RVing has so many benefits- it’s an easy and affordable way to explore the country, get closer to nature, and feel more at home while you’re traveling. In fact, one of the coolest parts about having a tiny home on wheels is that you can bring your best furry friend along with you wherever you go! But while pups make almost every situation better, RVing with dogs certainly comes with its own unique challenges and considerations.
Not to worry, though- with these 5 tips for RVing with dogs that I’m sharing in the post below, you and your pup will be hitting the road in no time!
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My husband, Justin, and I have owned our teardrop trailer for about a year and have spent over a quarter of that time living in it with our two dogs, Lexie and Ira.
Actually, one of the reasons we got an RV is so that we could take our puppies with us on road trips and other adventures and I’m so thankful we did. It’s been particularly special given that Ira and Lexie are living out their golden years- I’ve watched Ira happily roll around in Sedona’s red dust, watched the sunrise over the Mojave Desert with Lexie on my lap, and watched them play together in the Pacific Ocean.
Over this period of time, I’ve learned a lot about RVing with dogs, from things I consider every time we’re headed to a new campsite to things I wish I had known before purchasing our teardrop. So, without further adieu, let me impart that wisdom unto you!
1. If you’re still in the process of buying an RV, consider what will be right for both you and your dog.
If you’re already an RV owner, then feel free to skip ahead to the next point, but, if you’re still in the planning stage and trying to figure out what’s the best adventure mobile for you, be sure to take not only yours, but also your dog’s needs into consideration.
Is there a spot in the RV to put their dog bed? Will it be easy for them to get in and out of it? Is there carpet that will get filthy with dog hair and other… dog things?
If you have a large dog with boundless energy, a small campervan may not be the right choice for you, depending on how you plan to camp. But if you’re like me and have two small senior pups that spend most of their time snoozing, an RV with a smaller footprint may suit your family just fine.
I’ll talk about this in more detail below, but also be sure to consider how well it handles heat and frosty weather. How insulated is it? What are the heating and air-conditioning options?
One of the biggest limitations when you’re camping with a furbaby is making sure the RV stays at a pleasant and, more important, safe temperature for them, especially if you ever need to leave them behind, whether to run errands or go explore. So, for this reason, it would be awesome to find an RV with a large enough battery to power its own heating and air-conditioning, given how unreliable electrical hookups (and thus, your electricity-dependent heating and cooling systems) can be at busy campgrounds.
If you can’t find your dream RV that offers this, though, no worries- there’s other tips below that can help you navigate without it (while our furnace runs on battery power and propane, our air conditioner only runs on electricity- and we’ve managed to make it work with our dogs, while almost exclusively boondocking!).
2. If your dog is new to your RV, start with baby steps.
When introducing your dog to your RV, it may take them a bit to get used to- there may be all sorts of new noises and smells when you’re on the road and I’ve even heard of dogs getting motion sickness in certain types of RVs, when they’re otherwise fine in passenger cars.
So start with some smaller weekend trips to get used to their new home on wheels, be generous with belly rubs and treats in those first few outings, and be patient if it takes some time for your best friend to adjust to their new camping lifestyle.
Our dog, Ira, is really neurotic and struggles with even minute changes to his daily routine- perhaps unsurprisingly he wouldn’t eat his food for days when we first started living in our trailer. Slowly but surely, he got acclimated to life on the road after about a week and, at this point, he happily jumps in the trailer on his volition!
3. Before you go on a trip, make sure your dog can stay safe and comfortable in your RV throughout.
We love going on camping trips with our dogs- we’ve sat around amany campfires with them at our feet, walked them through dozens of campgrounds, and snuggled with them in our bed countless nights.
But there’s also times that we can’t be with them when we’re RVing- like if we want to go on a hike, try a new restaurant, or run to the grocery store. And while we leave our dogs at our home in Seattle all the time by themselves, doing so in our trailer comes with a lot more preparation and considerations. Why?
Heat! While we have a full-blown heat mitigation plan in place (including black-out curtains, an awning, a plethora of open windows, and a MaxxFan set to high), our trailer still heats up similar to a car on warm days (obviously, less so than a car, but you get the point). And did you know that, every year, hundreds of dogs die from being left in overly hot cars?
We love our dogs and prioritize their health and safety. And part of keeping them safe is the reality that your travel and spontaneity in your RV will, to some degree, be limited by bringing along your dog.
That’s not to say RVing with dogs can’t still be the greatest adventure– Justin and I are living proof that you can see and do all kinds of amazing things, while camping with your pups. So if you’re trying to figure out how to balance keeping your dogs safe while still enjoying RVing, I’m listing some of the guidelines we follow below.
Most of these focus on making sure your dog is comfortable in warm weather- note that the same concerns apply when the temperature drops, but, in my experience, it’s usually a bit easier to combat the cold (i.e., with a properly ventilated propane-powered furnace), as opposed to the heat.
Make sure you know how hot your RV gets on a warm day and don’t leave your dog alone if you’d be uncomfortable in it.
In order to keep your dog cool and cozy, you’ll need to really understand how your RV responds to certain weather conditions, so you’ll have a good baseline of when it’s okay to leave your pup for a few hours by itself.
So you’re going to need to do some homework- hang out in your RV for several days, in a variety of conditions, with all of the heat mitigation efforts in place you usually use and get a good feel for how your RV heats up. How is the temperature impacted if you’re parked in the shade? What about on days with no wind?
Not all RVs are created equal- ones on the smaller side usually get warm more quickly than large ones and a well-insulated RV will obviously stave off heat longer than one with bare metal walls.
After a while, you’ll get a pretty good idea for how your RV feels in a variety of circumstances. For example, even with our blackout curtains and MaxxFan on its highest setting, our RV heats up about 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature in direct sunlight on a clear day without any wind.
From there, you’ll be able to look at the weather and make an educated determination of when you’re okay leaving your pup behind for a few hours, noting that, if you wouldn’t be comfortable at the RV’s temperature, your furry best friend won’t be either. Everyone has their own comfort level for these things- by getting to know our trailer, we’ve figured out that, on a hot, sunny day, we don’t feel comfortable leaving our dogs for any meaningful period of time if the outdoor temperature is warmer than 72 degrees.
When we do feel okay with leaving our pups behind, we try as hard as we can to make it comfortable for them- when it’s cold, we keep our propane-fueled heater cranked up and leave lots of warm snuggly blankets for them (like this one); when it’s warmer, we park in the shade, put up our window awnings, and leave out plenty of water. We also leave them alone for shorter periods of time than we would at our house in Seattle (usually no more than five or so hours). And we always err on the side of caution.
And one more note- as mentioned above, I’d advise against relying on air conditioning powered by electrical hookups when leaving dogs by themselves, unless you know that someone at the campground will reach out and let you know if there are any issues and you’re in a spot where you can quickly return to the RV if necessary.
Campgrounds’ electrical systems’ are infamous for having outages and brown-outs, especially when they’re overloaded in the summer months. If your A/C is on, chances are your windows won’t be open, your fan won’t be on, and, in the event the electricity goes out, you’re going to have one hot dog on your hands (and not the good kind).
Thankfully, there are some products out there that can help monitor your RV’s temperature while you’re away. The Temp Stick WiFi Temperature & Humidity Sensor will send you alerts via text or email when your RV reaches a certain temperature or humidity level, as well as offers additional features like reviewing historical data through the device’s app. The Temp Stick is also awesome because, unlike a lot of cellular-based temperature monitors, you won’t need a recurring monthly subscription specifically for your device.
However, you will need a dependable internet connection in your RV (and did I mention that campgrounds’ WiFi networks are also notoriously dodgy?), so you’d also likely need a mobile hotspot (we use this one), a data plan with your cell phone carrier, and oh yeah, cell reception at both the campground and wherever you’re headed to receive the alers. So bottom line- this isn’t going to be a reliable solution for every campground or situation.
So with all of that in mind, what can you do if you want to go explore, sans pup, for a bit during a warmer day? I’m so glad you asked!
Schedule your time away from your dogs during the coolest parts of the day, so you can hang out with your pup during that time frame.
For example, Justin and I visited Death Valley National Park and during our stay, it got up to the high 80s during the middle of the day.
Instead of abandoning our trip altogether, we got up for sunrise (which was amazing!), did some hikes in the very early morning, and came back to hang out with the dogs outside during the hottest parts of the day. Once our trailer had cooled down some in the late afternoon, we left again to do a sunset hike.
While, in a perfect world, we’d be able to explore the park to our heart’s content, your dog’s safety has to be your #1 priority if you’re planning on bringing them along for the journey. Plus, when you’re exploring your destination during off hours, you usually have an easier time snagging parking, avoiding crowds, and getting the best photos (that golden hour light, y’all!).
But if rearranging your schedule still doesn’t sound like your jam…
Check the weather and, if it’s not looking good, consider changing your route or destination.
Listen, I know it’s not ideal or, at times, even possible to completely change the course of your camping plans, all on account of your dog- what if you have reservations or some other concrete plans in the area you need to stick to?
But if you have the flexibility to switch up your plans when the weather looks like it’s going to be sketchy for you and your dog, it can really make your life a whole lot easier! Justin and I primarily camp at dispersed campsites (which obviously don’t take reservations) and choose our destinations largely around the weather- in the summertime, we stick to exploring the temperate Pacific Northwest and in the wintertime, we head south to places like Southern California or Arizona.
This way, Lexie and Ira can happily take naps outside on our camp chairs or alternatively, snooze away in our trailer while we’re off hiking. And even though we’re incredibly intentional about planning our routes around the weather, I can’t even begin to count the amount of times we’ve completely changed where we’re going at the last minute due to the overly warm or chilly forecasts.
And you know what? I’ve never once regretted checking out our Plan B instead- not only because our puppies were safe and sound, but also because of the awesome adventures we’ve had!
If that doesn’t sound ideal to you and the weather looks like it will limit your adventures while you’re RVing, I’d recommend looking into getting a dog sitter, either to leave your pup behind at home or even a sitter that can watch them near your campsite during the day. Justin and I have frequently used Rover, which offers both dog- and house-sitting services at really reasonable rates anywhere you go.
Alternatively, there’s plenty of dog-friendly AirBnBs and hotels out there for those days where it’s just too hot or too cold (and let’s be honest, if it’s not comfortable for your best friend, it’s also probably not that comfortable for you either!). If you go with the last option, though, make sure to double check the rules before booking- some accommodations charge extra fees for doggie guests and can have strict rules about leaving pets unattended.
4. Plan some dog-friendly activities.
No matter how spacious your RV is or how lazy your puppies are, they’ll still need to get outside for some fresh air, exercise, and bonding time with you, of course! So let’s talk activities that you can do with your pups while you’re camping.
And let’s start off with the bad news- there’s some places that RVers tend to flock that are not particularly dog-friendly, the most prominent example of which are U.S. National Parks. While most National Parks allow dogs in the campgrounds, almost all, but for a few (like Petrified Forest in Arizona or Acadia in Maine), do not allow dogs on the majority of their hiking trails or in their visitor centers or other attractions.
The good news? Almost all national parks are surrounded by spectacular National Forests and state and local parks, which tend to be free to enjoy, less crowded than the national parks, AND dog-friendly! If you’re looking for a hike you can do with your pup near your campground, check out the AllTrails app– it lists whether hikes are dog-friendly, as well as all sorts of other helpful information about the trail, like recent reviews, stats about the length and elevation gain, and recent photos taken by other hikers.
Even if you’re not a hiker, there’s plenty of activities you can do with your dog- checking out nearby dog parks, lakes, or beaches (I’ve even seen people paddleboarding with their pups!); strolling around neighboring towns; going for a bike ride; or my personal favorite, trying out new breweries or coffee shops with outdoor seating areas. Our pups have come with us to many shaded brewery patios when our trailer was too hot in the middle of the day- just make sure to call ahead of time to confirm patios are dog-friendly!
5. Be a courteous campsite neighbor.
When you’re sharing a camping area with other people, it’s important that you’re responsible and courteous- not only so those around you enjoy their time there, but so that the campsite operator keeps it running, open, and dog-friendly for others for years to come. And this includes making sure you’re practicing your dog-owner etiquette as well. Here are some guidelines that are pretty basic, but I’ve seen broken about a zillion times in my RVing tenure:
Keep your dog on a leash.
Unless you’re 100% sure there’s no one around for miles and miles, please keep your dog on a leash and with you at all times, both to protect your dog and others around them. While your dog may be well-intentioned and perfectly behaved, there’s no telling how someone else may react to them.
Case in point- my dogs! While they’re the sweetest pudding muffins on the planet to Justin, me, and other humans, they’re terrified of other dogs (due to their age, one is deaf and one is blind) and thus, can act aggressive. Countless times, other unleashed dogs have rushed up to them at our campsite and I have to pick my dogs up to prevent them from snapping at the other pup, while their owner assures me their dog is very friendly.
RVing should be about chilling and enjoying nature, not being worried your dog is going to bite another random dog or be bitten.
If you don’t want to have to worry about constantly holding on to your dog’s leash, there’s an easy solution for that! Justin and I have a simple dog spike that we take with us everywhere, that allows our bigger dog to have a fairly large radius to roam around, while still always remaining right in front of our RV. Add on a really long leash and your pup can essentially roam free!
Respect quiet hours.
Quiet hours at campgrounds are usually between 10 pm and 6 am. In addition to keeping your music and voices down during that period, try to keep your dog’s voice down as well!
If you have a particularly vocal dog and you plan on leaving your dog alone during this period (like perhaps for one of those sunrise hikes I suggested above?), you may want to look into getting a humane bark collar- I used one like this on my dog, Ira, when we lived in an apartment building and it definitely helped his barking problem (sorry, former neighbors!).
Most RVs are not particularly soundproof and in tight campgrounds, you don’t want your dog keeping others up all night.
Clean up after your dog.
Pretty simple- if your dog poops, pick it up (to cut down on plastic waste, I use these biodegradables ones) and throw the bag away. For whatever reason, it seems like a lot of people have been leaving their used doggie bags along hiking trails and in parks- there’s no rangers assigned to clean those up, so please don’t be that guy! You know the old phrase- “leave only footprints, not your dog poo bags…”- isn’t that how it goes?
I hope that helps you on your RVing journey with your furry best friend- while RVing with dogs can come with its challenges, I promise you the adventures you’ll have and memories you’ll make will be worth it. Do you have any questions about RVing with dogs? Any tips I forgot? Let me know in the comments below!