Ask The Dog Trainer: Heading to the forest with a dog

Dear Kendall,
With summer drawing to a close, my family is planning one final camping trip in a couple of weeks, and I was interested to hear any input or suggestions you might have regarding spending time in the woods with your dogs. We will be camping at established campgrounds using our trailer and a couple of tents for the kids, and hope to do some hiking and perhaps catch some fish!
Dear Percy,
Camping with your dogs and family can be quite an adventure! My husband and I escape to the mountains every chance we get and love to spend up to three weeks fishing in the streams, hiking the valleys and wandering the backcountry trails.
My first piece of advice is to determine the logistics of where your dogs will be sleeping. Often, folks forget about this detail until it is 2 a.m. and their dog refuses to mount the stairs into their trailer or simply can’t settle down in a tent without their customary bed. With all of your amazing activities planned, you don’t want to wake up grumpy and groggy after a sleepless night.
In my experience camping, our dogs do best when the schedule is as close to their routine as possible. If your dogs sleep in crates, then see if there is any space in your trailer to put crates. If they have dog beds, then try and squeeze those in. If they sleep in bed with you, then perhaps attempt to become a side sleeper so everyone can fit in your trailer’s bunk. If your dogs are going to be sleeping outside in the tent then make sure you pack jackets and bedding in case the weather gets chilly. A foil emergency blanket draped over a crate can help keep your pups cozier.
If your dogs are going to spend any time in the trailer, it never hurts to check that everyone can load and unload comfortably and safely up the steps. Most trailer stairs are very steep and some dogs refuse to climb aboard. I once had a lovely client who meticulously planned a two-week vacation out at Blue Lakes only to discover that his 185-pound Saint Bernard would not get into the trailer. When they returned home after 14 wretched nights of sleeping outside their beautiful trailer on the ground beside the dog, we taught Maximus to use the stairs, but it was a lot of stress that could have been avoided. So just check that everyone can enter and exit your trailer safely.
Once you’ve figured out where everyone is sleeping and made sure that everyone can board safely, then make a packing list. You’ll want to bring enough dog food plus an extra couple of days of emergency rations and drinking water if you aren’t going to have potable water available. I make sure my dogs are updated on their vaccinations and flea and tick medication. You will also need any medication or supplements your dogs take and I always throw in some canine anti-diarrhea medication. I also pack lots of tasty treats and chews and leashes. Depending on the rules and regulations of the campgrounds you are staying at, you may want to set up a couple of long leads so your pups can have room to roam and still remain safely on leash at your site.
If you have a dog who has a penchant for grazing in the forest, then a muzzle might also be a good idea to prevent him from ingesting mushrooms, berries, twigs and such other items hazardous to his health. I am a staunch advocate of ethical muzzle training. Muzzles don’t just save lives by preventing bites, but can also be used to keep your dog from digging into that rotting squirrel carcass.
Whether you are planning a quick walk down a well-groomed trail behind your house or setting off on a through hike down the Pacific Crest Trail, I always suggest that clients take as many outdoor adventure classes as possible. Our beautiful mountains and vast high deserts play host to a wide range of temperatures, weather conditions, predators and unpredictable challenges. Canine first aid classes have saved the lives of many dogs we know personally. Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion, understanding how to safely treat a snake bite and having practice with bandaging wounds and evacuating are all vital skills. Additional training focusing on off leash and long distance recall, trail manners and snake avoidance are also invaluable resources to invest in for the safety of your dogs.
Now, go and have a wonderful time on your family vacation! Breathe that pristine forest air, dive into our gorgeous lakes and raise a glass of whisky to the stars. The mountains are calling. Hope you catch a big fish!
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to or email


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