Vanlife With a Dog: Everything You Need to Know

By: Scott Adamson
/ May 5, 2020
Searching #VANLIFE on Instagram can often bring out 2 strong urges for aspiring Vanlifers…
  1. Sell belongings and hit the road.
  2. Go rescue a dog to bring along for the journey.

Much like having somewhere to cook and a bed to sleep in, having your four-legged compadre along for the ride is at the top of the priority list for a lot of Vanlifers, myself included.

My dog, Ellie, is a huge reason my van feels like home. I’m a solo Vanlife traveler so she is all the family I have while on the road. 

Understandably, I get a lot of questions about living in a van with a dog. For that reason, Ellie and I have rounded up our main Q&A’s on this very important subject.

Can you leave your dog alone in the van?

A lot of people ask me if I ever leave Ellie alone in the van. The short answer to this is – yes, sometimes. But only for short periods of time.

The decision to leave your dog alone in the van really depends on your van setup and the heating/cooling systems you have in place, which I will dive into soon.

My van has a heating and cooling mechanism, as well as lots of space for Ellie to roam. Not all vans are converted the same way, so the ability to leave your dog in the van unattended for short periods of time might not always be an option.

Do I leave my dog in the van for the entire day? Absolutely not.

My version of vanlife allows me to bring Ellie almost anywhere I go. That’s just the way I’ve designed my life. I generally don’t venture to places that aren’t dog-friendly.

How do you keep your dog from overheating in the van?

Keeping your dog cool is one of the most important things you need to consider, whether you’re living on the road full time or taking a long road trip.

There are inevitably going to be times where your dog needs to be left in the van, like when you need to run into the grocery store.

If you’re ever in the position where you need to leave your dog in the van when it’s warm outside, here is what you should be doing to keep your dog safe:

1) Park your van in the shade

By parking in the shade, you may be sacrificing the amount of solar you can generate during the day but you will be amazed by the drastic difference it makes in keeping the inside of your van at a cooler temperature.

2) Keep a ceiling fan and floor fan running

I have a ceiling fan that I always keep running to help circulate the air inside the van. As an addition, for Ellie, I installed a 12v floor fan that keeps air moving down low, where she lays. So no matter where she sits in the van, she always has a nice breeze to enjoy.

3) Leave extra drinking water

One of the easiest things you could possibly do to help your dog stay cool in the van is to leave out extra water for them to drink and stay cool.

4) Use shades to cover your windows

Whenever leaving the van, I always recommend hanging window shades. This does 2 things:

  1. Reflects heat outward
  2. Adds privacy

Installing all of the window covers will drastically cut down on the amount of heat that can enter the van. It also prevents people from being able to look inside your home-on-wheels and make wrong assumptions about the state of danger that your dog is in.

Side tip: I know some people who will leave a note on their dash to let people know their dog is okay and temperature-controlled, so this is also an idea.

5) Install an Air Conditioning system

I currently don’t have a 12v air conditioning system in my van but I am considering this for my next build. I will likely install it in the rear of the van so as I spend more time in warmer climates I can better regulate the temperature inside the living area.

I will do by best to keep you updated on this.

6) Simply don’t leave your dog inside the van if it’s too hot

Ultimately, DO NOT leave your dog in the van if you’re unable to maintain a cool temperature while you’re away.

How do you keep your dog warm in colder climates? 

If you plan on traveling in colder climates, it’s also very important to know how to keep your dog warm in the van.

After doing some quick reading online I found several sources that say anything below 32°F can cause hypothermia and frostbite to your dog. 

How I have solved this is by installing an Espar Diesel Heater in my van. I leave this running any time I am away from the vehicle so that Ellie is comfortable at a nice 17°C (62.6°F)  even when it’s -30°C (-22°F) outside.  

Regarding temperature management, I know in some climates the solutions I provided above are just not going to be adequate to properly ensure the safety of your dog. In those cases, the simplest answer is that you cannot leave your dog alone in the vehicle in those climates. 

Where do you park and camp when van living with your dog?

Where you plan to park overnight really depends on the type of van life you’re living. But here are the most common options:

Campgrounds

You won’t have a problem finding developed campgrounds that allow pets, but most will require them to be leashed at all times.  The decision to bring your dog into a campground will likely be more about the type of dog you have.

Are they dog-aggressive? Do they bark a lot? Are they friendly with kids who might run around?

Dispersed Camping

Camping on public lands but away from developed recreation facilities is referred to as dispersed camping. Unless otherwise indicated, a majority of National Forest and public land is free and available to use for up to 14 days (with exceptions, of course).

I like dispersed camping for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s almost always free.
  • Ellie can roam free! (She is used to being off-leash so this is ideal for her)

National Parks (with exceptions)

A lot, if not most, National Parks have strict rules about pets. Dogs are often not allowed outside of developed camp areas (such as trails). So while you may be able to camp overnight with your pet, you may not be able to venture onto the trails with them, inside the park.

So be sure to research the park you plan on visiting before venturing out. Some parks are much more dog-friendly than others.

Doesn’t your van get full of dog hair?

Having a dog (or any pet, for that matter) in the van will inevitably mean there will be some dog hair and extra mud/dust brought in from your adventures outside.

Thankfully, the van is a small area and only takes a few minutes to clean. All you need to do is a quick sweep and wipe down for the place to be spick and span again!

Let your dog be a dog but be prepared to tidy them up before they re-enter the van. Keep some towels handy and use deodorizing pet spray to avoid bringing the trail dust back into your van.

What do I need to pack for vanlife with my dog?

Here is a list of the items you should make sure to pack when van living with your dog:

  • Food & food storage
  • Food & water dishes
  • Long/short leash & harness
  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Brush
  • Collar with an ID tag
  • Dog bed / blanket
  • LED Light for their collar
  • Poo bags
  • Towels for wiping paws and wet fur
  • Deodorizing pet spray

What else do I need to know about van living with my dog?

Here are some final things to keep in mind if you plan on bringing your dog with you on the road:

  1. Be sure to get your dog caught up on all of its shots before you head out on a long journey.
  2. It’s a good idea to keep digital copies of your dog’s paperwork if you ever need to provide proof of vaccinations or take your dog to a new vet.

 

Having my dog with me in my van is one of the best parts of vanlife. Dogs can make any place feel like a home so I would encourage you to consider bringing them along.

People often look to this nomad lifestyle to find more mindfulness, minimalism, and outdoor adventure. Dogs help you to focus on all of those things so they make incredible co-pilots on this journey.

And from their perspective, what better life could they be living than full-time adventures with their favorite humans??

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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