Keeping your Dog Safe and Happy on the Road

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By Ola Kalejaye

Ola travels with his partner Rachel and their mini golden doodle/mini red poodle Astro in a converted 2014 Ford Shuttle Bus.

From early on in our vanlife journey, our mini doodle Astro’s been by our side (or, a lot of the time, on our laps), ready for adventure at every new turn. 

My partner Rachel & I adopted Astro from Rachel’s hometown when she was 10 weeks old. Luckily for us, we were stationary at the time — between our first and second expanded van trips. This turned out to be really helpful when it came to training, as it meant we had three months of training in one place before we hit the road with Astro for the first time. Even luckier for us is Astro’s super sweet disposition and how she instantly took to training. She’s a real smarty pants! Even so, hitting the road with a doggo in tow can be challenging in different ways. Here are just a few of the helpful tidbits that we’ve picked up that help make sure Astro has as good a time on the road as we’re having.

Training never stops!

It’s important to make your dog comfortable with all of the different scenarios you’re likely to have them in while on the road. There may be times that you need to have your dog on a leash, for example. When those times come, you don’t want to be in a situation where your pup becomes more reactive because they haven’t gotten a chance to improve and get comfortable with being on leash just yet.

Ongoing training can also be a wonderful way to maintain the bond with your dog and stimulate them. Try and pick one skill or area you want to really focus in on with your dog at a time. Bonus if it’s something that is practical for while you live on the road. Recall is something we come back to frequently.

At the moment, we’re teaching Astro to check in with us before leaving the bus. Because we travel in all sorts of places, it’s important that we’re able to jump out and take a look at our surroundings before Astro hops out to go exploring, for her safety.

Small training-style treats are a great way to reinforce good behaviors and reward your dog without messing with their appetite too much — this is vital for pups with small stomachs like our Astro.

Keeping your pup comfy 

Like a lot of vanlifer doggy parents, we often joke that our travels are catered to our dog. Truly, we do take into account where Astro can and can’t go whenever we think about where we’re going. 

With that said, and depending on where you are, more businesses than you think are actually pet-friendly, or at least lenient. The app Bring Fido shows reviews for local businesses and activities based on dog friendliness, and All Trails is great for finding dog-friendly hikes. And of course, if you’re headed somewhere and aren’t sure what their dog policy is, don’t be afraid to call and ask!

For on the trails and adventuring, make sure you have a sturdy harness and leash that fits your dog comfortably (not too tight, but snug and not too loose) — our favorites are Kurgo’s Journey Air Harness and their multifunctional Quantum 6-in-1 Dog Leash, for all sorts of adventures.

Avoid the super fancy dog food (if possible)

When it comes to picking a kind of food for your dog, our vet recommended that we opt for a brand that’s widely available. Because we don’t have a local pet store, we need to go with widely stocked options so that we can keep some consistency in Astro’s diet. Same brand or type of food, different flavor each time is the goal wherever it’s time to re-up. 

Take breaks on long travel days

Breaking up long travel days with some time at a dog park, regular park, a lake or another nice spot can be a godsend for your dog and for you. Hours in the car can be a drag for both parties so be sure to get out and stretch those legs!

Get into grooming your pup regularly!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying become a full on certified groomer or anything! But knowing how to do some basic grooming acts can be great for those times on the road in between groomer visits. 

Proper brushing, nail clipping, ear cleaning, flea and tick sweeps, and teeth brushing are all important for their long term health — and the more often you do them, the less your dog is likely to react strongly when this maintenance happens. 

Fun fact: we actually cut Astro’s hair entirely ourselves for the first year and a half of her life. Our first attempt was at a self grooming station in San Diego and, well, results were mixed to say the least. But we did get a lot better at it over time! And we still have a small pair of doggy clippers just in case Astro is in desperate need of a quick trim.

Dog Sitting is reasonably accessible

Lots of us have been in that one situation. You’re flying out somewhere or otherwise in need of a dog sitter for a day or two. Something that can be as simple as texting a friend for people who live stationary, can be a lot more daunting for dog owners. 

Luckily, these days there are more affordable ways to find dog sitters than ever. A first move that often works for us is just to hit our social networks just in case we have any friends, or friends of friends, in the area we’re in need of dog sitting. 

Failing that, there’s always Rover and Wag. A pro-tip for those kind of services: many of the well-reviewed dog sitters on those sites have personal pages for their businesses, and you may well be able to save money by contacting them directly and cutting out the third party fees.

If you don’t have a portable vacuum, get a portable vacuum!!! 

Aside from the fact that every vanlifer in general should have a portable vacuum, as a dog owner you’re guaranteed to use yours multiple times a day. For dogs that shed it’s a no brainer, but even for dogs who don’t shed it still comes in clutch. 

For us, Astro has fur like Velcro and she can’t help but bring half of whatever locale’s outside, into our bus. So the portable vacuum always stays in reach. We got ours for about $25 at Walmart and it’s worked great for a long time!

The Day Doggy Dirt Sheet

This tip is a new one we just got from some friends. For dog parents whose dogs sleep in the bed (like us) you may know that trying keep a dirty dog off of a clean bed you know it can be a futile effort. Get a big old sheet or blanket that you don’t care about getting dirty and use it to cover your bed in the morning, and take it off before you get in bed. That way no matter how much your pup comes and goes throughout the day, you don’t have to worry about them tracking extra dirt into bed. Along with your habit of light grooming before bed, you can whip the sheet off and all enjoy a peaceful, slightly less dirty night in bed. 

So there you have it! I hope these hacks for vanlifing with a dog, from an experienced dog parent and vanlifer of three years, can be helpful starting points for living and traveling on the road with a pup in tow. Happy exploring, friends!

You can find Ola on Instagram @bustedslate @kallyjay. All photo credits courtesy of Ola & Rachel @bustedslate.

This piece is sponsored by Kurgo! Check them out here for all your doggy needs!

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