Van Life With Dogs: Here’s How To Make It Possible

Van life with dogs: RV camping with dog

Life with dogs can be such an adventure and full of fun. If you are planning to move to van living and want to bring your furry friends along, then there are plenty of factors and things to know before you head out and start your adventure on the road. Rest assured that you can easily live with your dogs in a van, even if you have a small space.

Proper ventilation for the dogs, storage or bed space for the dogs, dog leashes and toys, a steady supply of dog food, location of the nearest vet clinic, and dog sitters like is some of the things that you need to take note of when it comes to van life. When you have these things, you can ensure that you will have a healthy and happy dog with you on the road.

Living with a dog while in a van is quite different from living with a human companion. Dogs have their own set of needs, such as grooming, exercise, food, medicine, and timely vet visits. In this article, I will talk about the priority you need to know when it comes to your dog’s safety and comfort when living in a van. I will also provide some tips on how to live with a dog in a van and the legalities of having a dog while living on the road.

Top Priority: Your Dog’s Safety And Comfort

It would be extremely irresponsible to have dogs and do nothing to ensure their safety.  Dogs are not just animals, and they are more than just pets; they are a responsibility. Having dogs with you on the van life experience is just about the same as having kids with you, albeit their needs differ on a lot of things. You need to understand that raising a dog within the confines of a safe house is different from raising a dog inside a tight, compact, and moving vehicle.

Dogs are not used to moving vehicles, although they fare well when compared to cats. Nevertheless, you have to spend some time training and allowing them to get used to the sensation of being in a moving vehicle. Even more problematic is the fact that dogs are not used to tight spaces, especially medium to large-sized dogs. They tend to be energetic, skittish, and nosy, not to mention the wagging tail can be a problem too. 

Due to the tight space inside vans, the temperature inside the van can reach intolerable levels. Dogs are more prone to heat exhaustion than humans and even cats. A dog irresponsibly left inside the van by owners without much ventilation or sun protection can easily die from heatstroke or suffocation. A dog cannot easily regulate his body heat, especially inside a van.

Secure Proper Ventilation: Key Factor In Making Them Comfortable

When you are living with a dog in your van, your top priority is proper ventilation. You do not want to leave your dog inside the van without turning on the vent fans, at the very least. As a general rule, do not make a habit of leaving your dogs inside the van without supervision for long periods of time. Dogs can only regulate their body heat through panting, which is not as efficient as sweating.

Despite the obvious, humans have repeatedly forgotten pets inside their vehicles. It may be unintentional, but the risks that the dogs face are very much real. It would be inhumane to leave a dog inside the van for long periods as a habit because that could very well be tantamount to animal abuse in most states. There are a number of ways you can provide ventilation for your furbabies.

The most basic of the options is to just have vent fans and electric fans. Turning on the vent fans allows warm air from the inside to be replaced by fresh air from the outside. The electric fan will, on the other hand, keep the air flowing within the van. The disadvantage of this option is when used during the summer because the air outside may even be hotter than the air inside.

Other than the obvious disadvantage of not producing cold air like an AC would, vent fans and electric fans do not consume as much electricity as an AC would. This means that vent fans and electric fans can be very sustainable for longer periods of time. Vent fans and electric fans are much cheaper than the combined costs of an AC and its corresponding installation.

If you want to know more about proper ventilation in your van, here is an article that I have written for you.

Windows Should Be Opened Slightly: Helps With Proper Ventilation

Sometimes, the efforts of vent fans and electric fans are insufficient to maintain and regulate the ideal temperature inside the van. This is especially true during the summer heat or when the afternoon sun is at its peak. Thus, it is advisable to have windows that can be slightly cracked open. This allows a fresh breeze of air to come inside, at your option.

A closed and sealed van could only have so much oxygen, before you and your dog consume it all. In the event that you have to leave your dog temporarily with the vents and fans on, passersby are less concerned about your “unattended” dog if the windows are slightly opened. This reduces the risk of having your windows broken by concerned citizens. Should that ever happen, you cannot blame concerned citizens for acting on the pretense that your dog is in trouble.

Air Conditioner: Another Option that You Can Choose

Well, there is always the option to go for an AC. Van’s with an AC installed won’t have to open the windows just to allow fresh air to enter. With an AC turned on, you can be assured that your temporarily unattended dog will not be in danger of suffocating or going into heatstroke. Although, do not leave the AC on for too long because it is energy consuming and risky for the dog too as the temperature may get too cold.

This option may be the best, but it still comes with some drawbacks. For starters, it is expensive to install an AC on your van, not to mention that the AC itself is expensive. Although, you can do away with the stress of installing one by buying a van that already has a built-in AC. Some also opt to have the AC installed by professionals or van conversion companies.

Leaving the AC on for too long may drain the battery. Your battery is something you really need in your travels. You can circumvent this problem by buying high-capacity batteries like lithium batteries. But then again, lithium batteries can go up to $1500 in price.

Dog Crates Or Dog Bunkers Are Ideal 

Having a dog crate or dog bunker can be very helpful because it gives them a sense of privacy. The crates and bunkers can serve as their own place within the cramped van. In the unfortunate event that accidents happen on the road, a dog secured or sleeping inside a crate is much safer than a dog that is sleeping on the bed or floor when the accident happens.

When you temporarily leave your dogs, such as when you go for a quick grocery, they can be safely secured inside their crates or bunkers. This also allows the dog to not be visible to passersby, who can instantly become concerned citizens. For large dogs that you cannot ideally share the bed with, you can give them a separate bunker bed.

Use Reflective Barriers or Sunshades: To Keep the Sun Away

Aside from the ventilation, the van’s temperature can also be affected by how insulated your windows are. Ventilation is useless if the van is being cooked from the outside, which results in a hot air circulating the van. So unless you have an AC, invest in reflective barriers or sun shades because tinted windows may not suffice.

In fact, tinted windows are not sufficient during the hot summer. Some glasses have varying levels of tint. This is where reflective barriers can be very helpful because they minimize UV levels that penetrate the windows. Aside from insulation concerns, a tinted window coupled with reflective barriers obstructs the vision of strangers and concerned citizens.

Leaving The Dog Inside The Van: Not the Best Thing to Do

Again, do not leave your dogs inside the van unattended as a rule. If you have to leave them for urgent matters, only do so when it’s for a few hours because it is highly irresponsible to leave them for long periods of time. Do not own a dog if you do not have the time or the conscience to care for it.

In the US alone, 28 states have passed laws regarding the act of leaving dogs inside parked vehicles unattended. For instance, in Arizona, it is prohibited to leave your dog in any parked vehicle when physical injury or death is likely to result. This is understandable since Arizona is one of the hottest states in the country. Laws have been passed as dogs and cats have died over the years because some idiot left them inside their vehicles, thinking they would survive.

If You Are Going To Be Gone For A Short While

If you have no choice but to leave your dog unattended, it is okay as long as it is for a short while. Leaving the dog with proper ventilation and insulation for a maximum of two hours can be acceptable, as long as you regularly check up on them every 10 minutes or so. If your van is not heavily tinted, leave a note on each window saying that the dog is fine, well ventilated, well-fed with food and water and that you will be back shortly. This is to prevent concerned citizens from bashing the windows to “save” the dog.

It would also be helpful if you park your van in a shaded area to minimize the increase in temperature inside the van. However, if you are in places like Arizona, Florida, or any other place where it’s too hot, DO NOT LEAVE your dog unattended. Not even an AC can be foolproof, because dogs have been accounted to have accidentally turned off the AC.

The reason why checking up on the dog every ten minutes or so is not just to actually check upon them. By making a habit out of checking them every ten minutes or so, you are constantly reminded that you have a loved one left unattended in your van. Many people have forgotten that they left their pets inside the van, thinking that they will be gone “for a few minutes only.”

When Gone for Long Hours of Even Days: What You Should Do

If you have to leave your dogs for long hours or even days, DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER leaving your dog inside the van unattended. Your best option is to leave the dog with a dog sitter or in a dog hotel. You can check up on dog versions of “AirBnB” with The dogs will be much safer when people can attend to their every need.

If you are not committed to the safety of your dog, then don’t have one. Van life itself entails a lot of responsibility, and adding the responsibilities of owning a dog can be too much for ordinarily reckless and irresponsible people. If you cannot even afford to pay for your dog’s expenses on dog hotels or dog sitters, you can either go for van life alone or have a dog at home.

Leaving your dogs inside the van for long hours or days is straight-up animal abuse. You cannot reasonably expect them to survive the day’s hot temperatures and the chilling cold of the night alone without any human assistance. Remember, they have no choice but to trust you for their safety and security.

Renting in Dog Hotels or Kennel Boarding: The Prices

If you have important places to go to or meetings to attend, where the dogs cannot be allowed, you can just leave them in loving and professional care of dog hotels and kennel boardings, or perhaps go for a dog sitter for an hourly rate. Dog hotels will normally charge you around $50 per night, which already includes a private suite for your dog, room service, and scheduled interaction with the other dogs. The price may also be beyond $50 per night, especially in high-end dog hotels.

As for kennel boarding, they are much cheaper than dog hotels. They will normally charge you around $20 to $50 per night, which already includes a comfortable kennel for your dog to sleep in. Extras like walks and playtime may involve additional charges. 

A dog sitter will normally charge you around $40 to $50 per night for their services. has a lot of reputable dog and cat sitters near you. There are also other options such as veterinarian boarding and in-home boarding, which may charge around $20 to $40 per night.

Tips On Living With A Dog While Experiencing The Van Life

Here are a few tips to help you become responsible dog owners while still enjoying the van life experience. These tips can help you make sure that your dog is safe and comfortable while relaxing, enjoying, and traveling inside your van. The van life experience is worth sharing with companions, whether they have fur or not!

Plan Ahead Your Travel Route

It would be ideal to plan your travel routes ahead of time. While some van lifers and RVers prefer to travel wherever the wind blows them, you cannot just do this when you have a dog with you. You cannot just stroll up to a winter state with your dog and expect them to tolerate the cold weather unless they are of the northern dog breeds like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. In the same vein, you cannot just drag your heavy-coated dog to the hot deserts of Texas and Nevada.

Aside from the weather factors, avoid roads that are extremely risky and dangerous such as towns and cities where there are no 24/7 vet clinics. If it’s during the summer, it would be ideal to choose a route near the coastlines because it would be much cooler than say in the middle of the country. Planning ahead of time makes you prepare for foreseeable problems, such as incoming storms, tornado hotspots, etc.

Train Your Dogs: Become a Responsible Pet Owner

You cannot just have your dogs randomly walking up to people, which is what most dogs would do. There are people who are afraid of dogs or allergic to dogs, and it would be extremely rude to let your dog just walk up to them. Thus, you need to train your dog to behave with or without the leash. Some dogs tend to be more reserved while on a leash, however, some don’t. 

You also would not want your dog to enter other vehicles or houses, especially in campgrounds or RV parks where RVs and Vans are everywhere. At least train your dog to automatically enter your van upon command, so you can easily take control when things get hectic. Simple commands like sit and stay should, at the very least, be taught and mastered.

Some RVers and Van Lifers also have kids with them, and that is where things get a little bit dangerous. Most kids will tease a dog, and bite when the dog snaps. You do not want to lose control of your dog when in crowded places. Also, keep in mind that most state parks and national parks have strict rules on bringing dogs and cats.

Dog’s Vaccination and Other Important Records: Be Sure to Bring Them Along

First and foremost, you should have the responsibility to vaccinate your dog for rabies. You do not want to have your dog infected by rabid dogs because that would be dangerous not just for you and your dog, but also to other people as well.  Aside from rabies vaccination, keep your dog immunized from common dog diseases such as parvovirus and distemper. 

You are traveling, so your dog can easily be exposed to these viruses. Keep the dog’s vaccination and medical records updated and properly organized somewhere in the van. The records should also be readily accessible, especially in times of emergency. This is to help veterinarians in properly diagnose symptoms displayed by your dogs.

Exercise: The Key to A Happy, Healthy Dog

You are on the road, so you might as well give exercise time to your dog. A simple one-hour walk per day can mean a lot to your dog’s overall health. This also gives them the opportunity to stretch their legs after being cramped with you inside the van. You can also visit dog parks that are scattered across the states.

However, you must be aware of the rules in campgrounds, RV parks, state parks, etc. because some have strict rules over dogs and other critters. For bigger dogs, exercise is essential because they can also be prone to obesity. Hey, you are having fun traveling, and so should your dogs too! 

Keep A Designated Area for Your Pup: Place Your Belongings Here

It is very important that your dog has a designated area, compartment, or cabinet for their stuff, such as toys, towels, leashes, food, medicine, etc. This is to prevent their stuff from mixing up with your own personal items. It also allows you to easily access them, instead of having them mixed up in your laundry, cabinets, etc.

Aside from toys and food, you should have a designated towel for your dogs. Dog fur can get anywhere, especially when wet. Trash bags are also a necessity because accidents can still happen, you should foresee a possibility where the dog will pee or poop on the van’s floor or worse, on the bed.

Make Sure to Dog Proof Your Van’s Interior: For Your and Your Dog’s Safety

Just like how we should dog-proof our homes, we should dog-proof the van’s interior space. Dogs have a habit of chewing into things, including but not limited to cabinets, foams, mattresses, clothes, shoes, slippers, and a whole lot of other expensive things. Even more dangerous, is allowing them to access wires which could electrocute them.

This is even more important when you have puppies or young dogs because they tend to be more mischievous and energetic. Your shoes should be safely tucked inside the cabinets. Wires should not be exposed. As for the bed, this is where you should assert your dominance over your dog, do not allow them to bite or chew on the foams and mattress.

Breed and Size of Your Dog: Make Sure You Choose Ones that are Suitable for Van Living

Seriously, refrain from trying to raise a very large dog while living the van life. Dog breeds such as Great Danes, Mastiffs, and Pitbulls can be very difficult to have inside a tight van. You also have to worry about your dog’s temperament, which is not necessarily based on the dog’s breed, as some dogs prefer less crowded areas.

It would be ideal to go for the outgoing dog breeds like the retrievers and other working dogs because they are inherently inclined to play, walk, enjoy, and work for you. However, that does not mean couch potato dogs cannot be raised inside the van. Whatever your preferences and your dog’s preferences are, the van life community has a place for you.

Dog’s Allergies, If Any: Watch Out for Them

Since you are constantly traveling from place to place, you should know your dog’s certain allergies. It would be irresponsible for you to be enjoying places like flower gardens, without knowing your dog is allergic to it. Also, be responsible when traveling to tropical places because dogs can be infected by dengue too!

Always be prepared with basic medications for ticks and fleas because they could irritate not just your dog, but also yourself too. Dogs can be infected by gross insects such as flies and worms that can cause warbles.

Other Things To Consider

Have the decency to fix your dog because you wouldn’t want them accidentally humping other dogs. You also would not want them to be peeing around when they are in heat. If you have a female dog that is not spayed, things will get literally bloody, as they will have their menstrual bleedings.

Legalities Of Having A Dog Inside The Van

You might want to check up on the legalities of having a dog because it may vary from state to state. For instance, there are 11 cities or towns within the state of Kansas that prohibit dog owners from having bullmastiffs and rottweilers. In the US, the Pitbull, American bulldog, and the American mastiff are the most banned dog breeds.

Also, there are dog breeds that are not covered by most insurance companies in the US and in some places in the world. Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and Pitbulls are generally not covered by insurance companies. If you have those kinds of dogs, you might want to invest more time in training them, so they do not bite people.  When they do, your insurance company will not cover you, and so you have to take money out of your own pocket to pay for the damages.


To summarize things, living the van life experience with dogs is possible and fulfilling, but it entails a higher level of responsibility from you as a dog owner. Dogs should be treated as family members, and because they have special needs, you should tend to their respective needs and care for them. Leaving inside the van alone and unattended is definitely not being responsible on your part. Only leave them when you have to, and only for a short period of time. Your van should be customized to answer to the needs and existence of your furbabies, such as installing more ventilation, insulation, dog crates, and others already mentioned in the foregoing. As long as you always keep your dog’s safety and comfort in mind, you should have no problem living the van life experience with your loving dogs.

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