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Camping with your dog can be great fun. For the dog, it's almost like a never ending walk, during which they get to spend all their time with you. For the campers, it can provide another means of security and a great bonding experience.

For Beginners: If you're just thinking about camping with your dog for the first time, there are ways to acquaint your four legged friend with the great outdoors before leaving your backyard. Especially important for city or urban dogs is the need to be introduced to nature slowly. Begin by taking a few short day trips to State or County Parks, where your dog can experience new smells and environments on a stress free basis. Nature trails and short hikes also allow dogs to familiarize themselves with less populated spaces, and give your dog the opportunity to gain some muscle strength and fitness benefits before heading out.

Tents can be confining and confusing to dogs. If you plan on having your pet inside the tent with you (recommended), you'll need to introduce your dog to it's sleeping quarters, as well. Most experts recommend setting up the tent indoors or in a backyard and allowing your pet to sniff it out, and enter and exit at will. Place the dog's normal bedding inside the tent, and allow him to sleep or rest there for short periods of time. Praise your dog for entering his new space and don't be afraid to climb inside with him and zip the tent closed for short periods of time. There's no need to sleep in the backyard experiment. A simple introduction is enough to familiarize most dogs.

PLAN AHEAD Before packing up the tent and heading out, it's good to check with the campground or park where you'll be staying to learn their policies regarding pets. Many campgrounds and facilities do allow pets, but have special restrictions. Most require that dogs remain on a leash no longer than six feet, sleep inside a tent, are never left unattended and have up to date vaccinations. Check your destination's rules thoroughly, to avoid any disappointing surprises upon your arrival.

CHECKLIST

1. ID Tags: It is very possible that your dog will become disoriented (especially during his first few outings.) To prevent losing your dog, be sure to equip him with up-to-date ID Tags. You can even place a temporary ID on your dog, stating which campground you are staying at and how to locate you during your trip.

2. First Aid Kit: A First Aid Kit is always a good idea to have on hand in those just-in-case situations. Your First Aid Kit should contain antibacterial ointments (for insect bites and stings), bandages, a small scissors, Benadryl (for unexpected allergies to plants and bites) and whatever medication your dog normally takes.

3. Immunizations: Be certain your dog's shots are up to date. Your pet will be in the wild and on defense. Bites from animals or simple abrasion infections can happen easily. Check with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is properly prepared for the journey.

4. Records: In the event of an emergency (such as your dog being bitten by an animal), you'll need records of your pet's vaccinations and medical history. Photocopying records and taking them along is highly recommended.

EQUIPMENT Although there are numerous products you can purchase to transform your dog into a diehard camper, there are only a few must have's that you need to pack.

1. Pet Travel Bag: Have a separate bag in which you will store dog supplies. Basic supplies should include food, a drinking dish, toys, and immunization records.

2. Leashes: A short leash (six feet or shorter) is recommended at most camping spots. If you plan on hiking or participating in other activities, extra leashes of different lengths can be packed, as well. Some campers find that bringing along a dog tie-out gives their pet more freedom and enjoyment.

3. Sleeping Materials: If your dog generally lounges on a sleeping pad, it's a good idea to pack that, too. Your pet will feel much more at home and relaxed if his environment contains familiar elements from home. If your dog doesn't require special bedding, toss in a favorite blanket or pad for your pet to sleep on.

4. Waste Materials: If you're staying in a campground, you'll be required to clean up after your pet. Don't forget to pack materials that will aid you in the picking up and disposing of waste matter.

5. Flea Collar.

EXTRAS There are some great dog travel products on the market and though none of them are necessities, many will help ease your dog into camping and make less work for you.

1. Backpacks: Doggie Backpacks come in several styles and sizes and will make containing doggie supplies a breeze. Packs normally sit atop the dog's back, and have several side pockets for storing food and other goodies. In shape pets can carry up to fifty-percent of their body weight. For older or smaller dogs, packs can be the perfect place for storing your pet's food, water supply, treats and toys. Most dogs love packs and allowing your dog to carry his own weight will mean less work for you.

2. Booties: If you're camping in colder weather or rough ground, you may want to consider protecting your dog's feet. There are specially made dog shoes for rocky terrain, cold weather protection and even water.

3. Traveling Water Dish: It's difficult to lug around your dog's normally unbendable water dish. There are several traveling water dishes, sold in the form of dog canteens, folding bowls and throw away, one time use containers that you may find more convenient.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

1. It is never advisable to leave a dog unattended at a campsite. Not only is it dangerous for your pet, but it also poses a risk for other campers. Plan on spending all of your time with your companion.

2. There are things out in the wild that your dog most likely has never been exposed to. Be watchful of wild animals, bugs and poisonous plants.

3. It's highly recommended that you bring fresh drinking water from home with you. Many campgrounds use a well or spring as their main water supply, both of which tend to upset dogs' stomachs.

4. Be routine. Making your pet as comfortable as possible should be a goal. If you always provide your pet with an afternoon playtime at home, be sure to do it while camping outdoors, as well. The more normal routines you keep with your dog, the less nervous he will be.

AVOID

1. Bringing the whole toy chest. Your dog is likely to be much more interested in his surroundings than the ten squeaky toys from home. One or two of your dog's favorites will suffice.

2. Boxed treats and foods. It's okay to pack special treats for your dog, but do so by storing them in airtight containers or bags. Not only will this protect them from damp camping conditions, but it will also keep more wild animals away from your dog and his food supply.

3. Feeding your dog camp food. While it's tempting to feed your dog hotdogs and hamburgers, try to stick with as much of your dog's normal food supply as necessary. Also be sure to store all food in an area where your dog is not allowed.