When I decided I wanted to live this lifestyle and travel full time, one question caused more angst and internal deliberation than any other: What about Lola? She's my most loyal friend and I wanted her by my side throughout this new chapter but there's a lot to consider first. These are the things I think are important to be a successful and caring van dog owner.
A Good Dog
This is probably the most important part of living in a vehicle with a dog. I've had dogs with separation anxiety and it's not a pretty sight. Lola doesn't have anxiety, she doesn't bark much and her potty habits are spot-on. A destructive or disruptive dog probably wouldn't have a lot of success in such a small space. A van dog's gotta be laid back.
Weather is the biggest danger for any van dog. Direct sunlight is lethal. The warnings you see in the news every spring are real! A vehicle in the sun is just a big solar oven, so parking in direct sunlight is absolutely not okay. Shade makes all the difference when you're trying to keep a vehicle cool, especially with all the windows cracked and even a slight breeze. I'll park in shade hundreds of feet away from where I'm going, and walk the rest, if it means Lola being cool and safe. I usually wait until it's raining or night to run errands during the summer. I've covered and insulated all the windows in the rear of the van for privacy and weather. A reflective shade for the front windshield is a big help too, even the cheap ones work wonders.
Two 12 volt fans keep air flowing inside and I installed an engine room blower (intended to keep fumes from building up in boat engine rooms) in the roof of the van that pulls hot air out of the interior. The final option, when I can't find shade and whatever I'm doing can't wait until night time, is to just leave the van running, locked up, with the air conditioning on.
Winter is a lot easier to deal with than summer. The van was manufactured with fiberglass insulation in the walls and ceiling. That, coupled with the window coverings and curtains I've installed, means the van holds heat surprisingly well.
A dog's gotta play! Just like so many other things, this is way easier if your dog is well behaved. If your dog won't run off and comes to you when commanded, there's empty fields and city lots and right-of-ways everywhere they can cut loose in. It's almost second nature, at this point, for me to always be on the lookout for places Lola can play. Most cities have dog parks too. There's no excuse for a van dog to not get more exercise than most house dogs.
I'm lucky with Lola. I always say she doesn't have a fur coat, she's got a 5 o'clock shadow. Bathing her isn't usually necessary and a few baby wipes freshen her right up. If I need it though, some of the big box pet stores have DIY bathing stations for a $10 fee and it even comes with all the chemicals.
The thought of having Lola, always with me, made me nervous at first. Before, I was like every other dog owner and could just leave her in my apartment when I needed to go out. I knew living in the van together join us at the hip. So far, it's been great.