Thinking of taking your dog winter camping with you? Before you take your dog winter camping objectively assess if your dog is suited to being outdoors in the winter. Small and/or short haired dogs are more susceptible to cold weather as are the very young and very old dogs. Is your dog obese or underweight? Does your dog have pre-existing health issues such as arthritis? Does your dog have appropriate breeding? Does your dog have short legs that will cause it to struggle walking through the snow? Has your dog spent time outdoors during the winter? Has your dog successfully accompanied you on day trips? Is your dog is well trained and will your dog respond to voice commands?
With the right dog and proper planning and equipment you can take your dog winter camping.
Assuming your dog is a suitable candidate here are items to bring and suggestions to make the experience more pleasant for you and your pet.
Have your dog wear a back pack doubles as a harness which gives control on a leash. The bag should be large enough for your dog’s frame and large enough capacity to carry the food needed for your longest journey. Some dog packs have pouches with zippers that allow for contraction as the food load gets smaller or for shorter hikes with less gear.
Spend time in advance to fit and load pack. Adjust the harness on your dog so it’s snug but won’t chafe. You should be able to fit two fingers under it. Load the bags with dog food, treats, bowls, and/or extra gear. The total load shouldn’t exceed one-third of your dog’s body weight. Make sure both sides are weighted equally.
Consider dog booties to avoid snow packing in the paws. Booties should fit above the dew claw. Alternatively, a dollop of Bag Balm or Vaseline on your dog’s feet will insulate against the cold and prevent snow and ice from clumping up in the fur.
Always carry a leash. Fortunately there aren’t too many people around in the winter but you will want to be prepared to put your dog on leash if you encounter people or wildlife.
Bring one or two collapsible bowls for food and water. Do not change the dog’s basic diet. Extra milk bones or other snacks for nutrition are appropriate for snack breaks.
Trim your dogs toenails pre-trip to prevent rips in the tent floor.
Plan to provide bedding for your dog to lay on in camp. Pack a small closed cell foam pad for sleeping and/or a wool blanket in cold weather. You may choose to have your dog sleep in your tent so you don’t have to worry about interaction with other critters.
Items to bring in your dog’s back pack:
- Bring plastic bags to pack out dog poop.
- Bring a camp towel and/or brush to clean and dry your dog thoroughly before letting them in your tent. A brush is useful for getting out burdock or clumps of snow.
- Keep track of dogs at night with LED lights or glow stick bracelets on collars.
- A small multi-tool should be considered. Although you may never have to pull quills out, it serves many functions.
- Imodium. Many veterinaries recommend taking small Imodium tablets in case of stomach issues from water, food, cramping, etc.
Continually monitor your dog’s condition and watch for symptoms of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your dog’s temperature drops below the level necessary for normal bodily functions. Your dog’s normal rectal temperature should range between 100 and 102.7 F, and hypothermia occurs when your dog’s rectal temperature drops below 95 F. With mild hypothermia your dog may be shivering and appear lethargic. Your dog may whine, display an anxious behavior and look for shelter for protection. As hypothermia increases in severity other symptoms become evident to include shivering, lethargy, muscle stiffness, lack of coordination, a low heart rate, shallow breathing, fixed and dilated pupils, collapse, and, finally, coma. Early recognition and intervention is important. Wrap your dog in warm blankets. You may apply external heat sources such as warm water bottles or human body heat. A small amount of warm sugar water may provide benefit if you can get your dog to drink it. If not treated, hypothermia can be fatal.
You can find dog gear at: Lone Wolf dog gear, Ruff Wear, and Granite Gear, among others.