Last week I wrote about living my van life with dogs. Today I’ll share 10 things I think vandwellers should consider before bringing a dog into their van life or deciding to move into a van with a dog they already have.
#1 Breed Some breeds have a bad reputation because they are perceived as aggressive and are not welcome in certain campgrounds. Some breeds tend to develop specific physical ailments. Be prepared to deal with a breed’s special needs before you bring a dog of that breed into your life or decide to take it on the road.
#2 Size Big dogs eat more, take up more space, and tend to need more exercise. It may also be more difficult to restrain a big dog or carry it if it’s sick or injured. Be sure your physical abilities match what you may be required to do for a big dog. Be sure you have the space for a big dog in your rig.
Small dogs are still dogs, not toys. Little dogs still need exercise, vet visits, and healthy food. Small dogs still need to socialize with other dogs, so be sure you have a plan for how your little dog will be able to play with other canines.
#3 Demeanor Of course, individual dogs have different personalities. I’ve met sweet and mellow pit bulls and mean-as-hell miniature dashounds. If you’re considering adopting a dog, try to get a feel for its demeanor before you make a commitment. If I were getting a dog, I’d want an easy-going dog that wasn’t overly nervous, scared, aggressive, or headstrong and was smart enough to train without too much struggle.
If you’re thinking of adopting a stray, consider the phenomenon a woman I know with decades of dog rescue experience calls “better is badder.” This catchphrase just means that sometimes a dog that’s hungry and thirsty and perhaps has parasites or other health problems may seem calm and low-key, but it’s really just not feeling well. Once the dog is healthier (“better”), it’s not exactly that the dog is bad, but it may be more energetic and mischievous than it first seemed.
If you’re thinking about moving a dog you already have into van life, consider its personality. Is the dog too nervous or excited to live in a van? Does it have more energy than a van can contain? How does it feel about riding in a moving vehicle? Does it thrive under a strict routine? Truly consider what’s best for the dog before you uproot it into van life.
#4 Activity level If you’re still working, how is a dog going to deal with being cooped up all day in your van? A highly active dog may be able to handle spending many consecutive hours in the van if you play with it strenuously before and after work, but a less active dog may be better suited to van life.
#5 Cost Can you afford a dog? Some of the costs you will incur when you are responsible for a dog include food, treats, leash, harness, collar, poop bags, nametag, toys, food and water bowls, registration, vaccinations, heart worm tests and preventative, flea and tick preventative, and emergency vet services.
Some of these items you may be able to get cheap (bowls and toys) or improvise (poop bags), but you shouldn’t skimp on nutritious food or health care.
#6 Vet visits Road dogs still need to see the vet for routine health care, vaccinations, and medical emergencies. When and where will your traveling companion see the vet? Can you afford vet visits? Can you afford emergency vet care if your dog gets injured or sick? Can you take care of vet visits at your home base, or will you have to find vets on the road?
In her wonderful guest post on living on the road with a cat, Devan Winters of XsyntrikNomad makes suggestions about pet health care that applies to dogs too.
…on the road…you [can] use a nationwide veterinary chain like Banfield (inside most PetSmart stores)…
Banfield even offers pet insurance to cover some care, if you can afford (and want to pay) the monthly expense. There is also a line of credit called Care Credit you can take out specifically for veterinary costs.
Beware: I once had a heartworm test done on a dog in Kentucky and was assured that when the heartworm preventative ran out, we could get more at any veterinary clinic. Surprise! No vet in whatever state we were in at the time would prescribe the preventative without doing (and charging for) another test for heartworms. My advice to folks who travel vet to vet is to get a year’s supply of whatever preventative your dog needs whenever possible.
Also, be aware that veterinarians follow different laws in different states.
#7 Spay and Neuter If you’re getting a puppy, where will you get it spayed or neutered? Sometimes the adoption fee includes spaying or neutering the animal when the time comes, but will you be in the appropriate place at the appropriate time? Will you be able to afford to have your dog spayed or neutered? Will you be able to give your dog the post-op care it needs?
What if you decide not to get your dog spayed or neutered? Will you be able to deal with the inconvenience of your female dog being in heat in the small space of your rig? What will you do if your female dog gets pregnant? Are you willing to deal with the aggression of an intact male dog? In some states, it cost a lot more to register an intact animal. Are you willing and able to pay the added expense?
#8 Stealth If your goal is to stealth park in cities, how will a dog affect your ability to live that way? A barking dog is not stealthy. Even though a barking dog in a dark van doesn’t necessarily mean a person’s in there with the dog, it may draw attention you don’t want.
What are you going to do if nature calls your dog in the middle of the night? You probably won’t be able to train it to go in a bucket, and exiting your van with your dog in tow is not stealthy. Even if your dog doesn’t usually need to go out at the night, it could get sick and need to go at unusual times.
#9 Sickness Who’s going to care for your dog if you’re sick or injured and unable to follow the dog’s routine? Is there someone in your life who’s willing to foster your dog until you’re back on your feet? How will you get your dog to the person willing to care for it?
#10 Grooming Where will you wash the dog? What will you do if the dog gets too dirty to jump into the van and you’re not prepared to give it a bath? Perhaps you don’t want a breed that needs to be clipped, or if you do have a fur ball, you can save time and money by learning to clip it yourself. If the dog needs its nails trimmed, will it allow you to do it, or does it need to be sedated for the procedure?
Many pet store chains offer grooming services onsite, so start there if you’re on the road and your dog needs grooming you can’t handle.
I’m not trying to discourage vandwellers from having dog companions. I just want people to consider carefully what dog ownership entails BEFORE taking on responsibility for another living creature.
Blaize Sun has lived in two different vans with two different dogs, so she knows a thing or two about being responsible for another living creature. She is not currently living with a canine companion. Sometimes she sees a cute doggie and experiences a bought of puppy love, but then she thinks about never being able to spend a hot summer day in an air conditioned coffee shop, and she moves on.