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Do you want to make the jump to vanlife, but think your dog is holding you back? Maybe you’re on the road already and keen to add a four-legged travelling companion?
Modern nomads have a number challenges to consider, mixed with the joys of vanlife. Along with working out where you’re going to stay for the night, you also need to be prepared for whatever life throws your way. From money and food through to work and fun, the carefree nature of vanlife actually takes a lot of consideration.
Your companions on the road affect your travelling experience more than anything else. Whether it’s a partner, a friend, or a dog, you need to get along if you’re going to share time and space. If you love animals just as much as you love the open road, adding a doggo or two to the pack can provide so much fun and put a fresh twist on your adventure.
There’s no denying it, sharing your life with a dog changes everything. With another living being to take care of, you have more to think about and additional challenges to overcome. Living in a van makes this even harder, because, more often than not, you need to take them with you on your daily adventures.
Challenges of vanlife with a dog
While most dog lovers are more than happy for another excuse to spend time with their best friend, this way of life may not be for everyone. Accessibility can be an issue, but, generally, you just have to change how you live and what you do. Taking your dog with you is possible in most situations, and there’s no place they’d rather be than right by your side.
If you’re a free or budget traveller, stealth living can be more difficult with dogs. While they can be trained, some dogs will bark and treat every new parking spot like it’s a new home to protect. If you’re trying to live a low key lifestyle by “parking” and not “camping”, a loud dog can be an obvious give-away.
For the most part, the life changes you’ll experience are positive and life affirming. You’ll certainly get to the park more, and if you’re on the coast, the beach will soon become a second home. Most people with dogs also do more exercise and spend more time in the sun. While not all people are cut out for this way of life, doggo vanlife is one of the best ways to make anywhere feel like home.
Staying cool and safe in the van
As much as you’d like to, you can’t take your dog absolutely everywhere. When you go to a restaurant, or shop for food and clothes, you may need to leave them outside the store or inside the van. This can be a tough decision to make, with each person needing to make their own choice based on the temperature, the weather, the location, and the individual dog.
When you do leave your dog in the van, you need to limit the time and make sure it’s not too hot. Dogs die in hot vehicles, so park in a shady spot, pull the curtains, and open the windows and vents for some fresh air. While this may mean driving around for longer or parking further away, it’s always worth it to know that your dog is safe.
If the environment inside the van is too hot for you, that means it’s too hot for your dog as well. While a cooling towel or collar can be a great addition to your life, you can’t rely on these things when you leave your dog unattended. You should always limit the time your dog spends in the van, especially if the temperature is likely to rise. If you’re travelling in cold climates, doggo clothing can be a comfortable and stylish option.
Long-term minding solutions
As much as you love spending time with your dog, there will come a time when you need to part. Whether it’s for a trip to a National Park, a prolonged shopping adventure, or a vacation from your endless vacation, doggy minders are a fantastic resource. Online services like Rover and Wag are widespread and easy to access, and there are also heaps of local options in most cities and towns.
Prices for minding services can vary considerably, but often for good reason. It’s important to do your homework by looking into vaccination and desexing requirements, activities, and the number of dogs being minded at any one time. The cheapest option is to ask friends and family, after all, who doesn’t like spending time with a new dog for a day or two.
Getting your dog ready for the road
While not all dogs are perfect for vanlife, the vast majority of them can be trained and prepared. If you’ve adopted a dog that’s been mistreated or has problems, a little extra work may be required. While the sheer size of some dogs makes them a challenge for standard vans, it all comes down to your own sense of personal space. Some people will only travel with smaller dogs, and others are more than happy to sleep alongside two or three large dogs.
When you’re getting prepared, the following questions are a great place to start:
Q. How social is your dog?
A. Early and frequent socialisation is one of the best things you can do for your dog. While getting on with dogs of all shapes and sizes is always important, it’s particularly critical when you’re living in a van. Exposing your dog to new surroundings and introducing them to new friends will help them be relaxed in any situation.
Q. How well trained is your dog?
A. When you’re on the road, you can’t afford to have an untrained dog. Training a dog properly is not a matter of breaking their spirit, but letting them reach their potential. If your dog is off-leash, they need to return on command. If your dog is around people they don’t know, they need to follow your lead. When travelling with a dog, you have even more responsibility to train them well.
Q. Is your dog desexed?
A. This is a contentious issue among some modern nomads, and, if truth be told, there are pros and cons either way. Regardless of what you do or don’t do, it’s important to own your decision and be responsible for it. An undesexed male dog may be more aggressive in certain situations, especially around other undesexed male dogs. Undesexed female dogs may fall pregnant or bleed all over your van. If you decide to leave everything intact, your dog may wander more and be harder to book into minding.
Q. Does your dog get anxiety or motion sickness?
A. This is an issue that may not come up until you hit the road. While most dogs are fine with road travel, some struggle with new places and others struggle with long distances and windy roads. If possible, expose your dog to different surroundings and scenarios before you hit the road, including overnight trips and long highway journeys.
Vets, vaccinations and health issues
No-one loves your dog more than you, so it’s your responsibility to take care of their healthcare needs. From vaccinations and prescriptions through to documentation, preparation is the key to a healthy and happy doggo. As a full-time or part-time traveller, you’re unlikely to have a regular vet to keep you updated on vaccination schedules. In order to keep your dog safe, you need to take on this responsibility yourself.
Vaccination is absolutely critical for dogs, with a number of common diseases capable of wiping out your best friend if he or she is unprotected. While it’s always important, vaccination is even more critical when you’re on the road in new places with exposure to unknown dogs. Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious virus that can kill dogs, with other core vaccinations protecting against distemper, canine hepatitis, and rabies.
Along with the core DHPP schedule, there are a number of optional vaccinations that may or may not make sense when you’re travelling. Despite nationwide standards, there can be significant discrepancies between veterinary association guidelines and those produced by vaccination companies. When it comes to the core schedule, it’s best to do your own research and make sure your vet or vets are following best practice guidelines rather than just doing the minimum. When it comes to the DHPP schedule, boosters are important.
When you’re on the road, you’re likely to come into contact with multiple vets, so ask for documentation from each one and keep your own records. It’s up to you at the end of the day, so keep a folder with your vaccination schedule, blood tests, diagnosis and incident reports, and prescription information, along with the contact information of every vet you’ve visited. If your dog needs regular prescriptions, remember to stay stocked and get more than you need if possible.
Tips for doggo vanlife
While they are mostly common sense, the following tips will help you love your dog and appreciate your travelling life even more than you currently do.
No-one likes a wet and smelly dog, let alone a wet and smelly bed. Even though dogs smell a lot better than most people think, there will be times when cleaning is required. A dedicated dog towel is great for getting rid of sand after the beach, and vans are much faster and easier to clean than houses. Along with cleaning your own space, it’s also important to pick up your dog poop and keep the world beautiful.
Maintaining the perfect climate
While you don’t need reverse cycle air-conditioning or a wood fire, you do need to think about the comfort of all humans and doggos on-board. Install a vent fan for good airflow, buy reflective window coverings, and make sure everyone is hydrated at all times. Because vans have wheels, the best way to control the climate is to drive somewhere new.
Get the right gear
Having the right gear makes all the difference when you have a dog. From a leash and harness through to a dog bed and carrier, every dog has different needs. A fresh and always updated selection of dog toys is also a must, just don’t buy anything too squeaky that’s likely to drive you insane.
Taking regular breaks
Just like kids, travelling with dogs means taking extra toilet and exercise breaks. Slowing down is a good thing most of the time anyway, so plan ahead and take extended meal breaks with dog walks included. While you might take breaks for the good of the dog, the driver and human passengers will also benefit from stretching their legs.
Dog parks and beaches
When you’re travelling with dogs, you’ll probably find yourself navigating the country by dog parks and beaches. This is not a bad way to live, with most cities and towns providing dedicated space where your dog can get off-leash. When you’re living a nomadic lifestyle away from regular friends and family, this can be a great way to socialise your dogs and make some new friends along the way.
Training and trust
Regardless of where you spend the night, living with a dog is much better when there’s mutual respect and trust. It’s important to train your dog properly so they can be in new environments and go off-leash without stressing you out. Sit, stay, and come on command are the absolutely minimum, with a dog that responds to your calls much more likely to embrace the opportunities of vanlife.
With your best friend by your side and the open road unfolding before you, doggo vanlife can be an amazing way to live. While lots of full-time and part-time travellers avoid getting a dog because they think it’s too much work, it’s mostly a matter of making small adjustments and taking responsibility for your new role and relationship. If you love vanlife and love doggos, combining both is sure to leave you with a long and lasting smile.