole group even left early, there were so many snakes around. (Shiver)

If your dog has very thick fur, if it isn't acting right, check under their fur everywhere for a bite.

Small Dog Precautions

I have much experience with this, having one dog under 7 lbs and one under 2.5 lbs.

Small dogs are even more susceptible to the dangers of going on a boondocking camping trip.

Gizmo dog standing in grass

When grass is bigger than your dog

Coyotes, getting lost, other people's dogs, and birds of prey are huge concerns.

For these reasons, I keep a VERY close eye on my two girls. (Though Trixie quickly disappeared on a walk one day. I was distracted watching a friend's dog run after some deer, and I was worried she wouldn't return. Meantime, MY dog disappeared!)

Here are ways to keep your small dogs alive and well on your camping trip:

  • Tracker: Put a GPS tracker on your small dog
  • Visual:  Put something bright on them- a neon-colored shirt or something
  • Light: Put an LED collar on them when you take your dog on a night potty or walk
  • Proximity: Make sure you never let your dog out of your sight
  • Distance: Keep them as close as possible at all times when camping with your dog
  • Laziness: Make sure you NEVER leave your dog unattended outside the camper while you stay inside
  • Other Dogs: Watch out for other people's dogs! Some are not pet friendly. As stated before, most Boondocking other campers let their dogs off-leash. All it takes is one to see your little dog as prey, and that could be an unthinkable end to your beloved pet. (Or a pricey vet bill and a suffering dog.) I look around my campsite every time before I let mine out at my campsite, checking for wandering dogs or a coyote. Dog parks are one thing. Wild or wandering unattended dogs are another. 

Conclusion

Camping with dogs is so fun! Your dogs can enjoy boondocking as much as you can, as long as you follow a few precautions on your camping trip.

Here's a summary of some of the important bits:

  • Always keep your eyes on your pooch
  • Get a GPS tracker for them
  • Watch for snakes
  • Don't leave them in a camper when it's hot
  • Use your head
  • Leave them plenty of food and water when you leave.

It's a very good idea to take extra precautions with the little doggos on camping trips.

Your best friend will likely love your camping trip. They can enjoy, done properly, the freedom and joy that boondocking and being off-leash brings!

Dog with family of four husband wife two kids

By the way, I can't push the GPS pet trackers enough for use in the great outdoors.

Yes, they come with a monthly fee. However, the peace of mind is priceless and is SO worth it. It's your best friend, after all.

Now I know I can't lose either of mine at a campsite (or hiking) again, as long as I use them.

Have fun out there, enjoy these tips for camping, and please make sure you pick up your dog's poop, even when you're enjoying boondocking. Bring your poop bags!

Camp Addict Kelly

Kelly Beasley is co-founder of Camp Addict and loves sharing her enthusiasm for the RVing lifestyle. As a full-time RVer since May 2015, Kelly's playful writing style helps make learning about the sometimes dull subject of RV products a bit more interesting.



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