Picture this: Long flapping ears and a sticky tongue hanging out in the wind cruising down a deserted dirt road. You pull to a stop and your favorite van life dog hops out and runs wild. You grab your bicycle and you both spend hours exploring miles of wilderness. Van Life with a dog is a truly special experience and it is completely possible.
Van Life with a dog is a completely different experience than without. Dogs get you outdoors, keep you moving and they make every day a new adventure! Even in the city, we find ourselves exploring just so the dogs are able to have their fun for the day. We spent 4 years of vanlife with our dogs and we wouldn’t trade a single second.
However, van life with dogs also has its downsides. You can’t always go wherever you want and it’s imperative that you keep them as your number one consideration anywhere you go. Either way, there is no feeling like snuggling with your pup BFF and enjoying the view from your van at the end of the day. So if you have a pup or are thinking about getting a dog to join you on the road then check out these tips and top items for your van life dog!
Post Updated 5/2022 and originally written 1/2020
Can You Do Van Life With a Dog?
Yes, you can absolutely do van life with a dog! Not only is it possible to have a van life dog, but we think it makes the journey that much sweeter. However, if you are going to bring your dog along with you or get a dog for vanlife you do need to keep a few things in mind including what you will be doing during your van life journey and if they will enjoy those activities!
What is the Best Dog For Van Life?
I would love to say that all dogs are good dogs for van life, but that wouldn’t be completely true. However, I don’t believe it has anything to with the breed of dog you bring. Any dog breed is a dog van life dog. What you need to consider are your dog’s habits. Do they enjoy car rides? Are they active? Are they good around dogs?
When you live in your van, you will be traveling a lot and if they are prone to getting car sick, it won’t be a fun adventure for either of you. If you are planning on doing a lot of hiking, can they come with you or are you able to carry them in a dog backpack? If your dog is reactive or aggressive, you need to make sure you are ready to ensure they are in a completely safe environment at all times?
So in my opinion a good dog for van life is one that you know would enjoy living in a van with you and one you have time to be with 100% of the time. It’s not fair to leave your dogs in the campervan for extended periods of time.
Can You Leave Your Dog in a Camper?
In theory, yes you can leave your dog in a camper van, for a short period of time. However, it’s important that you keep a few things in mind. For example, what is the temperature like outside? Is it too cool or too hot? Make sure the temperature inside your van feels good to you. You should never leave your dog inside the van where they can get too hot or too cold. It’s cruel and unfair.
Also, make sure and never leave your dogs unattended for too long. Although our vans are our homes, it’s not quite the same when leaving your dog. They are in a new place and may feel uneasy. Make sure they are super comfy, have access to water and you are able to monitor your van.
How Do You Keep a Dog Cool in a Van?
It’s important to keep your van life dog cool inside your campervan. The number one thing you can do is to avoid hot weather. The next step is to make sure you have proper vanlife insulation. If you have already bought your van then make sure you have a campervan fan or even a van life air conditioner.
How Do You Keep a Dog Warm in a Van?
Hey snowbirds, I’m talking to you. So you want to go skiing, but don’t want to board your pup? The best thing you can do for your dog is to purchase a campervan diesel heater. They go under your seat and run off of diesel or gas from your van fuel tank. I do not recommend portable heaters as they can be very unsafe!
Also, make sure your pups have access to your bed with tons of blankets that they can dive into!
Can You Take Your Dogs to National Parks?
Yes and no. Most National Parks only allow your van life dog to walk around on paved areas such as the parking lot. There are a few parks such as Acadia and White Sands National Parks that allow your dog on most trails. That however is the exception and not the rule. This is why it’s important you think hard about the items you are wanting to check off your bucket list. If national parks are one of them, it will be a little harder to do that with your pup.
Can You Do Van Life With a Puppy?
Yes, you can. But van life with a puppy is an entirely different world than with a mature dog. Puppies require frequent potty time which means longer trips are harder to do, they require more playtime, and you have to watch them AT ALL TIMES. Even leaving them in the van for a few minutes can turn into something getting chewed up or a possible potty accident. As an example, when Jax was a puppy we left him in the van while we went into the grocery store. When we came back we found my $100 Macbook charger torn to shreds. Totally our fault but an unfortunate lesson to learn.
A few things you can do to make the process smoother for your van life puppy is to make sure they have dog toys to keep them entertained. Some of our favorite things are antler bones, West Paw toys, and plenty of treats.
16 Tips for Vanlife With a Dog
The key to a happy life with your vanlife pup all comes down to you. When you are willing to do the research and learn how to properly keep your dog trained then you will both end up happy. Below are some top tips to keep you and your dog healthy, exercised, and happy in vanlife.
Psst: Looking for van life with a cat? I’ve got you covered!
1. Exercise Your Dog
If I could only give you one tip for vanlife with dogs, it would be to make sure they have their exercise. A tired pup doesn’t chew things up, whine, or act out. A tired pup is a happy pup. We try to take our dogs on a walk every single morning. This way they are starting their day with a long walk outside the van and are usually happy to take a mid-morning nap while we get some computer work done.
Then another walk mid-day and or even a long hike. If you aren’t out in the middle of nowhere then check out reviews and find a good dog park in the area. They don’t have an entire house to roam so they need as much safe off-leash time as possible.
Our favorite way to exercise our pups was through bike rides. They ran like wild men and were absolutely exhausted afterward.
2. Stay Up-to-Date On Vaccinations and Flea/Tick Meds
You and your pup are now dogs of the world, heading to places you may have never been. Not to mention bugs and diseases that your pup is not safe against. Before heading out, make sure your dog has all their vaccinations, including ones that your vet may not administer in your area.
Then ALWAYS make sure you have several months’ supply of flea/tick and heartworm medicine. If you are worried about a vet on the road, you could consider a national chain that will keep your dog’s records no matter where you are in the US.
4. Have Vaccination Records Handy
Speaking of vaccinations, make sure to have a physical copy and a digital copy of your dog’s vaccination records. Not to mention their rabies tag.
3. Have Dog Toys To Keep Them Entertained
There are going to be times when you can’t entertain your pup. Maybe you need to pop into the grocery store or get a few hours of work done. Even with proper exercise the best van life dog will get bored and deserves to have toys to keep their mind busy! Make sure you always have fun toys that your dog enjoys chewing on or playing with.
4. Properly Train Your Van Life Dog
Many van life dogs are trained to be off-leash. Although you can do this while on the road, it would be very beneficial to begin your training before your leave. Spending the extra time and money to make sure you have a well-behaved pup will make sure life so much easier on the road.
5. Utilize Window Covers and a Vent Fan
Honestly, you should have both van life window covers and a vent fan regardless of your pup but it’s even more imperative when you have a dog with you on the road. The window shades will keep your pup cool in the summer and warmer in the winter, not to mention it might keep people from worrying about your pup.
6. Never Leave the Dogs Behind
Yes, you can thank Brianna Madia for that line.
Before vanlife, we didn’t think about taking the dogs with us everywhere we went. Sure we would try to go to the brewery or find local restaurants that allowed pups but in the end, we never felt too terribly guilty about leaving the dogs to go out to eat for an hour or two. After all, they had a huge apartment to run around in. All of that changed when we started living in our van. We can’t go to the grocery store without feeling a pang of guilt that we shouldn’t be doing anything without our dogs.
This is why it is super helpful to plan ahead and learn how to find the places that allow dogs to come alongside you, whether that’s on a hike, to the bar, or a coffee shop.
7. Find Dog-Friendly Restaurants & Bars
The most important thing you can do to make van life with your dog easier is to bring the pups with you whenever you can! You live in a small space and they deserve to be out with you! Most places that have a patio will allow dogs. Restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries are great places to bring your dog so you can both get some time outside of the van. Usually, I check BringFido (a website dedicated to helping you find dog-friendly activities) or simply give the local business a call!
Having dogs in van life means that you need to think of them wherever you head to or go next. From city life to secluded areas, you need to do your research ahead of time to accommodate your dogs. If you want to check out a restaurant in town or head to the coffee shop then it’s important that you find places that will let you bring your pups with you especially when it’s hot out.
For restaurants, activities, and hotels we always use Bring Fido. It’s a great resource for your all-around dog-friendly activities near you. The downside to Bring Fido is there often isn’t enough information on the location and you might find yourself at a coffee shop that only allows dogs on the patio.
To compliment Bring Fido we always check yelp for local city places and often we will simply take the extra step and call the establishment. That way there is no confusion and you don’t waste time.
8. Utilize Off-Leash Dog Parks
Some of our favorite experiences with the dogs have been at local off-leash dog parks. There are some beautiful hundred-acre off-leash dog parks in several parts of the united states. You can find several great ones by checking out my list of off-leash dog parks in the United States!
To find your own, simply use Google and check out the reviews to get an idea of what kind of dog parks there are in the area. You will find small simple fenced in dog-parks to spacious parks and beaches where your dog will feel completely free.
9. Go on Dog-Friendly Hikes
I personally use AllTrails to find dog-friendly hikes near me, which allows you to filter the hikes that allow dogs on the trail. Bringing your pup on hikes with you is one of the great joys of doing vanlife with a dog. You get to spend so much time with them that you probably wouldn’t get to spend if you lived in a house or apartment.
You can use AllTrails by hitting the “filter” and searching for dog-friendly hikes in the area. It’s super easy to use and I highly recommend it. Don’t forget to add your reviews as this is what keeps the app going!
10. Know the Rules for National Parks with a Dog
When you are a van lifer or on the road full-time then chances are you want to check some National Parks off your list. This is a completely reasonable thing to want to do, unfortunately, if you have a dog going to National parks can be a little difficult.
Most National Parks are not super dog-friendly and can keep you off the really awesome trails. However, the good thing is that most National Parks allow you to bring your dog in through your vehicle and they can be anywhere your car can be. This means paved roads and parking lots plus some campgrounds.
National Parks with dogs resources:
11. Hire a Dog Sitter
When you live with your dog in a van there are going to be times when you need to be away for a few hours. Maybe there is a National Park hike that you are dying to take or you are heading to a festival that doesn’t allow dogs. The reasons go on why you might need a few hours or days where your pup can’t be with you.
In that case, I recommend Rover. Rover is a dog-sitting and walking platform that allows you to find locals who you can handpick to watch your pup! We have used Rover often when we lived in Seattle and would totally do so again if needed!
12. Download Van Life Dog Apps
The advantage of living in a digital age is that there are so many resources right at our fingertips. When you are on the road and want to find great places that are dog-friendly the best thing you can do is plan ahead. Do this by utilizing apps that are known for helping you find dog-friendly restaurants, accommodations, hiking, parks, and more!
Bring Fido, All Trails, and Yelp are there to help you find the places that are dog-friendly. Be warned that sometimes if a place is “dog-friendly” it may only mean outside on their patio. If you are unsure, it’s best to call ahead.
Top 8 Van Life dog essentials
Vanlife has its own challenges. Vanlife with a dog can be even more challenging. Worrying about leaving your dog in the car when you go grocery shopping, how to keep them from chewing everything up, and overall making sure they are happy are the main concerns when your pet lives with you in the van. Below are some of my favorite items that I believe help make vanlife with a dog much easier.
The saving grace at the end of every night for Shawn and I are a chew toy for our puppy Jax. His favorite item that he can’t actually destroy is deer antlers. These can become fairly pricey when you buy them from a pet store so we opted to buy a pack for around $25. They contain 6 and are usually 3-5inches long. We have had our pack of 6 for 6 months now and still have 3 left.
They are great for keeping him entertained when we are relaxing at night and Jax still has energy left to spare. A bonus is that they don’t leave any gunk behind which is a bonus when you live in your van!
2. Dog Chew Toys
If you have had a rowdy puppy before then you know that all the toys claiming to be “tough” and “last longer” are usually full of it. Most toys we have gotten our puppy have lasted us at most a few days. Jax takes one look and becomes OCD about finding the squeaker or getting to the center of a ball.
The only toy we have found that will actually last when he wants to chew on it is a West Paw Hurley. It’s not the most flashy toy and frankly, it looks a little obscene to me BUT it’s lasted us months now. It’s another great option for a toy we don’t have to monitor our dog playing with.
3. West Paw Frisbee
My partner Shawn loves to play frisbee. I think a requirement for being Shawn’s dog is to be able to play frisbee and it is lucky for Jax that he loves it as equally. After finding how durable the West Paw Hurley was we found just how great the West Paw Zisk was as well. The Zisc is flexible, flies far, is easy to toss, and can withstand a little chewing.
4. Outward Houd Dog Food Bowl
Most puppies eat too fast. They gobble up their food in an instant and then have the huge adorable puppy belly to show for it. The bad news is, in a van, that is a recipe for trouble. The last thing you want is a dog with an upset belly when you have an hour or two drive ahead of you.
The only thing that worked for us is a kibble diverter. It’s a great way to entertain your pup’s mind and keep them from eating too fast. Eventually, Jax got bored of it and we transitioned him to a regular bowl.
5. Quality Leash & Harness
We have gone through many dog leashes. In fact, we tend to make our own and those are typically our favorite ones. However, a great option, if you don’t want to DIY a lead rope, is the Ruffwear Knot-a-leash and for older pups a simple harness and leash work great.
6. Dog Backpack
Do you have an older dog who can’t go as far on hikes or maybe you have a small dog that loves to be outside but can’t make it on the more skilled trails? We have an older dachshund and as much as he wants to go on the long rocky hikes, he simply shouldn’t be putting that much pressure on his back. We found out about this bag from Erin Ortiz and she was spot on!
So for those long hikes, we bring along our Timbuktu Mutt Mover. It is wider than a normal dog pack so our dachshund is able to fit sideways in the bag and not put pressure on his vertebrae like many other bags we have seen. Although it could be made a bit more comfortable for the human, our dog loves it (or at least tolerates it) and we are able to hike guilt-free!
7. Dog Webcam
Although ideally you never have to leave your dogs alone in the van, it does happen. A great option for keeping an eye on your pups when you need to run into the grocery store or make a quick stop somewhere is webcams.
I suggest the Tenvis security cam it’s relatively cheap and can be used by android and IOS users. They do need wifi so you would need to have a hotspot connected to the camera when you are away.
Although living in a van with a dog can be challenging I hope that these tips and van life dog essentials help your transition into vanlife with a dog! Do you have any tips or items that you believe are a must-have for vanlife with a dog? Let me know in the comments below!