We were on a road trip from the Netherlands to Northern Ireland, a 1400km journey. We took the early ferry from Calais to Dover then decided to camp at the beach in Calais so we wouldn’t have to drive far in the morning.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
We arrived at the campsite and settled in. After a few glasses of wine and a bit of cheese, it was time for sleep. We took Tron into the tent with us and closed the zipper. It was time to sleep.
Or so we thought.
What came next was a screaming match and flying limbs. From the outside it must have looked like a wildebeest was zooming around trying to escape. Panicked, I struggled to unzip the tent door before Tron decided to run through the canvas. We escaped the tent to be met with a big group of campers staring at us, clearly amused by what they’d witnessed.
I grabbed Tron’s leash and took him on a walk along the beach. That night, we slept in the car with Tron to avoid any more drama. Looking back, it’s easy to see that I made two mistakes that day.
Some dogs embrace whatever life throws at them and can relax as long as they’re with their humans. Other dogs, not so much. They need practice to overcome the triggers causing them stress and anxiety. That night, we put Tron in a situation he’d never been in. He couldn’t relax in a confined, weird looking space with lots of new noises and smells. It was a recipe for disaster.
What I would now advise anyone else to do is to practice camping. Set up the tent in your backyard and sit down in it. Persuade your dog to step in the tent by offering high value treats so they associate the tent with good things. Generously reward behavior like calmly sitting or lying down in the tent (with the door open).
If this is successful, you can slowly move to closing the door while offering treats. Don’t push your dog too fast – any negative experiences can set your dog back a lot of steps. This process might take minutes or days depending on how comfortable your dog is with the situation. Eventually, your dog will see the tent as a safe place to relax and sleep. If needed, you can even spend a night in the tent to trial camp in the safety of your own backyard.
The second thing we should have done is thoroughly exercise Tron. Dogs are a lot more inclined to relax when they’re tired. We know now that before we spend a night in a hotel, camping, or anywhere new, we need to make Tron tired so he’s forced to relax.
Over the years, we have tried and tested different set ups to make our camping trips as fun and relaxed as possible. The first bit of gear you need to invest in is a tent. There are hundreds of different types available, all serving their own purpose.
When you’re camping with a dog, we’ve found that a tent that attaches to the back of our car is very useful. It gives us extra space and we’re able to keep things cleaner. As you can imagine, a dog can drag in a lot of dirt while camping! Napier Outdoor has some great options for car camping tents. They can either cover the box on a truck or attach to the trunk of an SUV.
Depending on the climate, your dog might need some extra comfort or warmth when it gets cold. We’d recommend using a doggy sleeping bag. For the past years, we’ve used the Whyld River doggy sleeping bag. It’s light weight, comfortable, and can endure Tron’s paws. For extra padding, you can use the Terrain Dog camp bed. This insulated pad protects your dog from the cold or wet ground.
Sometimes, dogs like to roam and explore in places they’re not allowed. If that sounds like your dog, you can use a tie out leash or line. This is a long piece of cable attached to a stake in the ground. By using one, your dog still has the freedom to move around, but they’re not going to steal burgers from your neighbor’s campsite.
You should also carry a pet first aid kit in your camping gear. Accidents happen and you might not be close to any animal clinics. Your pet first aid kit should contain gauze, tape, scissors, and rubber gloves. If you have extra room, or you’re going on a big adventure, bring hydrogen peroxide and an antibiotic ointment to disinfect wounds and prevent infections.
Always make sure to pack in what you pack out and clean your campsite at night time or anytime you are away from your tent. Lock food in special food lockers or your car to keep wildlife away. If you’re in bear country, don’t let your dogs take off into the woods where they could chase bears. Bears can turn and chase your dog – and your dog will lead them right back to your camp.