How to Keep Your Dog Safe While Camping in Bear Country



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Jess has been an online writer for over eight years. Her articles often focus on nature and pet care.

Dogs Make Great Camping Companions

If you're like many dog lovers, leaving Rufus at home when you leave for a camping trip isn't an option. Dogs make wonderful camping companions, but there are precautions you need to take to ensure the safety of your canine family when camping in bear country.

Confrontations between humans and bears can often be provoked into a much more dangerous situation than it needs to be by out of control dogs. If you're planning a camping or hiking trip into bear country and want to take your pooch with you, follow this simple guide to help ensure the safety of your beloved pet (and yourself!)

General Guidelines for Camping with Dogs

Above all else, as a dog owner it is your responsibility to ensure that you are following all the rules and regulations in regards to bringing your dog with you to a campground. Always check on the park's pet policy before you leave home.

Most provincial, national and state parks are dog friendly, but with limitations. Certain parks in Ontario, for example, have "dog free" designated areas for campers without pets and who do not wish to listen to barking dogs throughout their camping trip. (Not everyone is a dog person after all.)

Dogs are typically welcome on most camp lots, but are not allowed on public beaches, picnic areas or even some trails. Always ensure you check for the pet policy of your chosen camp ground before bringing your dog with you. If you don't plan ahead, you may end up having to stay behind to keep your dog company and miss out on the adventure. Which leads me to my second tip:

Never leave your dog unattended on the camp site. Most camp grounds have policies in place to prevent this. Not only is it cruel to your dog to leave them tied up outside in the sun all day, they may whine and bark the entire time you're gone exploring. This can attract the curiosity of bears and other animals. (And a barking dog left behind is also a sure fire way to annoy your fellow campers)

If your dog wakes up and barks a lot at any little sound during the night, consider putting a muzzle on them at bedtime. If they've never worn one, try putting one on them a couple of times before you leave for your trip to help them get familiar and comfortable with it. They may not like it much, but it can help keep you safe during the night. If a bear does wander into your camp site during the night, he might become spooked and aggravated if your dog starts barking at him. This could provoke the bear, when he might have left on his own accord after he wasn't able to find any food. The thin nylon of your tent isn't going to do much to protect you or your dog from the claws of a bear.

Storing Your Dog's Food

It is widely accepted that bears have the most highly developed sense of smell on Earth. They can smell better than any other animal on the planet. A bear's sense of smell is 2,100 times better than a human's. This is why when camping in bear country, you always need to keep your food and other scented items (like shampoo, soap and even toothpaste) in bear proof canisters or keep them all locked in the trunk of your car when not being used. This rule also applies to your dog's food (bears are omnivores, they will eat whatever they can get) and all utensils and dishes used to feed your dog and prepare their food.

Tips for Storing Your Dog's Food

  • Don't bring the bag of dog food, keep it in a container. You can purchase many air tight, vacuum sealed containers to keep your dog's food in. Though, if you're staying on a drive up camp site, running out and purchasing vacuum sealed container's isn't necessary. I bought some large plastic containers from my local dollar store and stored my dog's food in there.(See photo above) However, it's only advisable to do this if you have a car or RV you can keep these containers locked in. I kept the dog's food locked in the trunk of my car, along with the rest of my food.

    If you are camping in the back country or don't have a car to lock your food in (some people canoe or boat to their camp sites) then a simple dollar store canister will not suffice and you will need to invest in a bear proof dog food canister. See below for more information about taking a dog into the back country.

  • Don't leave your dog's food dishes out. Stick to their regular feeding schedule as much as you can, but when they're done eating, clean their bowls with warm water and soap and put them away with your other cooking items and dishes.
  • If your dog is more of a grazer and is used to having a full food bowl to go to anytime during the day, you need to prepare them to do without food until their next feeding time. I took a dog on a recent camping trip who liked the go to his bowl throughout the day when he got hungry rather than eating all of his breakfast or dinner at one time. I had to encourage him to eat as much of his meals as I could at once so I could put his bowls away when it was time to leave the camp site for the day. I was able to achieve this by sitting beside his food dish at meals times and keeping him company. When there was only a bit of food left in the dish, I fed it to him by hand. I wanted to make sure he had enough food in him to maintain his energy throughout the day until his next mealtime. Feeding him from hand made him think he was getting treats and he was more willing to eat all of his meal in one sitting. You can try to throw a little treat into their bowl to encourage them to eat more at once.
  • Clean the area around your dog's food dishes after you put the bowl's away. Most dogs I know will usually leave some bits of kibble around their dish after they're done eating. Be diligent about picking up any bits of dog food left behind. Your goal should be to leave as little food items and scraps behind as you can to prevent bears from wandering onto your camp site. To make this step easier, place your dog's food dishes on a mat to help contain any bits of food that fall out of their bowl. I used a place mat I purchased at the dollar store.

Keeping Bears Out of Your Dog's Food in the Back Country

Most provincial, national and state camp grounds don't permit dogs into the back country area's of their park's. You need to be certain it is safe and that you are allowed to bring your dog with you into the back country before you leave home. Links are provided below to help you find whether your dog is permitted in a particular back country camp site.

If you are camping in the back country and intend on taking your dog with you, then it is necessary to keep pet food in a bear proof container (similar to the kind you would keep your own food in).

A bear's sense of smell is seven times better than a blood hound's. If you simply keep it in a ziploc container, or plastic baggy in your pack back, they will still be able to smell it. If you're back packing and don't have room in your pack for a bulky dog food canister, consider using a product like the OPSAK Odor Proof Barrier Bag. It's small enough to fit inside a backpack and they've been tested in bear country. They're also great to use on days hikes with your dog if you want to bring some dog treats or kibble with you.

Be sure to check the policy of your desired camp destination to see if these bags are acceptable substitutes for bear canisters. Some trails and camp sites will only allow metal or plastic bear canister's to be used in their back country.

Most conflicts between bears and humans are related to dogs that owners did not have full control over. A dog left off leash that spots a bear may want to investigate the bear further and begin chasing it. Unless a bear has learned to associate humans with food, most bears will want to retreat from a possible conflict (especially black bears). If your dog is off leash, he may entice a bear into a confrontation. Most dogs will bark at the bear and chase it, but when a bear turns to confront it, he will run back to his owners, thus leading an angry bear right to you. As evidenced by the video above, posted on YouTube by user Frank Ritcey. Always keep your dog on a leash when hiking out in bear country.

Hiking With Your Dog In Bear Country

  • Don't let your dog off leash when venturing out on hiking trails. Most provincial, national and state parks have policies that require all canine visitors to remain on their leashes when in public places in their park, including hiking trails. Hopefully you're abiding by this policy to begin with. It is in place not just to protect other dogs and campers, but to protect your pets as well.

    Even if your dog does very well off leash, it's never advisable to let your dog loose during a hike in the woods. Even the most well trained dog can become interested in something they spot in the woods and chase after it. You wouldn't want your dog to run off and accidentally happen upon a bear. If the dog runs away, the bear could chase him and your dog could unknowingly lead a bear directly to you. Leaving you and your dog in a potentially dangerous situation.

  • Consider putting a "bear bell" on your dog's collar. This will create some extra noise to let any bears in the area know you're coming and give them the chance to take off before you get to them. Bear's don't like surprises. It will also help keep your dog safe in case he does manage to get off his leash and stop him from surprising a bear, (or a raccoon or any other animals you don't want your dog fooling around with.) It'll also make them easier to find if they wander off too far. Just listen for the jingling.
  • Leave no trace behind. I'm sure we've all heard that phrase before.
    One of the best ways to ensure our provincial, national and state parks stay beautiful for future generations, is to always pick up after ourselves.

    As responsible camper's, it is our duty to ensure we pick up all garbage we create while camping (either by burning it, if it's safe to do so or putting it in the properly provided receptacles) to help maintain the health of our parks and ensure they're longevity for future generations to enjoy. This also applies to your dog's poop!

    Don't be that person who leaves poop bombs all over your camp site or public hiking trails. (We know you're out there!) Not only is it disrespectful to other people using the camp grounds (and gross.. and irresponsible.. If you want to own a dog, you have to be prepared to deal with poop.) but it also can attract critters and bears. Yes, dog poop can attract bears to your camp site. Bears smell everything, including the undigested bits of food in your dog's poop. Pick it up and put it in the garbage, flush it down the toilet if your site has such amenities, or put it in the outhouse (but only if you're using doggy poop bags that are biodegradable).

If You're Searching For A Dog Friendly Campground

For camp grounds in Ontario, check out Ontarioparks.com

Simply choose the park you're interested in visiting via their handy park locater, for more information, including how to reserve a lot and their dog policies.

For information on any of the national parks throughout Canada, see Parks Canada.

For information about camp grounds in the United States, see The U.S National Park Service.

A Final Note

Let's be honest, nobody ever really wants to admit that they're dog isn't properly trained. We think it's a reflection on us and make's people think we're bad "pet parents". The fact is, some dogs just don't respond well to voice commands, some dogs are runners and will take off the second you let them off their leash and some dog's aren't very friendly with other animals. It's okay. Nobody's perfect, and no dog is perfect.

Especially if you are camping in bear country, it is up to you to be honest with yourself and determine whether or not it is safe to take your dog with you. It is perfectly okay to leave your dog at home (with a dog sitter, of course) if you don't feel like they'll be able to behave during a camping trip.

BJ on January 29, 2017:

If you are a lady with dogs and you go camping, this will be perfect for you. It's not useful for a man who camps with dogs.

Equipoise on September 18, 2016:

How to keep your dog safe when you go to bear country - put him in a nice boarding kennel. End of problem.

Nancy on February 25, 2015:

I never take my dog in any camp. I usually bring them to dog hotel wherein I know my dog is safe.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 24, 2015:

Congrats on HOTD. We don't have dogs but our neighbours have and we are in bear country so they are very careful.

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on February 24, 2015:

Hi, I will be sure and read this again if I go camping in bear country. I love camping with my beagles. Nice informative hub with very good advice. Stella

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on February 24, 2015:

Love the photos of your dogs. Thank goodness in New Zealand we don't have bears in the wild, yes you would need to be careful not to encourage bears around it wouldn't be nice to come face to face with one.

Congratulations for the HOTD, very important subject if you live in bear country.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on February 24, 2015:

Congratulatioms on the HOTD award. A very well deserved hub. Thanks for the tips. Well done!

RTalloni on February 24, 2015:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this well done and important post that can help every camper, dog owner or not!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 24, 2015:

Well said. So many tips that are helpful for campers especially those who have never gone out with their pups before. We camped with our pup for years and she loved it.

Congrats on HOTD Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 24, 2015:

I would never camp in an area where I might encounter bears!! The places I enjoy camping has NO bears, so I can take my little dog with me.

Congrats on HOTD. Your dogs are very cute. Rufus reminds me of my own Min. Schnauzer.

ptosis from Arizona on February 24, 2015:

She is correct. Even a ziploc with food in my pocket will attract bear. I live in SE AZ and the black bears are small and skittish. 2 encounters, both times, napping. ALWAYS have dog on leash!. Not worried about the bears but the javelinas that will tear up a dog's face big time. Don't need to go hiking to see bear or javelinas! Wrote about my bear & dog experiences @ http://hub.me/acO4m (my dog) and http://hub.me/a6VfB (first ever bear encounter)

#1 Don't sleep where you eat!

#2 Never turn your back, go sideways to get out of line of sight

#3 MAKE NOISE. Learn that NYC taxi whistle or bang walking pole.

poetryman6969 on February 24, 2015:

The tip about food seems particularly important. Animals are looking for food so one way to avoid unpleasant encounters is to not leave out edibles.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on February 24, 2015:

Very interesting and useful article covering all the points that one may face while taking the dog on camps.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on February 24, 2015:

Wouldn't it be better just to leave the dog at a "dog hotel" while you are in bear country?

Michelle Dee from Charlotte, NC on May 13, 2014:

I also wondered about this subject and you covered it very well and it seems like very good advice. Rufus sure is a cutie! Thanks for sharing.


Camping with two or multiple dogs is not that hard (keeping their maintenance aside). For 2 dogs, you need to pack everything extra like extra food, extra ties, extra sleeping space, and last but not least you need to take care little extra.

Because when a dog has their companion, they tend to forget who is their owner and where they’re. If you don’t take care of their safety then chances are while playing they can go away from your sight.

But as we know about their great smelling ability they may find you before you find them. You might be thinking that I am very cautious or negative.

No, I am a very positive person but it is always better to know all the consequences of our actions so that we can walk with more clarity of what to do or not for unforgettable camping experiences.


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Pets at Pictured Rocks

Planning to visit with your pet?

Please make sure you know the rules and where you can go with your pet. We want you, your pet, other visitors and our wildlife to all be safe.

PLEASE REMEMBER to follow the B.A.R.K. Ranger rules:

  • Bag your pet's poop (and discard in a garbage can).
  • Always have your pet on a leash no longer than 6 feet (even on beaches and when swimming).
  • Respect wildlife (keep a respectful distance from any animals you may encounter).
  • Know where you can go (you are responsible to know where pets are and are not permitted)

Also, remember the following:

  • Pets should not be left unattended. Summer heat and sunshine pose a threat to pets in vehicles.
  • Pet food is also bear food so store pet food as if it were human food - in a vehicle.
  • Pets are not allowed in visitor centers.

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Service animals that have been individually trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of persons with disabilities are allowed throughout the park.

Emotional support/therapy animals are not service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act and may only access the same areas as pets. They can not access visitor centers, backcountry trails, or other areas closed to pets.

Pets can join you at these locations:

  • All Roads, Parking Lots, and Picnic Areas
  • Sand Point Beaches
  • Munising Falls Trail
  • Miners Falls Trail
  • Miners Castle - paved trail to Overlooks
  • Miners Beach
  • Au Sable Access Road to the Light Station
  • Lake Superior Overlook and Beach
  • Sable Falls Trail and Beach
  • All three drive in campgrounds: Little Beaver Lake,Twelvemile Beach, and Hurricane River Campgrounds
  • Lake Superior beaches directly in front of the campground and day-use areas

These areas are CLOSED to pets:

  • All North Country Scenic Trail segments that pass through the length of the park (trail is sometimes referred to as the Lakeshore Trail)
  • Sand Point Marsh Trail
  • Chapel Trails and Chapel Beach
  • Mosquito Trails and Mosquito Beach
  • All Backcountry Campgrounds/Campsites
  • Log Slide and nearby dunes
  • Grand Sable Dunes
  • All areas east of Miners Beach to the western edge of Twelvemile Beach Campground, including the entire Chapel-Grand Portal-Mosquito Loop Trails and beaches
  • All Trails and beaches within the Beaver Basin Wilderness
  • All Groomed Winter Ski Trails
  • No carrying in pets

Also remember: Though pets are permitted on boats on Lake Superior, they are not permitted on park beaches in the backcountry. This includes - but is not limited to - Mosquito and Chapel Beaches.

Why can't you take pets in certain areas of the park?

  • Pets may harass, scare, injure, or kill wildlife.
  • Pets may be injured by porcupines, bears or other wildlife.
  • Pets can intimidate or scare visitors.
  • Pets can become lost.
  • Pets can introduce diseases and pollute water, including through urine and poop. And wildlife or their urine or droppings can spread these diseases to pets and people.
  • Pets can disturb hikers and backcountry campers who expect a pet-free experience.

Hiking and backcountry camping with your pet outside Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

If you'd like to hike and backpack with your pets, there are trails and backcountry camping areas in nearby Hiawatha National Forest, Grand Island National Recreation Area and Michigan State Forests.

Pet Boarding

Do not leave your pet in the car while you hike, especially during hot weather! These local businesses can board your pets while you are enjoying the park:

Pet boarding - Northern Tails Pet Resort in Wetmore, MI (formerly Ruff n Reddy).
Phone 906-387-4035

Pet boarding (day use only) - Melstrand Union General Store in Melstrand, MI.
Phone 906-452-6100

Pictured Rocks Cruises will board pets of customers who take their boat cruise. Other private tour companies in the area may offer something similar.


How to Keep Your Dog Safe from Wild Animals

Last Updated: June 26, 2019 References

This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.

There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 4,888 times.

Wild animals can spread diseases or even potentially injure your dog. Make sure that it’s vaccinated against rabies, and take it to the vet at least once a year to keep vaccines up to date. If you let your dog play outside in your yard, avoid leaving it unsupervised. Keep the area free of food, water, and excrement to avoid attracting animals. When out for a walk, keep it leashed and be on the lookout for local wildlife. If you take your dog camping or hiking, keep a close eye on it and be extra thorough about leashing, keeping your site clean, and other safety precautions.


Watch the video: Falling Off Black Bear Pass


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