Yes! It is possible to find adventure and camp with a puppy in your life. It just requires a little bit of extra preparation, a sensible approach, and a dog-friendly setting.
June long weekend, we took five-month-old Aster on her first camping trip. As first-time puppy parents we were optimistic about the trip because Aster has been well-behaved and open to new experiences; however, we knew that there were no guarantees and that packing the car was going to be our biggest struggle. To make this trip work, we needed to plan ahead.
We planned ahead for the trip in a few ways. First, we thought about where we would stop to make sure that Aster had plenty of opportunity to toilet, eat and drink to avoid any problems on the way. Second, we considered what items to bring to help keep her comfortable in a strange location (and hopefully avoid any misbehaving). Third, we did a practice pack to make sure we could fit all the essential items in the car.
After several years of camping trips, we have developed a system to get everything we need (and some stuff we probably don’t) packed tightly into my SUV. And I mean tightly, with no room to spare up to the ceiling behind the front seats. Adding a 22kg puppy sitting in the backseat not only meant the loss of valuable packing space but the need to bring additional gear.
The extra items we packed for Aster included:
- a tether and stake
- dog food (because she’s a big breed and growing puppy, this meant about 10 cups of kibble for a two-night trip)
- food and water bowls
- poop bags
- several toys (including her teddy for sleeping)
A while ago we had crossbars put on my car, which allowed us to move some of the items to the car roof, freeing up space for Aster to sit. However, our practice pack identified that even after moving things to the roof we couldn’t move the driver’s seat back any more, meaning only I – the shorter person – could drive. We also couldn’t fit the shower cube, water jerry can, or the BBQ in the car. While these things won’t be needed for every camping trip, they were for this one. (We are considering adding a towbar to my car so we can bring a trailer on future trips.)
Our extra preparation included dropping items that didn’t fit off with our friends to bring in their caravan. We also packed Aster’s lunch and water in an easily accessible spot for the drive over. (The only space left was on the floor underneath the passenger seat, but it worked.)
Choosing a Trial Destination
Aster’s first camping trip was a trial to see how we would all handle the experience, so it was important that the destination was the right distance from home and had the right amount of stimulation (not too much or too little – either can cause a puppy to misbehave).
We camped at our friends’ new block at Chinaman Wells. It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Adelaide, which meant we were far enough away from home to feel like we went on a trip, but close enough that if things went poorly, we could easily bail and get home. The drive also has several small towns to stop at along the way, which also meant that we could easily stop for toilet and feeding breaks if needed.
The location was ideal for camping with a puppy. There were adults and children with us, but we weren’t at a crowded caravan park with a lot of children and other dogs in close proximity – this would have probably been too much excitement to keep Aster under control. The block allowed us space to put Aster on a tether, giving her the sense of freedom and us the security of knowing she couldn’t run away. The location also meant we had a beach and quiet street to go for walks.
Aster likes riding in the car, so we weren’t too concerned about the trip over. She was anxious while we were packing, but once she realised that she was coming with us she got excited for the adventure. When we put on her car harness, she trotted out to the car with her head held high and loaded herself into the seat.
In both directions, we stopped at Port Wakefield and Maitland.
Port Wakefield is popular rest stop for travellers to Yorke Peninsula and other parts of regional South Australia. There are several petrol stations and bakeries along the highway as it passes through the edge of the town. For our trip to Chinaman Wells, it was conveniently the half-way mark of the trip and a perfect spot to stop for lunch.
Kiplings Bakery is our usual choice when passing through Port Wakefield and it is a great spot to stop with a dog. It has several outdoor undercover tables with a bit of fencing around the eating space. I was able to sit in the corner with Aster while hubby purchased our pies and pastries. Aster had lunch as well; before the drive I packed a lunch portion of dog food in a sandwich bag and made sure her lunch, a water bottle and her travel bowl were all easily accessible.
Maitland has public toilets near a small grassy patch of park. It was easy to take turns walking Aster while the humans also got a toilet break.
Campground Set Up
When we arrived at our destination, I took Aster for a walk to explore the area and new smells while hubby set up the tether to the side of our tent site. In addition to providing a bit of security, having Aster on the tether meant she wasn’t in the way while we tried to set up camp.
We have a new large, two room tent with an annex; we made one side our bedroom and put Aster’s crate and food bowls in the other. While there was plenty of room in the tent for Aster and our food storage, we left the storage items out under the annex because we weren’t sure how Aster would behave in a new environment. We needn’t have worried.
The first night, she stepped into her side of the tent and after a short sniff around went straight into her crate to sleep. She stayed well behaved and mostly asleep until her normal wake up time. The second night, she went straight to her side of the tent when we said it was bed time. The crate was part of our success. Because I crate trained her as a young puppy, the crate created a comfortable and familiar space in a new place.
The tether was another part of our success. It allowed us all a bit of space when required, while still allowing Aster to see and feel close to us so she stayed calm. However, next time I will try to place the tether closer to the fire if possible. I noticed at night that the tether seemed really far away and Aster appeared lonely.
Dog Friendly Setting
It’s important to make sure that the campground and activities you plan to do on your trip are dog friendly. Many national parks do not allow dogs and not all venues are dog friendly. For this trip, our friends were more than happy to have our puppy join us and our outing to Watsacowie brewery was very dog friendly.
Watsacowie Brewing Company
The Watsacowie Brewing Company, located in Minlaton on the Yorke Peninsula, is the peninsula’s first independently owned microbrewery and tap house. It is a great country brewery in a large shed, with a spacious pergola out back as well as a marquee for seating and cover. There are 12 regular taps of good beer and the brewery hosts food trucks and live music on the weekends.
Watsacowie is also home Jazz, a Red Kelpie. Other dog owners are welcome to bring their pets along but are asked to keep them on a lead and under control.
Aster was a popular visitor at the brewery, with a lot of people wanting to come say hello and give her a pat. She handled the social interactions with the adults, children and other dogs in a calm and well-behaved way. We did bring a bone for her to chew on, which kept her busy instead of getting overwhelmed by the crowd and music.
Watsacowie was our Aster’s first public outing, and I was pleased that she socialised so well; it means we can plan for more outings to interesting places in the future.
Overall, the camping trip was a big success and Aster did really well. While the space she requires might get a bit more difficult as she grows into her full size (probably around 50kg), I’m excited that she is well-behaved and happy to join us on our camping adventures.
I am very much looking forward to future adventures with Aster at my side.