If your dog has never been tent camping before there are a few things that you could work on with your dog to make things go a bit more smoothly.
Get your dog used to the tent while at home
When we took our six dogs camping last summer, one of them, I can’t remember which one, jumped through and tore open one of the tent windows. This is easy to repair with duct tape but it looks awful so it is important to prevent this to begin with.
Make sure your dog knows that there is a screen in the window.
Usually all you have to do is walk your dog up to the open window on leash and have him sniff the screen. You can poke at it lightly a few times so he can see that there is no way through. Another option is to get someone to look into the tent window from the outside while you and your dog (on leash) are inside.
Actually, this part is crucial.
Make sure your dog knows there is a screen there and is prevented from jumping through it. Simple.
The other thing for your dog to learn about is the tent door. Of course when it is open, often the first inclination is to charge outside. A little training about doors in general is essential. It doesn’t really take much, just enough for your dog to get used to going in and out and not bolting through open doors.
Inside The Tent
Even more important than these things is for your dog to be relaxed in the tent. Some dogs are natural campers and are OK in most strange situations. But other dogs will be nervous about strange noises like the rustling of the tent or the sounds of other campers. One way to help ease this is to camp at home if possible. I like to make the tent a place of relaxation for the dogs. Of course it helps that I fall asleep every time I go into a tent ;-).
So if you can find a way to relax in a tent with your dog in a location that is familiar that is the best place to start.
Create a Routine
Dogs love routine. You have a bathroom routine, an eating routine and likely a playtime or sleeping routine for you and your dog. Make sure that you take the time to establish a “tent camping” routine as well.
This will be different for everyone. I would include similar things though like WHERE the dog will eat and sleep and WHEN and HOW your dog will “go to the bathroom”. This last one is especially important. When you are in a tent, it can be slightly more inconvenient and possibly a little uncomfortable to get up and let the dog out.
Give each dog (if you have more than one) a spot to sleep of her/his own. You can even give each dog a blanket to sleep on. If you dog moves off the blanket it is not the end of the world, but depending on the situation, it might be a good idea to do a little training to get your dog(s) used to having their own place. Unless you are ok with them sleeping with you!
I slept in a tent camper once at a friend’s place and had five or six dogs, I can’t remember exactly how many, with me. Their training came in handy because I didn’t want them wandering all over the camper willy nilly spreading their fur everywhere. I guided each dog to a spot in camper, said his or her name and pointed to the spot. All the dogs stayed where I asked them to stay until morning. I even had one dog up on the bed on the other side of the camper from me and one just below him.
When we slept in our van a few times, we gave each dog a spot and they all stayed.
Now that we have only four dogs there will be a few differences, but not too much for them. The difference will mostly be for us since we won’t be letting so many dog out to pee before bed.
Now that I think about it, I have always had at least 5 dogs camping with me at any time so four is less than normal.
Some dogs get nervous when their eating places are disturbed and won’t eat. You will need to consider WHERE exactly you want you dog to eat. If you are camping in bear country, it won’t be in the tent, so the farther away from where you are spending your time the better if possible.
We often fed our dogs in the truck when we were using it, especially when feeding raw meat. If you have a camper it is less important obviously, but with a tent you will need to consider a different place. Under the picnic table is one possibility since there might be food crumbs there already.
If you dog does not eat all his food right away, make sure you don’t leave it out for long. You don’t want flies or other wildlife partaking in the meal as well. Be really careful about where you put the dog’s food.
When you camp, you usually have a campfire. Some dogs are oblivious to them and others are not. Make sure your dog has some campfire awareness. If you are using a tie out try to find an object to tie it to that is not too close to the fire. You want to be able to reach the tether clip from the tent though so you will have to do some thinking about how to arrange the campsite.
When I first started camping with dogs, I accidentally tethered a dog with a line long enough to walk around a fire. The line would pass right over the fire and occasionally, if the dog stopped sit right over the fire. Obviously, this is bad. You want to dog to be tethered NEAR you so you can take him in easily if it rains or if an animal shows up, but not too close to the fire.
Tent camping is so much fun that I would encourage you to try it with your dog if you haven’t already. If you dog shows some behaviour issues when you camp, remember to try to work with your dog to resolve them and consult a professional correction free dog training instructor for help.
If not, then enjoy your time with your dog in nature. Even if it IS in your back yard.