This topic comes up a lot on the VanDweller list. Can you really live in a van with a dog? I do, but it’s a very individual (and geographic) kind of thing.
The number one thing is to make sure your dog doesn’t cook to death. Or, in more medical terms, have a heat stroke. On one hand, this should be easy because you live in the van too and you’ll know exactly when it get’s hot. On the other hand, this means you absolutely can not ever leave your dog alone in the van when it’s hot out. Conveniently, if you’re a stripper you don’t have to go to work until the sun goes down. Graveyard shifts at Denny’s are much the same. It’s a lot less convenient when you’re sweating it out with your dog in the desert and you reeaally wanna go hang out in an air conditioned coffee shop for a minute, but if you rolled the windows up the dog would cook. The ultimate solution is to drive north until you aren’t hot anymore, but in a pinch you can find a city park with a lake where you and your dog can keep cool and wet.
You’ll need to do something to make your van not heat up as much as a normal vehicle in the sun. I put reflectix in all the windows except the front ones. It makes a huge difference. If I park with the front windows in the shade it’s the same temperature in my van as it is outsided in the shade! I also have some convenient 12 volt Road Pro fans If I spent more time in hot places I would do more to adapt, but the reflectix is enough to keep us comfy most of the time.
At night, I put up one of those reflecty thingies in the front window too. I roll the side windows down, but not so far that Bro could jump out – or, in the city, not so far that someone could stick their hand in. If it’s really hot I hang towels out the windows for the shade. I make sure that I night-park someplace where I’ll be in the shade when the sun comes up (stripperella’s need their beauty sleep!). Or, if I’m not in a town, I just leave the windows and side door open.
Another handy thing is that Bro’s crate is under the bed, and if I pull the blanket over the front of it he’s pretty insulated. Sometimes if it’s really hot I’ll throw him in his crate with a couple pounds of ice.
Once you’re sure that you and your dog aren’t cooking, the next issue is people. In some cities people will see your dog in your van and break your windows and steal your dog, even if it’s fifty degrees outside and you’re parked in the shade. They are just conditioned to panic when they see a dog in a car. Some cities have laws against ever leaving your dog in a car, and even in the middle of winter your van and dog can be impounded. Of course, in other areas every car has a dog in it and people regularly tie their dogs to the back of their trucks or a tree while they’re in a store. If you’re in a new city and haven’t got a feel for it yet, why take the chance? Keep your dog out if site in the back of the van (in a crate under the bed, for me). Don’t let people see your dog before you get out of the van. You never know when people are going to freak out and the law will never be on your side.
Once you’ve managed the threats of heat and people, you need to make sure that you’re meeting your dogs needs. A little Bichon might be totally fulfilled living in a van with you and getting out a few times a day to potty (of course you should always pick up after your dog). A bigger working or herding breed dog is going to need more physical and mental stimulation. If this isn’t something that you do already, give it a long thought before you decide to do it. Bro is ten years old and has calmed down a lot, but I still spend at least an hour a day throwing the ball for him. If he were younger I would be spending much more time training, excercising, and socializing him. These are things you would do in a house, too, but they are more to manage when you live in a van. You can’t just put your dog out in the back yard. He will be with you in the van all the time.
Check out http://www.shirleychong.com for some fun games you can play with your dog that are very adaptable to van living.
If you can manage the heat and the wierd people, living in vans with dogs is great! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.