Camping with dogs

By: Michael Borg, Photography by: Tony Rabbitte & Matt Fehlberg


Borgy’s exclusive guide to keeping those tails wagging out on the tracks.

Some of my earliest memories include camping with dogs. I’ve still got photos of a three-year-old Borgy using the dog’s water bucket as a pool. Yuck!

The good news is 30 years on and not much has changed; I don’t fit in the bucket anymore, but I still love getting out and about with my four-legged pals and having an absolute blast. Old Zara the Doberman’s seen more of Australia than most people have and now she’s showing the ropes to new recruits – young Sampson the shepherd, and sometimes my sister's cattledog cross Hudson.

For me, there are plenty of good reasons to take the family dog camping. Like when you’re trying to see how deep a water crossing is, I’ll usually send the dog in for a dip. If she has to swim, my 4WD will probably have to as well! Fetching firewood and the odd beer from the icebox have become the dogs’ chores around camp, and old Zara loves to pull the canoe out of the water after a paddle, too.

So, with all that in mind, it’s safe to say a dog can add a whole new dynamic to camping! While it’s not always flowers and roses, I’ve definitely leaned a few tips and tricks to make things a tad easier over the years. So let’s start with the basics, shall we?

DOGGIE BOOT CAMP

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It goes without saying that an untrained or antisocial dog can be a bloody nightmare to you and other campers, meaning these dogs usually aren’t the best camping companions. Basic obedience commands like "sit" "come" "lie down" and "stay" are an absolute must, but more importantly they need to do it reliably when there are other dogs or people around.

If they are anything short of perfect, they should be on a lead to maintain complete control. Teaching the "leave It" command is a big one in my books; it comes in real handy if they’re in hot pursuit of something dangerous, such as a snake or a dog bait. The other one is to stay in the car until you give the all clear; it’s nice being able to access your luggage without them bursting out of the door!

Teaching them to go toilet on command is also a nifty trick, and it saves a heck of a lot of time! Another thing I’ve taught my two boofheads is to come when you sound the car horn. Sounds funny I know, but if you get separated from your dog they’ll hear your horn from much further away than they’d hear your voice. Trust me, it works!

PAWESOME LESSONS LEARNED

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I learned the hard way not to change a dog’s diet for the first time while you’re camping. What’s the hard way, you ask? Well, Zara the Doberman used to spend most nights camped inside the old Troopy, while I got banished to the swag. That was until I woke up one morning to an entire vehicle absolutely covered in dog vomit. Yep, you can just imagine the smell, not to mention my new vocabulary! After four hours hosing it out and scrubbing with disinfectant, it was good enough to drive home; at least with my head out the window. It still took a good week or two to get rid of the smell, and that was after airing it out with the interior removed. These days, it’s a strict diet of dog biscuits and most of her nights are now spent in a dog cage – just in case!

LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE

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One little trick I’ve picked up is to lay a plastic tarp under the dogs’ bed to prevent the cold and wet moisture from soaking up into the bed’s foam overnight. In fact, I’ve even gotten a bit fancy and turned a few old unused canvas bags from the camper into dog beds by adding a piece of foam.

The canvas is tough and waterproof, so even if the bed gets wet on one side you can usually just flip it over and it’s still dry. In saying that, my two boofheads tend to take over the camp chairs most of the time, which isn’t actually a bad camp bed option when you think about it!

SECURING YOUR DOG

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If you’re at a caravan park or a busy campsite, a dog crate is the best option for securing your mutt, especially for smaller breeds. The amount of times I’ve had a lunatic dog rush aggressively into my campsite will blow your mind!

A dog crate provides security and buys you a bit more time to react in these situations. For bush camping, I run my 4WD’s winch cable out to a tree and run a tether chain to the dog’s collar; it just gives her a bit more room to move. Use chain instead of rope; it hangs to the ground which prevents tangles and they can't chew through it. If you’re tying them to the back of a ute, make sure the chain is either long enough for them to get all four paws on the ground, or short enough to prevent them from getting any legs over the edge. The last thing you want is the dog to slip off and not be able to touch the ground or climb its way back up. And never leave a dog chained up unattended – anything can happen!   

BEAT THE HEAT

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Naturally, it’s vital for dogs to have plenty of shade and water throughout the day. A 'tell-tail' sign of doggy dehydration is if you pinch and lift up the skin on the back of the neck and it takes longer than usual to fall back down. Plus, it’s also worth knowing that dogs can’t sweat – they pant instead.

If you think your dog is overheating, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, make sure their water is nice and cold, which may mean adding a block of ice to the mix. Also, dogs actually cool off from the bottom up, so wetting a towel and letting them lie down on it can help as well. If they start digging on a hot day, they’re usually trying to make a cooler patch to lie on.

Oh, and if you plan on travelling with the dog on the back of a ute, make sure the tray’s surface doesn’t get too hot and shade is available if they need it.

DOGGY DANGERS

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Wild dog baits, paralysis ticks and snakes are a real concern for dogs in the bush. Obviously, wild dog bait signs indicate where baits have been laid, but baits can be moved all over the place by other animals, so always keep an eye out.

If you’re unsure if your dog has ingested a bait, look out for common symptoms. These include anxiety, frenzied behaviour such as running or howling, hypersensitivity to sound or light, failure to respond to you, vomiting, urinating and defecating inappropriately, convulsions and seizures.   

Paralysis ticks are another problem altogether. Early detection can really pay dividends, so it’s worth a daily check. Simply run your hands firmly against your pet’s fur, especially around the ears, armpits and stomach. If you feel any bumps, pull back the fur and check what’s there. Ticks can vary in size with the larger or engorged ones indicating they have been there longer. To remove a tick, grasp it as close to the skin as possible with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. With a steady motion, pull the tick out backwards. Avoid crushing, touching or allowing a piece of the tick to break off as this can still cause infection. If your dog shows signs of poisoning, like wobbly legs, vomiting and laboured breathing, get him to a vet as soon as possible.

It goes without that saying flea and tick preventatives are worth their weight in gold, and keep up to date with all their vaccinations to help protect against viruses encountered during your travels.

THE DOWNSIDE OF DOGS

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It’s little things like whipping down to the shops or the pub on a hot day that can become a nuisance with a dog. We all know national parks are no-go zones, as are a whole lot of caravan parks, especially around the more populated tourist regions.

The good news is that once you break free of the hustle and bustle the rules are a bit more relaxed, with most state forests, state parks and farm stays being dog friendly.

I’ve always found most country pubs don’t mind having a friendly, well mannered dog chilling out on the porch, either.

If you want to explore areas that aren’t dog friendly, local boarding kennels or vet clinics with boarding facilities can be found practically anywhere these days. Just be sure to keep your pets’ vaccinations up to date to avoid being turned away. Another popular option is the old ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours'. Only in this case it’s basically finding a trustworthy friend on the road to take turns minding the pooches while the other explores, pet-free.

THAT’S ALL FOLKS

If your dog listens about as well as a hyperactive ferret, then it’s safe to say they’ll probably wind up being a real nuisance. At the end of the day, you’ll need to take the time to train your furry mate before you can really enjoy their company out on the tracks. One thing’s for sure; when you get it right, it’s hard to imagine camping without them.

Check out the full feature in issue #115 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.