Van Life: Puppy Edition

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Written by Annabell Plush, a Triumph Pet Food  Pack Member 


The air was crisp and cool as I flung open the van doors. Amos, my 9-month-old puppy, stirred at my feet, and we both jumped out to explore the campsite we had pulled into the dark the night before. I started boiling water for coffee and heard my mom waking inside the van. She climbed out slowly, stretched in the cool morning air, then exclaimed, “I love van camping! Let’s cancel all our Airbnb’s for the rest of the trip."


When I graduated from school last May, my mom and I cooked up a crazy idea to drive from North Carolina to Idaho in my van, stopping along the way to see what there was to see. We would take my 9-month-old puppy. Everyone thought we were crazy. 

There’s a chance we are. ☺ 

But, off we went. My mother, who had never camped or seen the west, and I were both thirsty for adventure. I also wanted to show Amos the west while he was still young. 

Over the next few weeks, we checked one thing after another off a scribbled index card bucket list I had stuck inside the van. We saw the Grand Canyon, listened to a concert at Red Rocks, and visited Sedona (quickly leaving—it was far too hot and crowded). We saw the Tetons and fell in love with Sun Valley Idaho. I mountain biked with Amos in a ton of states, and my mom bought  local yarn for knitting. 


And we learned a lot about road tripping with a puppy. 



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Everyone thought it was a little crazy that I got a bird dog puppy as soon as I moved into a van. Yes, in retrospect, it was a little nuts. But I guess where everyone else saw a ton of work, I saw a ton of potential. Amos was just 8 weeks old when he started staying in the van with me, and I saw a blank slate waiting to become the perfect dog for my rather unique lifestyle. 

Since he grew up in the van, he tends to think of it as his den, and while we were on the trip I saw the need for some more formal training and boundaries. This was particularly the case when he began growling at my mom when she tried to come in the van and he had food out. Through a lot of trial and error, here are some things I learned about raising a puppy while van life-ing. 

1) They need their own space. In the van Amos has his own cupboard with his toys, teething chews, food, etc. He also has a certain bed on the floor that is just his, and his food and water bowls stay in the same place. 

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2) Create a dog “go-bag.” When we would stay with friends or at a hotel, it was nice to all of Amos’ stuff in a bag ready to go. Food, treats, his travel bowls, etc would always be packed and ready for staying somewhere else or trying to reorganize the van. 

3) Routine can be key. When it is just Amos and I, we tend to fly by the seat of our pants. But when my mom was living in the van with us, it became apparent he needed some more structure. So, we started doing some things a certain way: we fed him outside every morning, my mom got in the van before him every time, and we began putting him in a crate to sleep at night wedged between the foot of the bed and the front seats. Having some structure seemed to help him a lot when there was more chaos than normal. 

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4) Training, training, training. I put a ton of time into working with Amos on commands that were universal and also unique. His recall is on point, and he has some van specific commands such as “get in the van.” I’ve found these commands to be important when we’re at campgrounds and situations that may cause a reaction from him. His recall command has also been useful when we stop at places for him to run. Living in a van on the road means a lot less time to run around, so being able to let him run loose is important and only an option if he comes when called.

5) Space can also be key. Living in a van with a puppy often means 24/7 with them. While that is amazing and you can create an unbreakable bond, I began seeing how anytime I left Amos, even to go inside a gas station to pay for gas, he would absolutely panic. While it was hard to start getting space from him, I did start taking him to daycare on occasion and letting my mom watch him while I went for longer bike rides. He is much better now about having to stay away from me, which is very functional for when I work, etc.

6) Accept your van will never be clean again. Enough said. 

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I loved living in my van with Amos, and he did too. In a few weeks, we are migrating north to Alaska for a few years for a job, so the van is staying at home in North Carolina. While we will miss living in it, I’m grateful for the chance it gave us to really bond. I’ll forever cherish our van life memories, including the trip out west with my mom and raising Amos. 

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