Everything You Need To Know About Van Life With Dogs

What To Consider Before Bringing Your K9 Companion to Your Van Life Adventures

Many people who choose to follow the van life don’t do it alone! Pets are common companions for many people who transition to full-time life on the road. Van life with dogs is fun, but you should keep a few things in mind before you bring your furry friend along for the ride.

Some dogs just aren’t cut out for this kind of life, so try to make sure that your dog’s size, breed, and personality will be a good fit for van life. There are many things you can do to make this lifestyle more comfortable for them, though.

Below we have some things that every prospective dog owner should keep in mind before they try van life with dogs. Some are about safety, while others are about your dog’s health and happiness. Follow our advice, and your pup should be ready for a lifetime of adventure!

Dogs Need Time to Adjust to A Van

Maintain a Routine

First of all, moving into a van is a big transition for most dogs. Some of them might not mind trips in the car, but it’s tough to live in a space like this 24/7. To help ease them into it, start by maintaining a regular routine.

If a dog lived in a house before this, they probably had specific times when they ate, slept, and had potty breaks. Try to follow this pattern as you move them into a van. They’ll feel more comfortable if they maintain a routine.

Start with Short Trips

It might be tempting to load up the van and embark on a cross-country tour with your dog. But if they’re not used to traveling, this can be a nightmare for everyone involved. Instead, start off with short trips. Get them used to the van and drive around your town.

Visit places that your dog might enjoy, like a dog park or a nearby hiking trail. Give them lots of treats and positive reinforcement, so they associate the van with good feelings. If your dog is comfortable with these short outings, try a weekend getaway with them. If that goes well, you can start taking longer and longer trips. Just make sure you ease into it!

Tire Them Out

A tired dog is a happy dog! Some pets get anxious when they travel. If they have too much energy and stress, they can act out and cause damage to your van. They also might distract you while driving, which is dangerous for everyone.

If you have a long travel day ahead of you, try to tire your dog out. Take a long hike or walk, or let them run wild at the beach. Let them play with dogs at the dog park to their heart’s content. Once they’re tuckered out, they’ll be much more agreeable to a long car ride. It’s the perfect chance to sleep and regain their energy.

Create a Safe Space

Although many dogs are happy to hang out with their owners, sometimes they need a quiet space to help them calm down and feel comfortable. Try to create a place within the van that your dog can retreat to if they need some alone time. This might be a kennel, a space under the bed, or just a cozy spot on the couch. Give them their privacy if they go to the designated area.

It might be hard to carve out space for a dog if you live in a van, but every pet should have its own area. There are clever ways to incorporate a kennel into the space, such as building it underneath seating or storing it under the bed. Not every dog needs a kennel, but ensure they have enough space to rest.

Use Medication if Necessary

Despite all the tips above, some dogs just don’t travel well. If your pet is too anxious to handle long trips, you may want to speak to your vet about medication that will keep them calm during travel. Some dogs might also get motion sickness, so keep this in mind as well when you ask for medication.

It’s hard to accept, but some dogs will never fully adjust to life on the road. If your dog is always stressed, anxious, and sick, maybe it’s time to consider rehoming them or creating a more permanent setup. Van life with dogs is great, but you should always place their health and wellbeing first.

You’ll Have to Clean More Frequently

Vacuum/Sweep Daily

Next up, prepare to deal with a dirty van! Some dog breeds are cleaner than others, but van life with a dog will always be dirtier than van life without a dog. They introduce hair, dander, and drool into your environment. Plus, if you take them on adventures, they’ll track dirt, sand, pollen, and other debris all over the floors and furniture. It’s just part of the deal.

To stay on top of the mess, it’s a good idea to vacuum or sweep the van daily. Small handheld vacuums like this one are ideal for vanlifers. Don’t forget to clean the furniture and wash your bedding frequently as well.

Remove Rugs and Carpet

In addition, you may need to change the van itself to make it more dog-friendly. Although carpeting and rugs can add some style and comfort to your van, they are magnets for messes. Consider removing these, so you have an easier time keeping the van clean.

Make Frequent Pitstops

We all know that dogs need regular potty breaks. Unfortunately for travelers, this means you’ll have to stop more frequently during your journey. Try to follow your dog’s regular routine during travel days and pay attention to their sounds of distress. If your dog has an anxious bladder, they may need to stop more often during long trips.

When you do stop, try to make it a good experience for your dog. Give them enough time to do their business, then spend a few minutes playing fetch, feeding them treats and relaxing. Although it may mess with your travel plans, these stops are good for you and your dog.

Prepare for Runaways and Emergencies

Microchips, Collars, and GPS Trackers

Despite our best efforts, sometimes dogs may slip off the leash and run away. This is scary, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area and don’t know where to look. This is why microchips are so important! They can help you locate your dog if someone finds them and turns them in to a local shelter.

If you want an active way to track your missing pet, you can put a GPS tracker on their collar. This will help you find them before someone else does. Another good way to regain your lost dog is to put your name and contact information on their collar. People who find your dog will know that they have an owner and will have a way to contact you.

Leash Frequently

Even though you may trust your dog to stay close to you and not run off, accidents happen. If your dog is scared by something or wants to chase a toy or animal, they may get separated from you. Keep them on a leash when you travel to a new area, especially if it’s somewhere you could easily lose sight of them (like a crowded city or a heavily forested trail).

Keep Vaccination Records and Health Information on Hand

If you need to seek medical attention for your dog, make sure you have the proper information on hand. Those who enjoy van life with a dog will have to accept that they won’t get consistent care from the same vet. Because you’ll be new almost every time, you need to keep your dog’s health records with you.

Prepare Your Van for Hot and Cold Weather

Improve Van Insulation

Sometimes you can’t take your dog everywhere you go. If you must leave them alone in your van, make preparations to keep them as safe as possible. Begin by improving your van’s insulation. Cover windows with reflective covers to deflect heat. Don’t leave your dog alone for any longer than necessary!

Leave Water Available and Keep A/C or Fans Running

Sometimes it’s hot outside, and you won’t improve the situation by opening windows or letting your dog outside. In these cases, make sure your dog has access to plenty of water. Also, keep the interior cool with fans or the air conditioner. Monitor the temperature of your van while you’re away with an app or alert of some kind.

Find Help If You Can’t Keep The Van Safe

If you can’t create a suitable environment inside your van while you’re away, it might be prudent to find a doggy daycare facility nearby to care for them during the day.

You’ll Need to Choose Pet-Friendly Campgrounds

Finally, van life with dogs limits your choices of campgrounds. Most are pet-friendly, but some may have limits on the size or number of pets you can bring. Make sure you do your research ahead of time so you don’t have a last-minute scramble for where to stay.

Also, be a good neighbor when you camp. Pick up after your dog, keep them leashed, and try to discourage barking or disruptive behavior.

  • Emily Lawrence lives in Idaho with her husband Nathan. Despite the cold winters in this area, it's Emily's favorite season! She loves to spend time skiing, roadtripping, and just exploring the outdoors.

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