Living On the Road with your Dog

I adopted my dog, Shale, about 7 years ago and knew immediately we were destined to explore together.

After years of pushing the limits on Rocky Mountain trails, rafting down wild rivers and western road-trips, I decided to build out a simple camper van and hit the road full-time with my girl. After 5 months of travel in the west, we are preparing to begin a long journey of border crossing enroute to Tierra Del Fuego.

In our time thus far, I’ve learned a few key lessons that have made the trip comfortable, safe, and enjoyable for her.

Define a Territory

The most difficult aspect of life on the road for Shale specifically is defining her territorial space. I was worried about the lifestyle as she has always been adamant about defining and protecting our home space. On previous road-trips, she had a burnout point after about a week where she clearly felt a need to return home to check on her territory.

After making my last trip to the storage unit and walking away from my house for good, territory was my biggest concern. A few weeks of acclimating however, and the van became her new territory. She has officially accepted it as home. I feed her inside or around the van, and focus on positive associations and interior comfort. Now she patrols the van perimeter, has a bed on the front seat, access to the full rear bed, and the option to enter and exit freely when we are parked at a good campsite.

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Temperature Control 101

Outside of creating a comfortable home base where your dog feels safe and can relax, controlling the temperature tops the list for safety concerns. Heat is the enemy for us and moving out in August was a good test for temperature control. Ventilation in your camper is important and a multi-directional fan on your vent will suck out hot air and help with circulation.

I sleep with the big door and windows open when predators and people are not present. In the right scenario, I will just let her sleep outside as well. Parking next to a cold water lake or river also drops the night temperature significantly, even in the heat of summer.

Lastly, stow away a cooling pad in your refrigerator and freeze damp bandanas if possible. I added a Dometic refrigerator to my van specifically to keep cooling pads handy. Shale is built like a sled dog and she heats up quickly in the summer. She will look at the refrigerator in the heat and paw at me until I pull out a gel cooling pad.

It’s all about the experience!

Carving out a full-time life on the road with a dog in tow is not always easy. You will make some sacrifices like skipping the occasional no-dogs-allowed national park, but ultimately, the good experiences are well worth the effort. Shale has a near daily expectation to get outside for at least a few hours of exercise. If we have a long drive ahead, I’ll push on a long hike the day before to wear her out.

Ultimately, I end up slowing down and make more frequent stops to get out and enjoy time outside together. We explore places I might have passed and go the extra mile to find perfect campsites where she can roam and explore. Feeding her desire to stay active and engage in the environment each day has added immense value to the never-ending road-trip for us both.

Meet the Author: Zach Lazzari

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