Preparing for Van Life with a Dog

Preparing for van life with a dog? We share our top tips to ensure it’s as stress free as possible! We often get asked what it’s like living in our van with a dog, and how she finds it on the road. Part of the attraction of van life for us was being able to take our dog with us on our adventures. Piglet is an 8 year old beagle who is opinionated, stubborn and lots of trouble! We wouldn’t be without her though! We love having Piglet with us on the road and she’s definitely the star of the show. She prides herself in causing mischief everywhere she goes although she’s mellowing slightly with age! More importantly she seems to love life on the road too. She’s always excited when we head to the van and definitely knows it’s her safe place.

If you’re about to take your dog(s) on the road you’ve come to the right place! The below tips include ideas for your van conversion, things you need to know when travelling internationally with a dog and items that will make life on the road a little easier.

Tip #1 – Only you know your dog! 

There’s a whole raft of people out there that will give you every reason under the sun why van life with a dog is or isn’t a good idea. Trust me when I say Piglet is her own dog! She travelled with me to work everyday since she was a pup so being on the road isn’t an issue for her. She loves getting in the van and heading off; new places and smells are her idea of heaven (well, that and any kind of food!) and she’s incredibly sociable with people. Only you know what your dog enjoys and what stresses them out. Knowing your dog is the best way to know if van life is right for your dog or not.

Tip #2 – Get your dog used to travelling

The first few times we took Piglet in the car when she was a puppy she was sick. She also had no bladder control but luckily that didn’t last long! After a few weeks of travelling in the car she got used to it and was no longer ill. The sooner you can acclimatise you dog with travelling in a car or your van the better. Most dogs grow out of travel sickness in the same way humans do but if your dog is struggling there’s a few things you can try to help. Keep your dog facing forwards if possible and ensure there’s plenty of fresh air by opening a window slightly. Restricting access to food prior to driving can also help.

Some dogs find travel stressful. To ensure your dog is happy in your van and on the road try to find ways of making travel more rewarding. Take some short trips to places they like going, for example their favourite place to walk so they associate getting in the van with going somewhere fun. Gradually increase the length of these trips once they’re happier travelling. Try spending some time in your van playing with you dog. The more your dog acclimatises to being in your van and realises it doesn’t always mean a long journey the happier they’ll be in that space. You can also try giving treats to your dog to reward them, just ensure you don’t make them sick! Piglet won’t play whilst we’re driving but she’ll happily much on a small treat or two on a long journey.

Van Life with Dogs

Tip #3 – Build space for your dog

We built a little kennel area into our van which is known as Piglet’s bedroom! If I’m honest she regularly sleeps on our bed but it’s really useful to have a secure space for her and she actually spends quite a bit of time in there. If it’s hot this is where you’ll find her; when it’s cold she has the best spot in the van as the heater points straight into her bed! It’s also the perfect place to keep her toys, jumper, coat and dog towels. We went backwards and forwards on building this space for her as it takes up valuable storage room but we’re really glad we did in the end.

Van Life with a Dog: Kennel

 Tip #4 – Check the regs

Currently your dog needs to have had a rabies vaccine and have a valid European Pet Passport to travel. Some countries, including Norway and the UK require your dog to be treated for tapeworm 1-5 days before entering. It’s always worth checking the regulations for the country you’re heading in to as well to ensure you won’t have any issues. This will likely change with Brexit at the end of 2020 so make sure you’re aware of any new requirements. Currently, the most likely scenario is that all dogs will need a rabies test to travel (can take up to 4 months) and a health certificate, but nothing has been finalised as yet.

There are also some local regulations you may need to be aware of too. Some areas in Italy, for example, require a dog to be muzzled in public areas and on public transport. Not having a muzzle with you can result in fines. Piglet was not a fan of wearing a muzzle (it makes it harder to grab stray food!) but we always carry one with us now just in case.

Van Life Dog Passport

Tip #5 – Safety First

Think about where your dog will travel when you’re driving. Despite having a secure kennel for Piglet in our van she travels in the front with us. There’s a few reasons for this: Firstly she’s happier when she’s with us and settles quicker; secondly we can ensure it’s always a comfortable temperature for her; thirdly she likes to look out the window!

We use a car safety harness for Piglet whenever we are driving. The seat belt loops through the harness to keep her secure and the harness is much longer than a walking harness to spread the impact of an accident away from the neck.  She sits on the middle seat although usually spreads out and takes up half of the other passenger seat too! Most countries require your dog to be secured when driving so this is definitely one to think about as well.

ruffwear load up harness

Ruffwear Car Harness

Tip #6 – Adapt your travel plans

Piglet is not a fan of the heat! She loves sunbathing as much as the next dog but she overheats quickly and is noticeably uncomfortable if she doesn’t have somewhere to cool down. Our van is insulated so keeps the heat out relatively well, especially if you keep the window covers on. We’ve noticed though that once the heat gets in it can be quite stuffy. We try and avoid going to extremely hot places in the heat of summer but even visiting Venice last year in June was very hot. We went from snow in the Dolomites to 35ºc in Venice in a matter of days.

We’ve found the best way to stop Pigs (and ourselves) getting too hot is to explore early on in the day and in the evenings when it’s cooler. In the middle of the day we stay in the van and get some work done with all the doors open (with fly nets!). This ensures we have as much air flow as possible. We never leave Piglet alone in the van in hot weather. There’s a few things you can buy including mini portable fans and dog cooling mats to help as well if your dog is really struggling.

Travel with Dogs

Tip #7 – Get a tag with your phone number!

Your dog must be microchipped to get a Pet Passport to travel. I cannot recommend enough making sure your dog also wears a collar with a tag containing your contact details. Piglet usually only wears a collar when we’re taking her out but she wears one at all times in the van except at night. Why? Because she is a serious escape artist (she got out of a locked crate when she was a puppy, still no idea how)! Losing her is my biggest fear and we never let her off her lead as despite knowing perfect recall she’s very opinionated about when she needs to listen and when she doesn’t! Take, for example, Trysil Ski resort in Norway. Somehow she managed to squeeze through the tinniest gap in the side door, bolted through the car park at great speed, straight to the ski slopes and was off!

Will chased after her on skis (it’s definitely funnier to look back on it than it was at the time!) whilst I ran frantically around the car park and ski resort with dog treats and toys in hand. 45 minutes later we got a phone call from a Norwegian lady saying “I think I have your dog”. You have no idea the relief! Piglet was obviously delighted with herself having had the most fun in weeks (she was found head in a bin behind a restaurant!!), and I didn’t know whether to kill her or never let her out of my sight again! Needless to say it was a pretty traumatic 45 minutes for us. It could have been a lot worse though if both our phone numbers weren’t on her dog tag (with international dialling code).

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Tip #8 Get a non-spill dog bowl!

If you’re like us there’ll be a list of things you need to remember to do before you set off. For us this includes put the kettle away, lock the cupboards and secure Piglet’s crate. Thankfully it no longer includes empty Piglet’s water bowl! Honestly, you don’t want water spilling all over your van, take it from experience! There are enough things to remember to secure and we always forgot to empty her bowl so we purchased a non-spill dog bowl. These bowls are genius! Granted they’re not the prettiest but it’s virtually impossible to spill water out of them. I’d 100% recommend these bowls if you’re doing van life with a dog. Your dog(s) will always have water on hand and you’ll never drive off and flood your kitchen again (well hopefully not)!

anti spill dog bowlNo Spill Dog Bowl

Van Life with dogs

We love having Piglet on the road with us, and that was definitely part of the attraction of van life. There are times when it changes the way we travel or we don’t visit places because they don’t allow dogs but there’s plenty of things we can all do together. Most importantly, she seems really happy in the van! She loves exploring new places and there’s a few park-ups we’ve found close to designated dog parks that are completely fenced in. These are the perfect place for her to have a run around and stretch her legs. We head to these places as much as we can. We’ve also found people are a lot more sociable when you have a dog. We’ve met a lot of people on the road through Piglet the only problem is there’s often a major language barrier!

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