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The Challenges and Benefits of Living in a Van With Your Dog


17 March 2021



We are the Capelings. We live in our self-converted 2015 Mercedes Sprinter Van. Our tiny home on wheels. We spent 7 months converting our big empty white van into a luxurious off-grid oasis. We decided to embark on this journey shortly after we got our puppy, Vinny (@vincent_theaussie), a blue merle Australian Shepherd. Having a dog motivated us to spend more time outside in nature, just enjoying each day. We have been living Van Life for almost a year now and there are ample challenges and benefits that go along with bringing your dog along for the ride! Let me tell you a few. 


Safety & Protection

A couple months ago, we had someone attempt to break into our van in the night – It was our fault for accidentally leaving the van unlocked! Vinny sensed the danger and immediately scared the intruder off. This gave us confidence that Vinny would protect us if something were to happen when we were parked in a strange place. This was surprising to us because he’s not much of a barking dog. It’s also great when you are in a new place to have a dog with you that can sense danger before you can.


It’s a Great Way to Meet New People

Vinny is quite the conversation starter! Perhaps it’s because of his floofy bum and crimpy ears, but he always seems to get the attention of others. We have made many new friends while living in our van, including canine pals that I believe we will have forever simply because Vinny decided to say hi first. He has met so many dog friends too! He seems to have a best friend in every province of Canada!


Positive Spirit on Rough Days

I know Instagram makes you believe that van life is truly “living the dream”, exploring new places and watching sunset after sunset. But it is not all rainbows and butterflies. Van life is just as much a challenge as it is a reward. Some days you feel like you can’t catch a break because you can’t find anywhere to fill up your water tank, the weather is bad, you get a parking ticket, and every public restroom you check is closed. In these times, Vinny is truly the only thing that makes things better. He can feel when we are stressed or anxious, and immediately tries to make things better by bringing us one of his toys, or simply coming in for a snuggle. 


Tight Spaces

Our van is around 50 square feet in total. In this small space, we fit a full kitchen and a bed, as well as our two bodies and Vinny – it is very tight to say the least! We spend most of our days outside unless it’s stormy or we are on a road trip.

Dogs are dirty

When you live in a really small space, it is essential to try to keep it clean and organized. Emphasis on the word “try”. Vinny drags in mud, snow, dirt, water, you name it, and it covers our van floor. We use certain tools to minimize this struggle such as a towel hanging by the side door, and a mud buster for cleaning his paws. It’s really the same as letting your dog in your house covered in mud but this time it’s only 50 square feet, and you don’t have access to a shower or bath. 

House Training VS. Van Training

We had to “van train” Vinny with certain words such as:

  • “Under”- for going under the bed
  • “Front”- for going to the front seats
  • “Wait”- for leaving the van so he didn’t just jump out every time we opened a door

Yes, he knows van commands, but house commands are an entirely different struggle. The van is his home, so he sleeps on the bed because there is nowhere else to sleep. Unfortunately, this means that when we welcome him into a house, the first place he goes is your beautiful leather sectional.

I must say, Vinny is a very chill dude. He loves other dogs, he has endless amounts of energy, he’s very adaptable to new situations and most of all, he doesn’t get car sick. I wish I could say that we trained him in this, but I think we just got lucky. Vinny loves his life, and we love him too! He is constantly smelling new odours and seeing new places. For these reasons, and even with the challenges, I think van life with a dog is definitely worth it. 


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