Tips for Traveling with a Dog in a Van or RV
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
I post a lot of pictures of my travel and in a lot of my pictures people can see that I travel with an adult Doberman a lot so I get a lot of question about how I travel with her in a van, do I leave her in there, do I mountain bike with her, and what do I change about the van for her. So I thought I would make a guide of things I have learned about traveling with her.
First off if there is a chance of one device failing and putting her in harm I will not take that chance. That means I would not leave her in the van with the AC running (engine running or portable AC/shore power/generator in my case) without a remote monitoring system. Police K9 units have some of the best monitoring systems/cooling systems and even those lead to death on rare occasions. So relying on just an A/C system by itself is not an option for me.
UPDATE (April 2021): I am testing a remote monitoring method as I will be using AC/Generator/Shore Power combo in the near future. I will cover that testing further down in steps 6, 7, and 8.
I do mountain bike with her a lot, where allowed. When she cant come riding with me she does stay in the van, but for that to happen certain criteria have to be met:
1. Ambient outside temperature has to be acceptable
2. Two fans running non-stop with enough reserve power for them
3. Plenty of water available to her that wont spill
4. Windows of vehicle covered (for heat and anxiety)
5. Signs stating dog is in vehicle with water
if all the above are met, the above steps #1 and #2 can be removed if the following three can be met:
6. AC running on shore power or generator
7. Remote monitoring system operating
8. Vehicle will begin venting to outside air and fans turn on if temperature exceeds preset limits.
1. If the van is in the shade this number changes, for me its usually around 80 degrees, but that depends on humidity and sunlight. This is my "if everything fails" number. If its 70 degrees, but the van is in direct sunlight and everything fails the time frame I would leave the van drops drastically.
2. My van is equipped with a MaxxFan in the roof that exhausts air based on temperature. If she is in the van I just set it on high in exhaust mode. The front two windows of my van are vented with these really cool window vents that keep the van secure, yet vented. Also I picked up this 12vdc fan at a truck stop and love it for forcing air from the front vents towards the back of the van. Its pretty powerful.
3. For water I have used a few things. The one I like is rather large, 3 gallon water bowl, but would be hard for her to knock over and holds plenty of water. You can use a small bowl, but keep in mind if the dog knocks it over then there is no water for her.
4. I also cut window shades out of Reflixtic material and use suction cups to hold them in place. I have a passenger van so there is a lot of windows. There are two reason for this. First is obviously the heat blocking. A lot of heat comes in through my windows and this stuff does a great job of blocking it. Secondly, for the dog's anxiety. If you have certain breeds, like a Doberman, they tend to go into patrol mode and can't relax if they are on alert for every passing person or dog. With all the windows blacked out she relaxes much easier and is always fast asleep when I return to the van. If you dog has separation anxiety I imagine this would help also and may even consider a smaller living area for the dog within the van. Mine prefers the bed, but others may not. Also with both fans running on high it creates a soothing environment for her and rarely does she bark or show any signs of anxiety.
5. Lastly, and this seems to be overlooked a lot, is a sign stating that there is a dog in the vehicle, the vehicle is climate controlled, and the dog has plenty of water. This is very important I feel to prevent people from "rescuing" your dog. I have been traveling a lot with her and have yet to have an issue or anyone raising concern for her being in there. I had my sign made at FedEx/Kinkos and laminated it to make it look even more professional. Another important thing to list on the sign, that many people misinterpret, is that barking is not a sign of distress. I have a Doberman, she is protective and will bark aggressively if someone gets close to the van or tries to enter the van... and at the occasional passing dogs... This is not her in distress, this is her being protective of the van and I think that is also important to include on the sign.
I have done a lot of traveling with a dog in my camper van with no issues. Sometimes you miss out of something if its too hot or you have to take turn sitting with her. It is definitely a sacrifice to bring a dog, but there are a ton of benefits too. You just have to know your dog. Mine loves long trips and can chill in the van for long periods of driving with no issues. Some dogs cannot, which is something you need to know before embarking on a long trip.
Operating with Air Conditioning/Shore Power/Generator:
6. Air Conditioning: For this I currently use a stand up portable generator that has vent hoses going out the front windows for exhausting hot air (more on that setup coming soon as there are things to note about 1 vs 2 hose systems). It is a 12000 BTU unit similar to this one and requires that I be hooked up to shore power (120vAC @15amps minimum) or a generator. The generator I use is a Craftsman 2200 watt inverter generator (made by Generac) and barely can operate this AC unit. Preferably I would like to be on shore power, but the amount of times I use this AC system is minimal and have yet to actually use the generator on the road and have only done test runs with it and the AC.
7. Remote Monitoring Systems. The first thing to note is that the monitoring is not the issue, the communication is. Most systems rely on cell service or Wi-Fi (if available). What I am currently testing is a wi-fi temp monitoring system that I have been using in my home for a while, the Govee Wi-Fi Temp Sensor. I have used this in my garage and basement for a while now to monitor temp and humidity and have found it very reliable. In order for it to function on the road we added the use of a Verizon Jetpack operating 2.4ghz Wi-Fi and operating on Verizon cell service (monthly cost). This temp monitor works by sending temp/humidity data (sending only! cannot receive requests) every 10 minutes to a server which can be accessed by cell phones elsewhere. This requires you to have both cell coverage where the van is parked and where you are at. However because it logs historical data in the app you can look back and see that last time and temp wherever you get service for peace of mine that it is working.
Temperature alarms can be set for both hot and cold in addition to humidity alarms. During my testing I found that it will send the temp alarm in about one to two minutes after the sensor passes the limits (not instant and not at the 10 minute interval). Something to note though and an issue I ran into was that with a Verizon Jetpack you have to tell the jetpack to never go to sleep. This is because the temp sensor only connects every 10 minutes to wi-fi, it does not stay connected, so the Jetpack goes into sleep mode after 5 minutes if it does not think anything is connected and this will prevent alarms from being sent, but you will know as the app stops logging temp every 10 minutes and shows no wi-fi connection.
Lastly, both the Verizon Jetpack and Temp Sensor are battery operated so a power failure in the van would not effect them. And if one of the two devices were to fail it would be noted in the app on the cell phone when it fails to log new data every 10 minutes.
Testing the setup on Verizon Jetpack Wi-Fi:
What the app looked like during testing:
Everywhere the app showed red (above) it sent a push notification to my cell phone:
8. Emergency Venting: Because I have the maxxfan and door vents installed as mentioned in #2 the only difference in this step is the roof mounted maxxfan is set to turn on only at a preset temperature (85 degrees for me, which is the temperature my alarm would sound and alert me). This allows me time to get back and let the dog out and correct whatever happened with the AC/shore power/generator as it will exhaust air while pulling in fresh air through the front door vents. This prevents the van from heating up like an oven due to possible air conditioning/shore power/generator failure, which is all too likely and could be as simple as a circuit breaker popping. This is important to me as it is my "if all else fails" step.
Here are a few other options on the market for remote temp monitoring that I looked at:
-Temp Stick - Requires WiFi for sensor and cell for receiver (cell phone) which may work if you park near WiFi or have a hotspot. Device is $150
-RV Pet Safety - Uses 4G for sensor and receiver (cell phone), 12 months free than $15 a month after that. Which may be fine if you could just pay for the 1-2 months you are traveling. Device itself is $300
-Sensorlife by MarCell - multi-use sensor (temp/humidity and additional probes) that plugs into 120vac and has built in battery. Sensor uses cell network ($15 a month) and receiver is internet or cell phone. Device is $200
-King Pigeon 3G Temp Alarm - Uses SIM card from cell service provider (Verzion, ATT, T-Mobile). It uses cell network (3g/4g) to send SMS alerts and you can make a phone inquiry into the current temp. Device cost is around $110 and you can get a T-Mobile SIM card for $10 and get a pay as you go plan for $3 a month. This would allow 30 messages a month or $0.10 a message after that. So as long as you don't get more than 30 alerts or inquires a month you would be fine and you can load the SIM card with extra money in the event you get more alerts.
Products I use for traveling with a dog:
Coming Soon: Tips for Mountain Biking with a Dog