We like to write about topics we get a lot of questions about. One thing we get asked about quite frequently is living on the road with a dog. It’s definitely something we were concerned about before hitting the road with our 85 lb pitbull, Snoop.
You see, our situation was a little unique in that Snoop is a senior dog with pretty bad arthritis. We set out to explore and hike and discover new places, and sometimes Snoop can’t come with us on those adventures. But throughout our first year of vanlife, we’ve learned that there’s always a way to make it work and that not every dog is cut out for vanlife. We feared that Snoop may not be the best fit because he’s not as active as he used to be, but instead we learned that he’s the perfect van dog in different ways. His calm, relaxed demeanor makes it easy to have him off-leash, leave him in the van when we go for long hikes, and meet new dogs on a daily basis. What we thought would be drawbacks ended up being great qualities for a doggo on the road.
How is Vanlife different with a dog?
It’s also important to know what it means to have a dog on the road. The questions we get most often are “how often do you leave your dog in the van?” and “how do you keep them comfortable?” Our answer to the first question is pretty much never! Being trapped in a car is no way for a dog to live and leaving them alone in there should really only be a last resort. You should count on having your dog with you about 90% of the time. That means you might have to tailor your plans to accommodate your dog, but that's what we do because we'd do anything for our furry family members!
Now, it’s not possible to have your dog with you every waking minute. You’ll eventually have to leave them in the van to grocery shop or go anywhere that dogs are prohibited, and when you do, your dog’s comfort is what’s most important.
Keeping them Cool
Our general rule when in comes to leaving Snoop in the van is if we’re too hot, then he’ll be too hot. We’ll park in a shaded spot, crack windows in front and back and turn on our fan/vent to create a cross breeze, close our blackout thermal curtains to keep the sun out, and turn on our portable evaporative air cooler, and if it’s still uncomfortable for us, we don’t leave Snoop in the van and alter our plans. No matter what we needed to do, it’s not worth putting him in danger. Another great thing to have on hand is a cooling towel or cooling collar when you are in especially hot climates.
Keeping them Warm
There’s only so much we can do to keep Snoop warm because we don’t have a heat source in our van. And because we don’t have a heat source, we rarely find ourselves in really cold places. If we do have to leave him in the van when it’s cold, we’ll blast the heat from the front vents and get it nice a toasty before we leave. Then, of course, there’s his warm (and stylish) sweater.
Other options for leaving your dog alone
If you have to leave your dog alone for a longer period of time, there are great services like Rover and Doggy Vacay that you can utilize. These services connect you with a person in the area who can take care of your dog so you never have to board them at a kennel. I actually used to be a dog sitter on Rover myself!
Knowing if your dog is cut out for Vanlife
What I’m getting at is that every dog and every situation is different, and if you’re looking to transition to a mobile lifestyle with your dog, making sure that they’re going to love the vanlife as much as you do is so important. For example, if you have a dog that gets motion sickness, is anxious in new place, doesn’t like other dogs, or can’t be off-leash, vanlife may not be ideal for them.
That being said, there’s always room for training! Here are a few things you can do to prepare your dog for vanlife:
Get your pup used to being off leash - start by letting them off the leash for short periods of time and reward them graciously with scratches and treats whenever they come to you.
Expose your dog to different surroundings - some dogs get anxious in places they aren’t familiar with, so expose your dogs to different environments and different people as much as you can.
Practice leaving them in the car - if they aren’t used to being left in a vehicle, start by leaving them for just a few minutes at a time. As you gradually leave them for longer periods, they’ll be able to relax because they know you’ll always come back.
Social them with dogs of all shapes and sizes - your dog doesn’t have to be best buds with every dog they meet on the road, but it’s so much easier when they can get a long with most other doggos. You’d be surprised how many dogs they meet on a daily basis! Snoop makes a lot of new friends (and girlfriends) on the road:
Being prepared for going to new vets
You know, I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t know much on this topic. However, Snoop has seen a lot of vets on the road. He has some health issues like arthritis and hypothyroidism, and he’s also just had some bizarre things happen to him on the road.
Here's a rundown of what's happened this past year:
He had a severe reaction to a bee sting on his toe.
That sting ultimately caused a nasty infection that killed his nail AND quick.
A benign golfball-sized tumor was removed from his gums.
There was a bone cancer scare. (it was terrifying)
We found out he has hypothyroidism.
And he just recently had five masses removed from his backside. One was potentially cancerous, the other four were removed as preventative measures.
So we’ve seen our fair share of vets, all in different places. Hopefully you won’t be at an animal hospital as much as we have been, but it’s important to be prepared for a visit. The best thing you can do is keep a file or binder with all of their medical history in it so that new vets can be caught up quickly.
Here’s what I keep in Snoop’s binder:
Every blood test or X-ray he’s ever had done
Contact information of every vet he’s ever been to
Doctor reports from diagnoses, incidents, and surgical procedures
Documentation of all current and past prescriptions
Snoop has two prescriptions he takes daily and refilling them on the road can be a real pain, especially because vets won’t refill medications they didn’t prescribe. I’ve found that the best thing you can do it be upfront with your veterinarian about your lifestyle and ask for as much medication as possible at one time. Every vet I’ve asked to do that has always accommodated me. One time, a vet ordered a whole bottle (180 count) of Snoop's arthritis medication just for me.
When your dog runs out of medication while you’re in a place you’ve never been before, there are pretty much two options:
If it’s a medication humans take, you can have your vet call it in to a nearby pharmacy.
If that’s not an option, unfortunately you’ll have to make an appointment with a vet and pay to have your dog seen. If you’re fully equipped with your handy dandy medical binder, they’ll have no problem refilling their prescription.
A few things that make vanlife with a dog easier:
Collapsable bowls for hiking or any excursion away from the van
A spill-proof bowl for inside the van - we learned this was important in a small space after Pete stepped on and spilled Snoops water bowl about 100 times.
A food bag that keeps food fresh and takes up little space - here’s the one we use: http://amzn.to/2DGhmL3
A “dog towel” for wiping off your dog when it’s muddy or after trips to the beach
Benadryl - in case they get stung by a bee or other insects
Baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar to make an odor-neutralizing wash if your dog happens to get sprayed by a skunk
Hydrogen peroxide and activated charcoal - if your dog eats something toxic, you can give your dog hydrogen peroxide to make them throw it up. Activated charcoal also helps absorb toxic substances your dog may ingest
Overall, it’s all about giving your dog the best life possible. Whether that’s in a house, an apartment, or in a van. If you have any further questions don’t be afraid to leave them in the comments!