Raising a Puppy on the Road
We adopted Parker a few days before Thanksgiving last year after losing our beloved dog Denali. We were missing Denali terribly and through a series of serendipitous events met Parker at just the right time. While he was only 9 weeks old and we were full-time RVers living in a 22 ft travel trailer, we thought that raising a puppy on the road could be pretty awesome. And it was, except for a few really cold nights of potty training! Read on for some important things we learned.
Your Puppy Wants to Be Where You Are
While you might not have all the amenities you did before you became a full-time RVer, the terrific trade-off is you have so much time with your pup. Instead of them waiting for you to come home from work every day, they’re at your feet when you’re working. And, they’re by your side when you explore. We take Parker on most of our adventures. Really, there’s so much you can do with your pup and it makes the experiences so much more special.
Tip: There are a lot of dog-friendly places to explore. We’ve done lots of incredible hikes, exploration of National Park and Monument, brewery and winery visits, and city walks with our dogs. Here’s some of our best finds and sources for West Coast dog-friendly exploration.
They’ll Find Their Own Happy Space
On the surface, you might think raising a puppy on the road in a small space won’t work. But, if you’re outside every day, your pup has all the space in the world. And no matter how small your rig is inside, they’ll find their own spot that they love coming home to. Parker curls up on the bed or by any window he can watch the world through.
Tip: Make sure to walk or run your pup outside everyday so they can get expend their energy. And, attach a long outdoor chain to your RV steps so they can have some freedom outside. It’s a great way to give your puppy space and independence. Inside, let them get to know your RV and find their spot.
Having a Routine is Important to Your Puppy
When we first got on the road, we didn’t realize how important some routine was among all the freedom we had. But there are definitely daily routines that keep us feeling like ourselves. Like morning coffee, reading the internet, exercise, regular meals, etc. Similarly, although you’re raising a puppy on the road, they still need to sleep, eat, and do their business at about the same time every day to stay happy! They also need training and discipline especially in their first year.
Tips: Set regular times for meals and snacks for your puppy. If you’re going to be out exploring, bring their food with you. Your pup will ultimately set their own sleep schedule and find every way possible to follow it.
Make sure you train your puppy regularly their first year. Pick a few things that are really important to focus on every month. When we first got him, we prioritized Parker learning his name, how to “sit” and coming when we called him. Training involved a lot of repetition and reinforcement with kibble.
Potty Training Requires Patience
Yup, potty training a puppy is the crappiest part of training! We dreaded nights those first couple months we had Parker. To get him on a cycle and make sure he did his business outside, we’d take him out every hour and a half. No matter how we split up this task, neither of us got any sleep those days and it’s good Parker is so cute because he was a pain! But, don’t forget potty training is not unique to raising a puppy on the road. Plus, it’s temporary (Parker took about 3 months), so don’t let the thought of it stop you.
Tip: Buy dog potty training mats and put them inside on the floor near where the puppy has done some of their mistakes. When Parker couldn’t hold it, he used the mats. And although it was stinky, it wasn’t hard to clean up. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy a new floor runner made of bamboo grass during the potty training period. Your pup might mistake it for the grass he’s supposed to pee on and after a couple accidents, you’ll decide it’s not cleanable! For outside, get a portable metal pen that you can put him in to do his business. Just make sure your campground allows pens (we found some have strict rules against them.)
There are Good Resources on the Road
On of the hardest things about being on the road is that you don’t have the regular network of support you did when you were stationary. Every time you travel to a new place, you’re probably looking for new friends, a grocery store, and a favorite coffee shop. And, if you need medical care, you don’t have your regular doctors to go to.
Tip: Fortunately, there are really good options to help you raising a puppy on the road. Petco has a pretty broad network of “Vetco” Clinics where they offer basic shots and examination services for your pup at reasonable prices. If you need more complex care (like we did with Parker’s dental surgery), we found a great local vet through Google reviews who ultimately referred us to an expert. Also, reach out to your fellow RVers for recommendations – the community is always happy to help.
Make Play Time Every Day
This may be obvious for anyone who’s had a dog. But as someone who didn’t grow up around dogs, it’s been so helpful to watch Eric and the bond he builds with his pups. One of the important things I learned is that a couple times a day, you need to take some time to sit on the floor and play with your pup or run with them outside.
Tip: Nothing beats a terrific long hike for exercising with your pup. But as you’re raising a puppy on the road, also make sure to spend time with them every day just interacting and playing. Every morning, there’s “Parker’s parade” where he grabs a toy in his mouth and does loops of the RV – it’s a great time to play with him. And almost every night, we spend couch time with Parker either playing catch with his toys or holding his elk antler while he chews on it.
Bring (Hiking) Snacks
As you’re packing your trail mix, fruit and water, don’t forget about your pup. They may make it look like the trail is easy for them but they need nutrition and hydration as much as we do. This is especially important if you’re hiking in higher elevations. An important part of raising a puppy on the road is helping them adjust to different types of environments.
Tip: When you’re hiking together, stop every mile or two along the trail to make sure your pup drinks water. We bring 4-8oz of water per mile for Parker depending on how hot it is and the difficulty of the hike. Also make sure you have extra dog food and treats, too. We’ll bring an extra meal of dog food (2 cups), a small bag of treats (good for snacking and training him to stay beside us.) On an 8 mile hike in the Sandia Mountains, we found that a banana is a great re-energizer for dogs too. Finally, if you’re hiking in higher elevations, your pup is as vulnerable to climate sickness as you are. Give them a couple days to get used to the elevations, then start with shorter hikes with plenty of water and allow more recovery time than usual.
Your Puppy Needs Friends Too
Just like you’ll probably miss being around friends and family on the road, your pup wants to hang out with other dogs. And it’s especially important for puppies to socialize when they’re young.
Tip: If your campground doesn’t have a fenced-in dog run, find dog parks around where you are. Besides allowing your puppy to run off-leash (which is critical for keeping everyone sane) they’ll meet other pups. Parker was REALLY timid the first couple times at the dog parks but eventually grew to love sniffing and running with other dogs. You’ll need to wait until your puppy has their three month shots to be safe, but after that we tried to find a dog run or dog park in every town we stayed in. This is a key part to raising a puppy on the road who’s well-adjusted.
Happy 1st Birthday Parker!
Parker just turned 1 year old. So far, he’s traveled to 19 states, visited over a dozen National Parks and Monuments, hiked in the deserts, up mountains and through mega sand dunes. He’s been an amazing part of our family and we’re grateful that RV life has allowed us the opportunity to spend so much time with him. If you have the chance, we’d encourage you to experience raising a puppy on the road. And, for those of you that have raised puppies or pets on the road, please let us know your tips below!