5 Tips to Take Your Dog Camping in the Desert

As most adventurers know, spending time outside with your dog is one of the best things ever. One of my personal favorite places to go is the desert outside of Moab, Utah. But this beautiful place can offer some unique challenges when you are with a dog. 

I love bringing our dog with us to the crag, but regardless of what activity you are doing here are some tips to help you and your dog tackle the desert safely and in style. 

Here are my five basic tips for bringing your dog to the desert.

1. Bring LOTS of water!

Even without added activity, hot temps, dry air, and the beating sun take a toll on your dog.

Now factor in running around and hiking and you can start to imagine how much extra water you will need!

Generally speaking, most dogs need at least 1 oz. of water per pound of weight. But this is just when hanging around the house.

Play it safe and pack at least 2-3 oz. per pound, and even more if you will be hiking a lot. Collapsible water bowls make keeping your dog hydrated easy and efficient. 

2. Pack a Desert Dog First Aid Kit

One of the most common injuries in the desert is getting stuck with a cactus spine. Bringing precision tweezers can save the day and get nasty spines out of your dog’s paw and get him back on the trail.

You can usually identify cactus spine injuries if your dog yelps near a cactus, is limping or keeping weight off of a paw, or licking/biting a body part.

Inspect the area and locate the spine – you might need extra light if the spines are short or under fur.

If there are lots of little spines, try to remove them in the direction of your dog’s fur growth. Tape can help for clusters of spines, but make sure not to press the spines further into your dog’s skin (Elmer’s glue is perfect for human skin, but doesn’t work well on our furry friends).

For larger spines or spines that have entered at strange angles, gently pull them out the same direction they came in.

Apply pressure to any bleeding, disinfect the area, and apply an antibiotic. If your dog got the spine in his paw you can wrap the area or put on a booty to prevent any licking or irritation from walking. 

Always check your dog for cactus spines before turning in for the evening. Gently look through their fur, taking special care between their toes, around their mouth, nose, and eyes, and their genitals. If you suspect your dog has a cactus spine in his or her eye, it’s time to get them to the vet.

Though not as common, a bite from a rattlesnake can easily prove fatal if you are not prepared. When dealing with rattlesnake bites you must keep your dog as calm as possible and get them to the nearest vet ASAP, as rattlesnake bites are almost always lethal when left untreated.

Benadryl helps relax your dog and reduce swelling, which is especially important if they were bit near their nose or airway, which could close up from the swelling. Dosage is approximately 1mg/1lb. of body weight.

3. Bring a Shade Shelter and A Cooling Jacket

I will never travel to the desert without a shade shelter, which in my case is just a fancy word for a tarp.

They make a world of difference for your dog, and can even provide shade for you too if its big enough. I use a black rip stop nylon tarp with cord attached at the corners.

Even just pinned up against a few boulders to create a small cave will really help your dog and help prevent heatstroke. 

Many dogs also benefit from cooling jackets. These jackets can do wonders for long-haired or black dogs, especially in dry desert heat.

4. Know Your Dog’s Boundaries.

Even though you may really want to make it to a certain point on a hike or spend all day at the crag, knowing your dog’s limits will make it more enjoyable for you both and keep your dog safe.

For example, if your dog has never hiked more than two miles it probably isn’t a good idea to go for a ten-mile loop trail at peak sun in the middle of the day.

If you have your heart set on doing a certain hike, begin training with your dog weeks, if not months, prior. And we mean physical fitness and off-leash obedience!

Tip: If you are starting to suffer from any heat related symptoms, chances are your dog is having an even harder time. Keeping them cool, hydrated, and in the shade will help you extend your time outside and keep your dog happy. 

5. Plan Ahead

Not all days in the desert go as planned.

Sometimes it is so hot you feel like you are melting, some days it is so cold your water freezes in its bottle, or it rains cats and dogs!

You just never know, so have some backup plans in mind so you don’t get stuck.

When we are climbing at Indian Creek or around Moab it is easier to plan days in town. When you have your dog in tow consider where you can find shelter from sun, cold, or rain.

Do some research into the nearest town to see what options you might have. 

Being flexible will make everything feel much more relaxed and smooth. Remember to be safe and have fun! 

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