Dark brown dog laying down on red clay next to camping tent.

My Unexpected Experiences Camping & Hiking with Dogs

As a dog mom of three, there are nearly endless experiences I could share with you about the unexpected things that happen when you camp and hike with dogs. Many of these experiences that if I had prepared for better, I could have avoided altogether, which is why I’m sharing them with you!

Here are a handful of unexpected experiences that have helped me be a better dog mom in the backcountry.

Unexpected Experiences I’ve Had While Camping & Hiking With Dogs

1. An Introduction to Desert Dogs

One of my favorite things about camping in the desert is that we often have night time neighbors. From owls to rabbits to coyotes, we can hear all the hooting, howling, and skittering. It’s one of the most soothing things to me, but it can often be something that’s not ideal when camping and hiking with dogs.

Coyotes are fairly common around where we live all hours of the day, but night time tends to be their favorite time to come a little closer. Rory and I lived in a van on and off for almost two years and we used to camp in the bed of my pickup truck in the middle of the desert for two years before that.

Dark brown dog laying down on red clay next to camping tent.
Credit: Erin Maxson

One night, I woke up in the back of the truck and there were a handful of coyotes standing and sitting at the end of my truck, unbothered by the metal giant and its occupants. I had heard them earlier in the night howling far off in the distance, but it turns out they weren’t that far off.

Rory, of course, was more than interested in our friends and I spent about an hour or so after they ran off trying to calm her down and keep her in the bed of the truck.

I know there are people out there who are afraid of coyotes, but in all my experiences with them, I’ve never once had a problem with them. Just like our dogs, they are curious creatures who are more likely to ogle you than anything else.

Please be kind to all wildlife and keep your distance while camping and hiking with your dogs.

2. Meeting Pepé Le Pew and His Family

Another time, we were camping in the mountains at a campground which was unusual for us. We were one of the only ones there that time of year, so it was a relatively quiet and peaceful night. Rory and I got settled into the tent and fell asleep.

Around 2AM, I heard a rustling. Thinking it could have been a rabbit, I turned my headlamp on and saw a trail of skunks surrounding our tent. Rory, again, was more than excited to meet her new friends and we spent another hour after they ran away talking through why we can’t meet skunk pals.

The moral of the story is: Be prepared at any time of night or day to work through your dog’s stressors, anxieties, and unexpected moments. If you aren’t willing to lose some sleep or put your dog in front of your wants and needs while outdoors, they won’t feel or be safe outside.

Girl and dog sitting in the back bed of a truck during camping trip.
Credit: Erin Maxson

3. Whitewater Rafting Gone Wrong

I know this isn’t camping or hiking, but the point remains the same even if you are! If you have a dog, you know just how quickly a squirrel or rabbit can change the day. It’s pretty crazy how you can be walking along and something catches your dog’s eye and everything around them disappears. Well, my experience was a little bit different.

One time we were whitewater kayaking (very low class whitewater before anyone says, “That’s dangerous!”), and Rory was in my kayak as usual. We had spent the last two summers kayaking and paddleboarding on rivers in Arizona and this was our second time on this same river where we hadn’t had any issues before.

As we passed a little too close to the shore, there it was…a rodent of some kind in the distance. Rory saw it, I saw it, it was too late. Rory, in her little yellow life jacket, was off the kayak and into the water just before the eddie.

Dog wearing yellow life jacket preparing for paddle boarding on river.
Credit: Erin Maxson

I was paddling harder than ever and I missed the eddie, meanwhile Rory was caught up on a log (rodent long gone) in the water.

I had to paddle my kayak to the nearest beach, walk around, and hope that she would be there and not floating down the river (a risk I had to take to get back to her).

Thankfully, my partner at the time was behind us the whole time and was able to keep an eye on Rory so we could both get to her and pull her back onto the boat. I was cursing the sky and the ground by the time we were off again, but another good lesson for me as a dog owner.

Our dogs will get into things and make instinctual decisions that will cause us grief when we’re outdoors. Some of it isn’t always safe, but if you take the right precautions moving forward you, can mitigate most of them. From there on out, I’ve had Rory on a leash while we paddle in case I need an extra line to grab a hold of.

Side Note

You should never tie your dog to your paddlecraft in case your boat flips and traps you and your dog. Everyone should stay untethered for the safety, and more likely occurrence of you tipping your boat.

4. My Worst Nightmare: A Rattlesnake Bite

Every dog parent’s worst nightmare is a venomous snake bite. At least it was for me. After living in Arizona for 3 years, I hadn’t seen a rattlesnake, but one random day in March…it happened.

We were meeting up with some friends to camp and I was setting up camp while my friend and Rory went off to do their business a little further in the desert behind a bush. My friend (pants down), heard a rattle and then saw Rory rush over to the snake to check it out and it was over an instant.

Rory came running back to the truck where I was just finishing setting up the tent and jumped in the passenger seat, shaking.

My friend, obviously startled, said, “I think Rory got bit by a snake.” Instantly, my mind went to rattlesnake. I threw my tent (still fully erect) into the back of the truck and all of my other camping gear on top of it and we flew an hour back into town at 90 miles an hour.

Two days in the emergency vet, 2 vials of antivenom, and $3,000 later, Rory was back home with me and we had learned a big lesson.

Dark brown dog with tongue sticking out after recovering from rattlesnake bite while hiking.
Credit: Erin Maxson (and Rory)

Rattlesnake Training for Dogs

One of the things I did as soon as I could was get Rory rattlesnake trained (yes, it’s a thing!) and I am 99% certain that Rory will run the opposite direction of any rattlesnake within sniffing range for the rest of her life. It was hard to watch during some points of our training, but I am confident that it will instill a healthy fear of rattlesnakes in Rory for the rest of her life.

Looking back, that $100 spent on one day of rattlesnake training was more than worth it and I wish I would have done it sooner.

Never Leave The Dogs Behind

Despite the scary, frustrating, and not so fun experiences I’ve had while camping and hiking with my dogs, I wouldn’t ever leave my dogs behind on adventures (unless there are specific regulations or reasons as to why my dogs can’t join me).

These experiences aren’t for you to say, “That’s reckless, I would never do that.” Sharing these experiences is so that you can avoid some of the lessons I’ve had to learn firsthand.

As dog parents, we always want what’s best and safest for our pets but there are times outdoors when things happen that you could never expect or know how to deal with until it happens to you.

At the end of the day, I’ve learned so much by bringing my dogs out into the backcountry with me, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that my dogs are the best version of themselves when we go outside together.

With some planning, safety precautions, and lessons learned, I continue to put my dogs’ safety and needs before my own.

I believe that every adventure is better with a four legged friend by your side to share the view or the experience with and every time I step on the trail with my dogs, they light up with the same excitement like it’s their first time out there. And I do, too.

We’re outside animals and we hope you are, too.

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