How to Keep a Dog Entertained While Camping

If you are considering bringing your dog along on your next camping trip, there are many important things to prepare and consider. Where do you find a dog-friendly campsite that suits your needs? How will you store your dog’s food at camp between meals? Where will your dog sleep at night?

One such consideration that often doesn’t come up until you are out in the wilderness is how to keep a dog entertained while camping. Especially if you have a young puppy or a highly energetic breed like ours.

This question comes up often, so we wanted to address it.

Whether you’re new to camping with dogs and trying to prepare for your first trip together or an experienced dog-friendly adventurer looking for new ideas, we have you covered.

dog eating out of a food puzzle | How to Keep a Dog Entertained While Camping
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Why is it Important to Consider How to Entertain Your Dog?

One common misconception about travelling with a dog is that they will be content entertaining themselves simply because they are outdoors. After all, they are descendants of wild dogs, and no one is out entertaining their ancestors. Right?

The key difference is that no one expects wild dogs to behave respectfully in public spaces like campgrounds.

Dogs often engage in unwanted behaviours if left to their own devices. Some common examples include excessive barking or becoming destructive, damaging your gear.

Often when you are camping, you will be at a location where other campers are nearby. Even backcountry spots are regularly found on bodies of water where a dog’s barking will carry, disturbing others during their otherwise peaceful getaway.

Dog parents camping with a young puppy that hasn’t yet learned to distinguish good behaviours from unwanted often struggle with this even more.

By planning ways to entertain your dog throughout your trip, you can enjoy your trip, be respectful of other campers, and avoid a potentially hefty fine.

Providing your dog with mental enrichment is also valuable for reducing stress and improving their mental health.

Do You Need to Purchase Expensive Toys to Entertain Dogs?

No! Many great mental enrichment ideas cost little to no money, making them suitable for dog parents on a budget.

Plus, you can provide entertainment and enrichment simply by engaging with your dog yourself.

We have shared some ideas in the list that incorporate products we love but know that these products aren’t mandatory. There are ideas listed here that will work for any budget.

dog sitting on a rock by the water | How to Keep a Dog Entertained While Camping
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How to Keep a Dog Entertained at Camp: 10 Easy Ideas

Here are ten ways we keep our dogs entertained while camping to inspire you for your next trip. These range from free activities to enjoy nature with your dog to solutions when stuck in your shelter on a rainy day.

Most of these options require adding minimal gear to your packing list (or no gear), making it easy to prepare multiple entertainment opportunities for longer trips.

Make Mealtime Fun with Food Puzzles

We shifted to feeding our dogs with slow feeder dishes and food puzzles a long time ago, spurred on by Indiana’s desire to INHALE anything placed in front of him.

But these products do more than just slow down your dog when they are eating.

Food puzzles encourage your dog to use their brains and figure out how to get to their meal. This may involve sliders, hidden compartments, removable covers, and even locks your dog must figure out how to unlock.

We are huge fans of the Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound line of puzzles.

They break their puzzles down into difficulty levels, showing you clearly which are suitable to start with and allowing you to make your dog’s puzzles more challenging as they learn how to solve them.

Snuffle Mats are a Great Alternative

Snuffle mats may be the ideal alternative if you like the idea of the food puzzles but worry about the space they take up during travel.

These mats are often made with pockets, folds, or strips of fabric where you can hide your dog’s food or treats. They must use their nose to sniff out where the food is located.

We have several different snuffle mats, but our favourite for camping is our AWOOF Pet Snuffle Mat due to how easily it folds up. When the mat is cinched tight, it can tuck into your bag or even be attached to the outside of a hiking pack.

Play a Game of Fetch or Tug

Of course, there is no substitute for entertaining your dog by spending quality time together. A game of fetch or tug will burn excess energy, keep them occupied, and help to build a stronger bond between you and your dog.

You may be tempted to play fetch with a stick that you find at the site, but we recommend bringing a toy or two with you.

Many experts are warning dog parents about the risk of playing with sticks. They are responsible for serious, potentially life-threatening injuries and expensive vet visits.

Take the Opportunity to Do Some Training

Training is also a great way to keep a dog entertained while improving your bond. Plus, it has the added benefit of improving your dog’s obedience skills.

You may still be working on their basic obedience if you have a newer puppy. Commands like “Leave It” and “Drop it” are excellent training to focus on for safe hiking. For older, more experienced dogs, you may want to incorporate some fun tricks.

Don’t stress too much about what you’re training. The goal is to spend some time working together and challenging your pup.

Use a Lick Mat on Rainy Days

Another concern dog parents often have is how to keep a dog entertained on a rainy day. After all, many of the activities on this list are off the table in bad weather.

You can still keep your dog busy if you’re stuck in limited space, like in a dining shelter or under a tarp.

Lick mats are small, flat mats that feature patterns, ridges, and grooves. When you spread your dog’s food or treats on the mat, they must lick it out of these small spaces. This can take considerable time, keeping your dog entertained with an ongoing reward for their efforts.

Plus, the process of licking has been proven to have a stress-relieving effect on pets.

We prefer the LickiMat Tuff Series when camping due to its durability, but we highly recommend any of the LickiMat line of products.

Lick mats can be used with any spreadable treat, including canned food, mashed vegetables, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, or even baby food. Mashed sweet potato is a HUGE hit with our crew!  

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Go for a Hike

One of our favourite camping activities is hiking with our dogs and cats. In fact, we often choose our destinations with the local trails in mind.

Not only is hiking a great form of physical exercise, but it’s also a great source of mental enrichment with the new sounds, smells, and sights on the trail. Allow your dog to explore their surroundings and don’t rush them along – stopping to sniff is an important part of the experience.

You can also increase the physical challenge of your dog’s hike by having them carry a weighted backpack. Just be careful not to add too much weight.

Take Your Dog Swimming

Our ideal campsite for the summer months is one that offers waterfront views with water access. Why? We love taking our dogs swimming.

Not only is this a great way to cool off when the temperatures are rising, but it’s also a great, low-impact form of exercise. This makes it safe for senior dogs and those with injuries who may be unable to engage in more challenging activities like hiking.

You can teach your dog to swim on your next adventure if you’ve never introduced them to swimming. Just be sure to take it slow and build their confidence in the water.

Try Paddling with Your Dog

Outdoor travellers that enjoy canoeing, kayaking, or paddle boarding during their adventures, here’s another way to incorporate your dog into your plans. While they aren’t getting the physical exercise, paddling with your dog is a great source of mental enrichment.

Take a moment to consider all the new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences your dog will enjoy.

Of course, if your dog isn’t familiar with paddling, you may have to consider how to entertain your dog in the canoe to keep them from dumping everyone in the water (hint: a lick mat is a great solution).

Build a DIY Busy Box

A great free option for entertaining your dog that we love is to put together a DIY busy box. This is a go-to solution for keeping Lucifer occupied so we can cook, do dishes, or do other tasks where we don’t need his help (contrary to what he believes).

You will need one larger box, Rubbermaid, or laundry basket. When we’re camping, we often have a Rubbermaid that holds tarps and larger gear that we can empty for him.

The idea is to create obstacles your dog must work around to find their kibble or treats.

You can do this by putting the food in smaller cardboard boxes, wrapping it in towels, or filling part of the bin with your dog’s toys before sprinkling the kibble around it.

But be careful with this solution if you have a dog that likes to eat things that they shouldn’t, as they could ingest pieces of towel or other objects leading to a blockage and a costly veterinary bill.

Offer a Safe, Edible Chew

One tradition that our dogs have come to expect is our set-up routine. It involves bringing an Earth Animal No Hide Chew for each dog to enjoy while we set up the tent.

This is a great way to keep them occupied and keep them calm.

We use this approach specifically for setup, and they know enough to immediately start looking for their chews as soon as they get out of the vehicle at a new campsite. But it can also entertain and occupy your dogs at any point in your travels.

We especially recommend packing safe chew options for puppies.

An essential factor to consider when deciding how to entertain a puppy is their need to explore the world with their mouths. They are like toddlers that way!

For this reason, we often hear about young pups ingesting a poisonous plant or swallowing dangerous litter that they find around the campsite. One easy way to prevent this is by providing them with a safe option right from the start.

Dog-loving outdoor travellers, do you have any suggestions for how to keep a dog entertained that I missed? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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