Traveling full-time with a puppy can be… quite an adventure of itself. Everyone told me that I was out of my mind at the beginning, but it’s honestly been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. There are times when she makes me laugh so hard and I think, “What would I be doing right now if I didn’t have her?” She keeps me from being lonely and forces me to get outside in moments where I may otherwise be lazy and just sitting in the van.
Is it a major responsibility that you should be prepared for? Absolutely. Will there be moments of anger and frustration? 100%. An older dog would certainly require less attention and there’s no argument there. Getting work done can be really difficult some days because Ella wants to play or needs another walk. I just loved the idea of raising a pup in a van so she would get used to the lifestyle from an early age and I could experience it with her for as long as possible.
All of that being said, there are definitely some things that I have learned while having her in the van and a few that have been totally unexpected. Being on the road creates scenarios that you may not experience at home like needing to find a different vet every time you get their shots, etc. But we’ll get into all of that…
The first thing I do with Ella every morning is try to get out some of her energy. She wakes up with a vengeance usually pulling my hair or just anxiously staring at me until I open my eyes. So getting her to exercise almost immediately in the morning balances her out for a good portion of the day (I mean as much as possible). Puppies are also less likely to chew things up in the van or misbehave when they don’t have a ton of pent- up energy. We do go on several shorter walks throughout the day but the first one is always the longest.
I also highly recommend looking up off- leash dog parks wherever you go. Before heading into a national park, I’ve stayed in a nearby city for a few days just so Ella can play at a dog park several times. Not only does it get out her energy but it’s so good to socialize them from a young age.
Please keep in mind that you shouldn’t bring a puppy under the age of 4 months into a dog park. Around 16 weeks, puppies get their last round of shots including parvo. This can be fatal and commonly happens when a puppy has been to a dog park without the proper shots. (Click here for more info on Parvo.)
Also a quick sidenote for my fellow solo travelers: Dog parks have been an incredible way for me to socialize as well. I’m in a group chat with a few women from a park in SLC. I have listened while an older woman cried and shared a personal story that she clearly just needed to get off her chest. There have been countless people give me pet advice or simply just want to talk about life. Dog parks have been one of my favorite ways for both of us to meet new friends in any new city.
As soon as we’re done working out the puppy energy, we eat! I don’t want to say for certain which type of dog food is best because every dog is different. One may work great for some and not for others. Please ask your vet what they recommend and figure out what works best for your pup. This is the type of food that I give Ella and it has been amazing for her.
Buying dog food on the road can actually be kind of complicated, and I never thought about it until I was traveling. A lot of pet stores aren’t in every city or they even carry different product across the country. That’s why I started buying Ella’s food on Amazon and having it delivered at an Amazon locker or friend’s house. Keeping them on the same food is important because their bodies have adjusted to it and it’s harder on them to keep changing (which is what I had to do a couple times at the beginning). I also recommend trying to get the biggest bag possible if you have space for it so this isn’t a constant concern.
Leaving my girl alone when I have to go somewhere is usually what I get asked the most about having a puppy on the road. Before moving into the van, everyone I spoke to said the same thing.. “Get a crate!” So that’s exactly what I did, and I honestly never used it once. I haven’t even opened the thing!
Ella is 40 pounds and still too small to jump up on the bed. This means that when I leave and set her on the floor, she has nowhere to go. Now obviously this may be different depending on your build. But between my bed being fairly high and having the wall that separates the front and back, she has to stay on the floor of the van while I’m gone. I make sure there’s nothing on the floor that she could eat, close the pocket door, and head out!
This is another reason why exercise is so important because I know that if she just went for a long walk, that gives me at least a few hours to go workout, shower and do what I need to do before she wakes up.
When your pup first moves into the van, you can spray something like this on anything you don’t want them to chew. I got really lucky with a puppy that just falls asleep when I leave but I do always leave a couple toys on the floor as well in case she gets bored and starts looking for something to chew on. If your puppy is teething, my biggest life saver has been ice and carrots (but I do only give her these when I’m in the van and can make sure she’s okay).
THESE TOYS ARE GREAT FOR TEETHING PUPPIES & KEEPING THEM DISTRACTED WHILE YOU’RE BUSY
Figuring out what I was going to do with Ella while I was driving was my main priority when I got her. Everyone is comfortable with something different so please do whatever you feel is necessary to keep your dog safe. I didn’t love the idea of having Ella stay on my bed in the back. If we were to get into a bad accident and flip on the side or anything, she would potentially slam into major components of the build such as cabinets or any sharp corners. I felt best keeping her tethered to the passenger seat. I put a dog bed in the seat, put her harness on, and then hooked it to the seatbelt. I recently got this car restraint leash which I highly recommend and hooks around the headrest instead of the seatbelt. I may have to figure something else out when she’s full grown, but this has been the only way I travel with her as a puppy to make sure she isn’t destroying anything in the back and is safe while I drive.
The first week or so that we lived in the van I would have Ella sleep on the floor. I didn’t feel safe taking her out in the middle of the night alone if I was in a parking lot or somewhere too unfamiliar. So cleaning up the vinyl plank flooring would be super easy if she went while I was sleeping. Like I said earlier, I never found it necessary to crate her because the van is essentially like a big crate.
Not all dogs will be this way but Ella never went to the restroom on the floor of the van once! How did I get so lucky? But a lot of dogs won’t go in their crate because of the tight space so I think the van was a similar feeling. She did go on the floor of my family’s house the first week I had her so she definitely wasn’t house trained, but the day we moved into the van she never went inside again!
I used to take her out around 11pm and then again at about 6am. She was 2 months old and was able to hold it the entire time. She’s a little over 4 months now and I take her out at about 9pm and again at 6:30am. Once I realized that she definitely wouldn’t go in the van, I could finally cuddle her! So about a week after hitting the road, she started sleeping in bed with me and has ever since! No accidents and lots of snuggling.
As you probably know, puppies need shots every few weeks until they’re about 4 months old. I would assume that most vets can give the correct shots because that’s a pretty simple process. I keep all of Ella’s records in a folder that stays in the glove box. She had to be given shots by different vets each time she was due for them and having a folder with everything made it really easy to show what she already had and what she still needed.
First and foremost, you should definitely have a pet emergency kit with all of the basics in case of anything you can handle on your own. But they also eat things they shouldn’t and may need to be seen by a vet for any variety of reasons! This can be difficult because you never know who to go to and who will take care of them properly.
All you can really do is research and read reviews to find someone you think will be okay. Thankfully when Ella needed surgery, I had a friend that lived in the area and was able to refer her vet so I could feel more at ease. Definitely ask friends or family if they know of anyone so you have more of a personal connection to the doctor. Other than that, you just have to feel it out when you get there and trust that the doctor wants the best for your dog as much as you do!
This is pretty much how I go about my day with Ella and what I have learned from having a puppy in the van. I get so many “Why would you do that to yourself having a 2 month old puppy on the road?!” But honestly it’s easier being with her constantly and knowing what she’s doing rather than having a 9-5 job hoping she’s okay at home. She is my partner in everything on this adventure and I really wouldn’t want it any other way. I loved the idea of raising a pup to be a van life dog and enjoying the road from a young age. So I wouldn’t take it back for anything and am so happy that I got this girl!
I hope this helped with any questions and good luck traveling with all of your wild fur babes.