5 Training Tips for Van Life Dog Owners

Black lab wearing Atlas Pet Company Lifetime Collar in the Rocky Mountians

Van life with your dog can be the greatest adventure. You can get out, explore new places, and create so many new, fun memories with your best friend. Unfortunately, the leap to a van lifestyle also comes with potential safety hazards and dangerous situations for a dog. 

At Atlas Pet Co, we’ve spent many months living and working in a dog-filled van, and we learned so many valuable tips along the way. 

Here’s our guide to 6 training tips to making van life easier with your pup. 

1. Start Small with Travel

My black lab Atlas never had problems when it came to long desert or windy mountain drives but this tip could be make or break for van life with your pup. 

Moving vehicles, whether they’re your home or not, can take some getting used to for even the most adventurous dog. Before you set off on your next great cross-country adventure, start small with small trips to train and desensitize your dog to the motion. 

Start with a short—no more than 5 minutes—drive, and watch your dog’s reactions. Look for signs of stress and anxiety, like drooling, panting, or whining. If your dog remains calm, reward their good behavior with praise and smelly treats to build positive associations. 

Slowly increase the distance of the drives, rewarding your dog each time, and watching for signs of stress. Any time your dog shows signs, go back to shorter distances. With enough repetition and rewards, your dog will be fully comfortable in the van. 

2. Create Consistent Routines

Consistency is the key to all dog training, but it’s especially important for van-lifers. Your dog’s outdoor environment is bound to change often as you travel around, and they will experience new, exciting sights and smells all the time. 

To balance this, make sure that your dog’s home and training routines always stay the same, no matter where you are. This includes feeding, playing, and training at the same times every day, as well as using the same command words and reward methods in every training session. 

Consistency and daily routines gave Atlas a sense of safety and allowed him to remain calm, which made adventuring and play time that much easier.

black lab wearing the atlas pet company lifetime collar in van

3. Reward Your Dog Often for Good Behavior

If you’ve ever met Atlas you’d know that training time = treat time and that means training doesn’t just happen in designated sessions and 30–60-minute increments, it happens all the time. Training moments happen every day, and it’s important to reward and reinforce good behavior whenever you see it, not just when you specifically ask for it. 

Calm behaviors are especially important to capture and reward. When you catch your dog lying down or relaxing, reward them for it with praise and a treat. 

Make sure that your dog’s body language is completely relaxed before you reward. Look for relaxed facial muscles, slow or regular breathing, and relaxed body postures, like one leg tucked under their body.

As you continue to capture these behaviors, add a word to it to establish a command. This can be “settle,” “relax,” “focus,” or any other word that you’d like. Once you build the association with the word, you can train your dog to relax on command, which can be especially helpful when traveling or in unfamiliar areas.  

You can do similar processes with other behaviors that you enjoy and want your dog to repeat, like “quiet” or a recall.


4. Start Your Dog Young

While this isn’t always possible when you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, training a puppy to adapt to a van lifestyle is easier than training an older dog because you can make sure the dog has adequate socialization. 

One of the most difficult things about having a dog in a van is getting them used to all of the different situations they could encounter: people, children, other pets, wildlife, water. 

There are so many uncertainties with traveling, and socializing a puppy at a young age in all these situations helps them build positive associations and reduces the chance of fear and phobias. 

While it’s possible, and sometimes even more rewarding, to work with reactive dogs, their anxiety to people, other animals, and new situations can make van life tough. 

black labs wearing the atlas pet company lifetime collar on van life road trip

5. Give Your Dog Plenty of Exercise

Every dog needs a certain amount of exercise and enrichment every day, and some high-drive, high-energy dogs need even more. If you find your dog struggling to focus or getting too frustrated during your training sessions, that’s a sign that your dog needs more exercise.

Exercising your dog before a training session works off excess energy, helps them stay calm, and puts them in a good headspace to learn. While training is great mental enrichment, it’s not a replacement for running, daily walks, hiking, or our favorite - fetch.

Atlas Pro Tips for Van Safety

While traveling and living in a van with your pup can be a rewarding adventure, it does come with potential safety hazards. The best way to prevent a dangerous situation is to prepare your dog with the necessary tools to stay safe. 

Here are the most important skills for your dog to have in their toolkit:

  • Reliable Recall: This prevents your dog from running off, getting lost, wandering into dangerous areas, or interacting with potentially deadly wildlife.  

  • Potty on Command: While this can be a convenient command for everyone to teach, it’s especially helpful for travel and times you need to keep your stops quick. 

  • Leave It and Impulse Control: Your dog is bound to encounter many things along the ground that will be toxic for them to consume, whether that’s toxic plants or trash on the ground. A reliable “leave it” can prevent a scary trip to the vet. 

  • Socialization: The more positive experiences that your dog can have in a variety of different social situations, the calmer they will be when they experience that situation again in the future. 

  • Kennel Training: Crate or kennel training is key for your dog’s safety. A crate is a good way to keep them secure in a moving vehicle, and it’s helpful when you need to leave your dog in the van, in a hotel, or even at daycare so you can run errands or go somewhere not pet-friendly.  
  • atlas pet company van in Arizona

    Is a Dog Suitable for Van Life?

    Take from us: Experiencing the world alongside your best friend builds the strongest bond between you and your dog and creates memories that last a lifetime. 

    With the right training foundations, the right gear, and a dedicated pet parent, a dog can live a happy, fulfilled life of adventures. 

    Looking for reliable dog gear to take with you for your new life on the road? Our leashes, collars, harnesses, and more are built to last and guaranteed for life, even if your pup destroys them.