You’re sitting around the campfire chatting with your friends when suddenly you realize your dog is missing.
Maybe you hear barking, or yelling, from the campsite next door and realize your dog is over there sticking it’s nose where it doesn’t belong.
Or maybe your dog has chased after a chipmunk and you’re panicked because he’s not coming when you call his name.
Whatever the reason – etiquette or safety – it’s best to contain your dog to your campsite so they don’t run off.
So how do you make sure your dog sticks around? There are several options.
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LAST UPDATED: January 21, 2023
1) Leash Your Dog to Something at the Campsite
This is probably the simplest but potentially the most inconvenient choice.
All you have to do is tie a leash to something stable – a tree, picnic table, or an anchored dog tie-out driven into the ground.
This option can be inconvenient for both you and your dog for several reasons.
First, you could trip on the leash. At the very least, you will probably have to step over it several times while moving around the campsite.
Most dogs, at some point, end up wrapping the leash around a table leg or tree.
We’d all like to think our dogs are smart enough to untangle themselves but experience tells me that isn’t so.
You might end up playing a game of untangle the leash all night.
Also, if the dog can get near the fire pit, you’ll have to make sure they don’t drag the leash through the fire and melt it.
Still, this method is simple.
If you go with the tie out anchor, this “additional equipment” doesn’t take up much space.
Pro tip: Placing a carabiner on the end of the leash makes it easy to clip the end of the leash onto something or wrap it around a tree or table leg and clip it to itself – no knots involved.
2) Create a Cable Run Between Two Trees
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The cable run is a variation on using a leash to tie your dog to something.
In this case, you are tying their leash to a cable extending between two trees.
I think this is the best way to tie up a dog while camping.
Using a cable run will reduce the chance of your dog getting tangled around things, allow them more space to roam as the leash slides along the length of the cable run, and reduce or eliminate the need to constantly step over the leash.
The quickest way to make a cable run between two tress is to use a product specifically designed for that purpose like the Ruffwear Knot-a-Hitch™.
The Ruffwear Knot-a-Hitch™ is a campsite dog-hitching system using climbing-inspired components and hardware.
This tie-out system includes a strong, kernmantle rope that can be set up between two trees or secured to a single post using Ruffwear-designed hardware and an easy-to-use tensioning system.
I love the Knot-a-Hitch for many reasons.
First and foremost, I really like is that I can set it up slightly away from the busy part of the campsite (but not so far away that she feels completely left out) so my dog stays out of the way while I’m cooking or setting up the campsite.
That helps to keep both of us safe and happy.
I also love it because:
- It’s super easy and quick to set up
- It packs into it’s own bag so it’s easy to keep the pieces contained
- It’s strong and durable
- A swiveling carabiner keeps leash twist- and tangle-free
- I can still use it if there is only one tree at the campsite because it can also be secured to a single post
3) Use a Dog Camping Crate
Using a crate to contain your dog may be a good option in some situations.
If your dog has health restrictions, like a torn ACL or bad back, it can keep them from jumping or moving around too much when they get excited.
When Gretel had her back injury and was on strict crate rest, we had to keep her movement and walking to a minimum.
We still still wanted to take her on adventures though so we took her crate camping with us.
When she wasn’t sitting in our laps, she was in her crate.
A crate can also be a good option if your dog gets anxious easily.
If your dog is crate trained, and sees their crate “happy place” at home, they might also find it comforting to climb in their cave when in an unfamiliar situation.
Keeping your dog in a crate while at a campground is the most limiting, and can also be the least fun, of containment options though.
4) Use a Dog Camping Pen
A dog camping pen, like the Carlson Portable Pet Pen, allows a dog more freedom than a crate but eliminates the issue of the leash getting tangled or your tripping over it.
The pen acts as a camping dog run for small dogs – It’s like creating them a little room at the campsite.
The Carlson Portable Pet Pen is lightweight, collapsible, and easily thrown in your vehicle.
Once you get to your camping destination, all you have to do is pick a spot by a picnic table or camp chair, expand the accordion-like folded structure, and step on the side lock that keeps the pen from folding up on it’s own.
The reinforced mesh around the outside creates kind of a fence.
Throw a camping bed for dogs, and blanket, in there and most pups will be happy as a clam.
To be honest, I don’t know how we managed without our pet pen.
Up until about 6 months ago, we used the tie-the-leash-to-something method.
Like I mentioned, it was frustrating because my dogs were always getting their leash tangled around something.
Chester also fusses less in the pen (because he would fuss and bark if his leash was wrapped around something, which it almost always was).
For this reason, my stress level around the campsite has gone way down since using the Carlson Portable Pet Pen to contain them.
If you have a larger dog, you can se a tall, portable dog fence to create a dog camping run.
5) Teach Your Dog Recall
Recall is the name of the training used to teach your dog to come back to you right away every time you call.
While I don’t suggest you use recall as the only way to keep your dog in the campsite all of the time, it’s an excellent skill for your dog to have when you are setting up or breaking down camp and don’t have a pen or tie out set up yet.
It’s also useful when you want to give your dog a little bit of supervised freedom or they accidentally escape their restraint.
For more, read my article about teaching your dog to come when you call.
Even if you let your dog roam freely around the campsite on occasion, it’s always good to have a plan for when you need to have your back turned or are cooking and need them out of the way.
Having some kind of containment method available at the campsite is an important tool when making sure your dog does run off to get lost, hurt, or to harass other campers.
Even if you don’t expect to use it, it’s best if your dog also has good recall so you can call them back if they escape their restraint or wander off when you’re not looking.
But just in case your dog does run off, you’ll want to brush up on these tips for finding a lost dog in the woods.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.