Camping With Older Dogs, Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed physical activity and how it may affect your older dog, as well as making sure your senior dog is medically cleared to do activities with you.

How is your dog’s eyesight, hearing, and mobility?

Cataracts, glaucoma, deafness, and neurological changes are just a few of the signs of aging. Your pooch may love hiking with you, but may not be able to see as well to navigate rocky terrain. If she’s not leashed, will she hear you calling her? If she falls, will she be able to regain her footing? If she gets hurt, will you be able to get her out of the woods safely? These are all questions to ask before you go.

No matter the age of your dog, you should always have a pet first aid kit with you while camping, and on you while hiking. It’s generally best to make your own so you can stock it appropriately for your dog. You might also entertain the idea of taking a pet first aid class so you’ll know what to do in an emergency. Being able to create a travois or sling for a large dog that has taken lame, knowing what to do if a snakebite occurs, and how to stanch bleeding quickly are important things to know.

Is your dog on any medications?

As dogs age, their health begins to falter, and we start to see changes. If your vet has prescribed any medications for maladies that affect senior dogs, make sure you have adequate supply for your trips and a way to administer them if you don’t know how to pill a dog, or if your pet isn’t crazy about taking the meds. What if you normally pill your dog with a canned food “meatball,” and you are only taking dry food with you? Experiment pillwith Pill Pockets and other delivery systems, or learn how to pill a dog.

Some medications can have side effects that could affect your camping experience. For instance, a dog on steroidal meds like Prednisone will drink more water and need to urinate more often. He may also be a bit cranky and not want attention (especially from strangers you may meet on the trail) as much. You may think this is no big deal (“we’ll be in the woods!”), but will you be able to get out of your warm sleeping bag to take Fluffy out to pee every few hours, or will you give her a pee pad in the tent? Be aware of side effects before you go.

Will your dog cope well with locations that aren’t home?

As dogs age, health concerns like diminishing eyesight or hearing can cause them to become anxious and neophobic. Your dog is used to routine at home. Will camping mess that up? The woods have different sounds, sights and smells that can be exciting, or they can be concerning.

How will your dog react if a deer steps onto the trail? Will Fluffy be “on alert” all weekend to strange noises, especially at night? A dog on hyper-alert will probably bark more, which could be annoying to other campers. Our dogs are alert to sounds at home, and when we camp. But they are less likely these days to be on hyper-alert when we camp as they are more used to it.

Whenever we travel, crates are always a part of the trip, from the ride itself to the destination. Our camper has crates set up in it for times when we want to leave them in the air-conditioning and go somewhere they can’t, or shouldn’t, go. If we are staying at a hotel, crates help the dogs stay calmer, especially when we are not in the room. Crate-trained dogs tend to travel better, regardless of age.

If your dog is crate trained, consider a crate in your tent, especially if your dog has never camped before. It can help him feel safe and secure. And it may help you sleep better, as well. Put a familiar bed in it, too. It will also help if you need to leave the campsite for a short time without him, as a dog can escape a tent pretty easily if they are so inclined.

Do you know where the closest veterinary emergency clinic is to your location?

It’s easier than ever these days to find out where the closest veterinary hospital is. I’d suggest finding this out before you go if you have a set itinerary, as it will mean you don’t have to search frantically with a sick or injured pet. If you have a problem, call them and let them know you are coming—it may speed things up.

Our Li’l Camper

Here are the specs of our main camping accessory: the camper itself.

Inside features: always-up queen bed w/single bunk over, 2-burner propane stove, 3-way “dorm sized” fridge, AC, single sink, thermostat-controlled propane heat, 2-seater dinette (converts to small sleeper space), small closet, wet bath, propane water heater, water pump,  under-bed storage with exterior access, galley-style push lock cabinets, interior cabinet with exterior access, microwave/convection combo oven, and two standard 14”exhaust fans (which we just upgraded to a better model of “Fantastic Fan”).

Outside features: stabilizer jacks in front, scissor jacks in back, another exterior only access cabinet, single propane tank mount, battery mount, hand crank tongue lift (with a wheel), single axle 13” wheels plus spare tire underneath, electric trailer brakes, fresh, gray and black water holding tanks, sewer hose “keeper,” water hook up and fresh water tank fill port, 30 amp electric twist lock marinco connection and last but not least, an exterior hot/cold water hookup for a special fit quick connect hose (handy to hose off a dog, feet, or other icky stuff).

It is constructed from mostly aluminum–frame, floor, exterior, cabinet frame and all. The pipes are PEX and pretty much the rest is Azdel, which resists mold and doesn’t “swell” if it gets wet. I always joke that I could take my camper to the recycling center if it got damaged beyond use, but I really don’t like thinking of that.

What we love:  the 13’ camper is just right for us. Besides being lightweight and easy to tow with our 2008 Wrangler and our 2007 Nissan Pathfinder, It has a full-time queen size bed (QB) and a single bunk(B). The single bunk serves as a “shelf” for our dog crate set up.  As I said, it works for us. The shelf can support 125 pounds and our dogs and their crates weigh less than that. Our dealer installed d ring hooks for us to anchor the crates in place for towing, but the dogs never ride in there.

The dogs at rest. We can store their toys (and our “Frosty” collection) above, as well as extra clothes or blankets. At night, they sleep in bed with us, of course.

The queen sized bed seems larger than it is since the front of the camper bows out a little; you don’t feel boxed in. We have taken the mattress from the bunk bed, covered it in a homemade extra long sleeping bag-style pillow case, and put it between the mattress and the front of the camper.  This gives a little cushion if you want to lean against the front of the camper to read or converse with visitors who are seated in the full-time 2 person dinette. The mattress that comes with the QB is pretty thin to save weight, so we added a memory-foam topper, and it’s pretty darn comfortable.  In the 13 footer, you do not have the luxury (and I do mean LUXURY) of being able to walk around the bed to get in, out, or make it up. If you are the inside sleeper, you might even need a helmet, “noodle,” or chiropractor.  Did I mention there was a bunk…well, as lovely as the bunk is as an extra sleeping space, or shelf, its drawback is that it pokes out (as you can imagine) partially over the QBB. Trust me, it hurts when you bang your head on it.

We liked this model for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was that we needed a full-time dinette and a full-time bed. We did not want to have to break down the dinette to have a sleeping spot every night. The dinette can be broken down to make a small sleeper area, but ours stays in dinette mode all the time.

As mentioned in the list of features, there is a propane heater, water heater, and 2 burner stove. We are sure these items are lovely and work great, but in 4 years we’ve never used them. We heat with a small electric space heater, shower in the bath house at the campground, and heat water in the microwave to wash dishes and cook outside (sometimes in cast iron, but more on that later). The fridge also has a propane option, but we have only used it on electric and 12 volt. It does work very well and actually holds a ton of stuff. We “tetris” load it in a very space efficient manner with containers that stack well together.

We have also taken advantage of the airline galley style cabinet doors and have purchased several “over the cabinet door” hangers for towels and such. We have also placed a number of “Command Hook” hooks around for hats, jackets, leashes, etc.  For our miscellaneous items, we lucked into the perfect size plastic container at the Dollar Tree. I mean not only were they a good fit, they were a DOLLAR (plus applicable sales tax). We were not as lucky finding bins that maximized space in the closet. Those came from the Container Store and were many multiples of a dollar, but hey, they fit well.

We absolutely love the awning. Many big-rig-ers are surprised to see that our little camper has an awning. It is easy to roll out and roll back in, too. We just have to make sure we roll it in if the wind gets too strong; heavy winds will rip yer awning off in a New York minute.

Our favorite feature, at least top 5, is the windows. They push out, and pneumatic rods hold them open in a couple of positions. That means when it is lightly raining, you can still have the windows open, and we love having the windows open, especially in the fall. Part of the top 5 factor for the windows is the screen/shade combo. They are easy to operate, they don’t flop about, and the shade blocks ALL the daylight when closed. That’s important when you are a vampire (real, not sparkly).

As Mailey is fond of saying, our camper “has everything you need, and nothing you don’t.”

Camping With Older Dogs, Part 1


Whether your older dog will enjoy camping, and the activities associated with it, depends on a few factors. Over the next several posts I will address the joys and concerns of camping with older dogs.


How old is your dog?

Dogs reach “senior” status between 5 and 10 years of age. The larger the dog, the sooner they would be classified as senior. A Great Dane is senior by age 6, because many only live to 8 or 10 years of age. A Chihuahua, however, may not be considered senior until age 12, as they can live into their 20’s.

The dog’s general health is also a determining factor.

The old adage that “one dog year is equal to 7 human years” is only partially correct. Experts agree that the first year of a regular-sized (15-65 pounds adult weight) dog’s life is equal to 15 human years, and each year after that is equal to about 4 human years. Adjust up or down, depending on your dog’s size.

What is your activity level while camping?

Are you the type of camper who likes to be on the move? Do you hike a lot? Bike? Climb? Or are you more of a relaxer? You may wish for your older dog to accompany you on all of your physical exploits, but it may not be feasible. She may only be good for a few short walks, one hike, and then mostly relaxing by the campfire with you. You may need to make adjustments to your activity itinerary if you are taking an older dog, or have a safe place to leave her behind.

What is your dog’s normal activity level?

Even older dogs may still be considered spry for their age. As the one who lives with your dog, you are best equipped to know how much exercise he or she needs, and can tolerate, per day. Is she sore the day following a long run? Did she used to play fetch for hours, but now grows tired of it after 10-15 throws? These are the things to look for so that you will know when she is getting tired.

Dogs are stoic by nature, so they don’t always slow down when they are getting overheated or tired. It’s our job to monitor their activity and slow them or stop them when they need a break. Heat and humidity play a large factor in this. Even agile adult dogs expend more energy in the heat, though they might drop from heat exhaustion before ever willingly stopping the game.

Here is an article about recognizing heatstroke in dogs.

What type of activities will you be doing on your trip?

Has your dog ever done this type of activity with you? You may want to bike that 7-mile trail, but if you’ve never taken your dog biking before, it would be best to try a short jaunt around the neighborhood with your bike-leash apparatus before going into the woods. Some dogs are great at running alongside a bike, and some are terrible.

We recommend a product that attaches the dog safely to the bike, as opposed to just tying a leash to you or allowing the dog to run off-leash. The former can be seriously dangerous, and the latter is likely illegal and, unless your dog is really well-trained, may result in a lost or injured dog. It is also not a welcome sight to others who may use that trail who are nervous around dogs or have dogs who are nervous around dogs. Use a leash, please.

(Want to learn more about why you should obey leash laws, and when you can disobey them?)

If you will be hiking on rocky or uneven terrain, or ascending and descending in steep areas, your dog may need some conditioning to do these hikes with you. Don’t assume. Trust me, it sucks to be at the bottom of a huge ravine with a 70-lb dog who cannot make it back to the top without help. I learned this the hard way with my Doberman years ago. I ended up carrying her to the top of Tallulah Gorge. That trip taught me a lot, let me tell you.

Swimming is a bit easier on an older dog’s joints and bones, but it, too, has some hazards and cautions. I’ll address this more thoroughly in a future post.

Has your dog had a senior checkup lately?

We get senior bloodwork done on all our dogs when they reach “that age,” and we do rechecks every 2 years if they haven’t had any problems. That way, we have a baseline and we will know if something is ”off” down the line. If you are planning any strenuous exercise with your dog, it’s best to have your vet in the loop.

Coming Up Next: More Things to Think About When Camping with Older Dogs

Beginning in the Middle

The light has begun to fade.  I crouch on the bank of the creek that flows by our campsite, enjoying the unseasonably cool breeze and the deep green color of the moss adorning the river rocks. It’s cooler than it should be, definitely more so than in the city right now—and that makes me happy.  Supper is resting in my belly and I’m thinking about s’mores. I gather the makings of a fire and set it alight, watching the flames lick up the kindling. My wife moves about  inside the camper, assembling the graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows (she knows me, and after 16 years together, that’s a plus).

The world smells of pine, burning wood, smoke, earth, and suddenly, dog breath. Yukon settles himself in my lap and two more little dogs gather at my feet, noses working on all the scents, breathing in a million more particles than I ever could—ancient smells in this state park that simply wait to be rediscovered.

Camping is our favorite recreational activity and one of the reasons is because time just stretches. It’s also a natural fit for our four dogs, who love being in the woods as much as we do. It’s also inexpensive, easy to do when you only have a few days off, and is quite relaxing.

Does the above sound lovely to you? If you enjoy camping with your dogs, then this site is for you. Join us as we chronicle our adventures, review products you might find useful, and pass on wisdom about enjoying the outdoors with the pooches and the people you adore. My wife is a darn good photographer, too, so she can share some great tips of getting excellent photos indoors or out.

We are Camp Chahooahooa, and this is Dogs Go Camping. Check out the About section to learn more about us and our current crop of dogs.