Should You VanLife With Your Dog? 10 Things You Must Consider Before Bringing Your Dog On The Road With You

VanLife With Your Dog

The idea of forging out on the road with your four-legged companion riding shotgun is so iconic and ubiquitous, it’s hard to say exactly

where it came from. Jack London may have something to do with it. Perhaps it speaks to our desire to reconnect with the world with a bit less human pessimism, or to have a teammate with whom to face the elements and the trials of the journey. But, chances are, this teammate is going to be relying on you a whole lot more than you will be on them. Let’s look at some impracticalities that come along with hitting the road with your dog.



Living in a van, you are subjected to a rather unfiltered experience of the extremes of the hot and cold seasons. This goes for your dog, as well. Some dogs (like Huskies) are bred for colder temperatures and will be much more comfortable during the winter, but they must be looked after just the same. Chances are if you feel cold, your dog probably does too. The only thing is they tend to complain a lot less than humans. Make sure your heating system is in good working order and keep an eye out for any signs that your dog might have frostbite, or pneumonia.


The heat may be even harder to deal with than the cold. For one, in most cases it is easier to warm up a van than it is to cool it down if you are dealing with extreme temperatures. Special attention must always be paid to your K9 travel partner as signs of deadly heat exhaustion often resemble sleepiness or lethargy. Make sure your dog has plenty to drink and, if possible, access to a body of water to cool its core temperature.

Lack Of Space

I make this point often, but lack of space is an absolute deal-breaker in many cases of van living. Do you ever walk around your apartment and stub your toe on a table, or something left haphazardly on the ground? If you want to live in a van, get ready to do that a whole lot more. Now add a dog into that equation. Not always the most comfortable arrangement. This will make those middle-of-the-night trips to relieve yourself outside much more cumbersome.

(Related: 10 Worst Things About Van Life That No One Tells You About)

Leaving Your Dog In Your Car

If you plan to live in your van for any significant amount of time, you will need a source of income. This means, in most cases, holding down a dayjob. This presents a unique set of difficulties to the vanlifer, especially if you have a dog. If you don’t have the luxury of your dog accompanying you throughout your working day, you will need somebody to take care of them. In the heat, even with the windows cracked, the sweltering interior of a van can be fatal for a dog. If you do not have someone that can do this for you, you might be at the mercy of costly daycare services.


It’s easy enough to remind yourself not to track dirt into your van-domicile, but it’s a lot tougher when it comes to telling your dog to do the same. Dogs are magnets for mud, grime and stink. If it’s been raining, this situation is vastly exacerbated. If you plan on living in your van with your dog, your living space will be caked in filth in no time at all, unless you practice dedicated cleaning routines.


Unfortunately, most animals don’t get enough exercise living in regular homes complete with their own properties. Vans are much smaller, and you may be set up in an area that is not suitable for K9 recreation, like a parking lot, or near a busy roadway. Be this as it may, you must be cognizant of your animal’s needs to expend energy and partake in cardiovascular exercise. If your animal is not having these needs met, they will become unhealthy and depressed. Furthermore, if a dog is under-exercised, they might tear up your living quarters out of sheer boredom and frustration. It is in both of your best interests to stay active.

Bodily Waste

Taking care of human waste in a van is an imperfect, and invariably messy ordeal. The same goes for dogs, obviously. While dogs won’t be using your portable toilet, they will have no problem using any inch of your van as a similar receptacle if they are not regularly let out to relieve themselves. This means you will need to be well stocked with doggy bags to collect their waste, and have some system in place for disposing of them afterwards. If you are set up somewhere outside city limits and away from sanitation services, this might mean holding onto those doggy bags until you are somewhere where you can legally get rid of them.


Because van living, more often than one would desire, operates on the fringes of legality, “stealth” plays a huge part in whether or not you are successful at this lifestyle. This means that if you are set up somewhere that might not be zoned for camping, you will need to keep a low profile. This is much more difficult when you are living with a dog, especially one that is prone to barking at any small disturbance in the area. Furthermore, dogs are a huge point of interest to passers by. People might see your dog and, if it seems friendly enough, they will get closer to pet it. This will cause an unwanted amount of attention to your living-space and your property.

No Dogs Allowed

This applies to any lifestyle, but it becomes more apparent when your living in your van. You will find yourself wanting to go certain places, or doing things that don’t allow, or facilitate dogs. This means social functions like conventions and festivals, or certain trails that your dog may not be up for. Living in a van, you are a unit with your dog. Wherever you go, they go. Unless you can find someone to take care of them during these times, it’s best to just scratch it off your calendar.


This is a big one. Feeding oneself is expensive enough, but adding another hungry mouth that supplies no income is another thing altogether. Be absolutely sure to allot for your dog in you living budget. This means food, plus whatever surprise expenses may come along the way. Pet ownership proves time and time again that animals get sick, or need medical attention often at the most inconvenient of times. When you least expect it, you could be hit with a hefty vet bill. Financial strains are especially hard to overcome when living in a van. They can often be the deciding factor that puts your vehicle up on cinder blocks.


Though this list may seem damning, you shouldn’t get the idea that living in a van with your dog is impossible. Rather, you should be informed that pet-ownership while van living presents many difficulties that you will not encounter if travelling solo, or with a human companion. If you are ill-prepared to meet these demands, it is the dog that will ultimately suffer. Please, exercise the utmost mindfulness if you own a dog and are thinking about pursuing the vanlife, or if you currently live in your van and are looking into getting a dog. If done right, however, you can look forward to many happy years living on the road with your K9 pal.

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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