Hiking and Camping Etiquette For Your Dog

Camping with dogs or taking them on hikes with you are ways to combine bonding experiences with healthy activity for both you and your canine companions. If you’re considering taking your dog along on a camping trip or hiking trails with you, being considerate of others and protecting your pet’s safety is critical to an enjoyable experience. There are etiquette rules you need to keep in mind at all times.

There are hundreds of campgrounds that feature dog-friendly camping, but every year a few of them decide to go “no pets allowed,” usually because a few jerks have ignored proper pet etiquette and ruined it for everyone else. There are general guidelines for all camping sites you should always follow, including:

Follow the Rules at All Times

There are rules at dog-friendly campgrounds that cover everything from leashing to the number of dogs you’re allowed. Don’t ignore them. Standard rules include not leaving your pet unattended in your tent or camper and using a leash that’s six feet long or less. When reserving a campsite, be sure to ask about their pet policy. Know before you go.

Keep Your Dog Leashed

Except for rare instances, you need to keep your dog leashed. The only exceptions are on clearly designated “off-leash” hiking trails and in dog parks. Otherwise, a leash protects you, your dog, and those around you. It’s easy to say, “He’s very friendly,” but others may be afraid of dogs. You also don’t know how your dog will react to strange people or unexpected situations. Dog-friendly hiking trails aren’t an excuse to let your dog infringe on the comfort of others.

Clean Up After Your Dog

Never, ever neglect to bring poop bags and dispose of your dog’s waste properly. Leaving it behind can damage the ecosystem, which can’t support the waste left behind by hundreds of dogs. Others will be walking in the same areas, and there is the chance of spreading disease to other pets. The number one complaint campground owners hear is that dog owners leave waste behind. Don’t be that guy (or gal). Keep those poop bags handy at all times!

Keep the Noise Down

When camping with dogs, respect the needs of others. Campers are looking for the pleasures of nature, including serenity and the beauty of birdsong and other natural sounds. If your dog barks constantly, you need to work on their training. Hours of listening to a howling, barking dog shatters the tranquility for others.

Avoid Tethering 

It’s tempting to tether your dog outside while you’re in your tent or camper, but unless it is entirely safe and allowed, it’s not a good idea. A few considerations:

  • Is it safe to tether your dog outside, or will it be susceptible to predators or other campers’ pets?
  • Will your dog harm the wildlife in the area? Killing squirrels or prairie dogs can result in you and your pet being kicked out of the campground.
  • Can your dog reach walking trails or other areas where it could intimidate or bother others?
  • Could your dog get tangled or injured?

The safest, most considerate solution is to avoid tethering your dog unless you are outside as well.

Don’t Approach Other Dogs Without Permission, and Then Only Under Controlled Circumstances

The phrase, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” is often heard right before two dogs get into a fight. It doesn’t matter if your dog is friendly when the dog he is approaching is aggressive, fearful, or otherwise inspired to attack. You just don’t know, so it’s best to avoid introducing your dog to other pets on hiking trails or in campgrounds unless you’ve already spoken to the other dog’s owner and are confident it will end well.

Yield the Right of Way

On hiking trails, dog owners should always step aside and let others pass. Make sure your dog is far enough away to prevent unwelcome sniffing or jumping. A leash with a traffic handle can help you keep your dog close when yielding to others on dog-friendly hiking trails.

Collie hikes to a lake in Washington State, she sits with a blue gnome waterproof leash wrapped around her as she looks happily at the lake in front of her. In the background a tree lined ridge covers a rock faced mountain.
Luna, the adventure dog behind the IG: Skandog

Master Sit and Heel Commands

These are essential commands, particularly on hiking trails. When others are approaching, your dog should be able to quietly sit while people walk past. Never let your pet jump up on people or charge at them, even if your dog just wants to greet them enthusiastically. Be sure your dog will listen and respond to your commands at all times.

Keep Vaccines Current

Protect your dog and others by keeping vaccinations up-to-date. Some campgrounds require vaccination records. If you frequently camp with your dog, it’s a good idea to have a copy of all veterinarian records with you just in case. 

B.A.R.K. Rangers

The U.S. National Park Service’s BARK Ranger program is part of their Healthy People Healthy Parks Initiative and focuses on making dog-friendly hiking available. 

            Bag your dog’s waste and dispose properly

            Always leash your dog

            Respect trails and wildlife

            Know where you’re allowed to go

Your dog can even earn a badge for being a good BARK Ranger!

If your pets are die-hard hiking dogs and you want to enjoy dog-friendly camping, following the rules above will ensure every new journey is a rewarding one.

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