The other day was the four month anniversary since I landed and so Loki and I have our routines down pat now, rain, sun or snow (literally). If you’re thinking about hitting the road with your dog, long term or short term, you might be wondering what to pack. Don’t stress! It’s not as complicated as you might think – you basically need to think about what you use at home, and take that. Of course this list might be slightly different depending on your dog’s breed (a husky probably won’t need a winter coat!) and depending on what interests you have (if you don’t like hiking, don’t pack a dog backpack!).
• Harnesses – I have about three or four harnesses, for different uses. My favourite at the moment is his Ruffwear “Frontrange” harness, though I think it’s possibly a little big on him. I was using a fleece “Original fleece-lined harness” but since Loki is ALWAYS wet, I needed one that would dry quickly. I also have a Hurtta “Trail pack” harness that backpacks attach to which I haven’t had a chance to use yet.
• Leashes – again, I have a few for different uses. My normal-length black leash for quick walks, walking around a town, if I don’t actually intend to have him on-lead but need to carry one just incase, etc. A long, adjustable leash with bungee end that I can clip around my waist, around a tree, on the mountain bike or hold as normal, and (sigh) a flexi-leash because everyone here has them for places dogs have to stay on-lead (some National Parks and so on). I don’t use this often and yes, I know the safety risks.
• Collar with ID tag– self explanatory. Loki’s tag says “Help! I’m lost!” and has my German phone number.
• Coats/jackets – Look, I know Loki is a border collie, he’s fluffy… he’s also from Australia and the coldest temperature he’s ever experienced is about 0C, so when it’s chilly, I do put a coat on him, unless we’re going for a hike because he’s pretty warm when he’s moving. I also have a super visible, water-resistant orange jacket because apparently it’s hunting season and… well…. Let’s just say I have a bit of a coat-buying obsession and leave it at that shall we?? At the moment, his most used coat is the Back on Track quilted coat. It seems to be water resistant too. Otherwise a no-name polar fleece tartan coat that makes him look like a Scottish Lumberjack or something. I also have a Hurrta Torrent Coat that I need to review.
•Food, food bowls, food-eating-devices. Loki doesn’t actually eat from a bowl. Every time I’ve forgotten this and given him food from a bowl (eg. When visiting a friend and wanting to appear normal), he inhales it in about 2 gulps then stands there looking like he can’t breathe. In the van, we either do trick training for meals, or I scatter his food around on the floor for him to find. Food toys are great for rainy days because it means a meal can last half an hour or more, and the dog gets a bit of a mental workout. Alternatively, slow bowls are great for dogs who eat too quickly and I had one of these for Loki at home but decided it was just as easy to throw food on the floor than pay $30 for one here. I’ve just started him on raw food while I’m apartment living for a little while but it’ll be interesting to see if/how I manage it when I’m back on the road.
• Travel water bowl – A no-spill bowl like the “Road Refresher” lives between the two front seats and I make sure it always has water in it. The great thing is, even if I drive like a maniac, it doesn’t spill everywhere. Its position is a little problematic because my phone keeps slipping off the front seat and landing in it… maybe I should find a new home for it.
• Grooming items – a brush (though he hates being brushed), nail clippers, scissors for trimming out knots because he wouldn’t let me brush him without looking pathetic. A special tick-pulling-out-device has been really necessary here. We picked one up from the pet-store and it was WAY more effective than tweezers which the internet said I should use.
• Reflective/light-up gear – When we were in the north of Sweden, about 200km into the polar circle, it was getting dark at 2.30pm. Loki’s Noxgear Lighthound harness keeps him visible, as do the various reflective strips on his coats and harnesses… now, if only I was as much of a disco party machine…
• Poo bags – Goes without saying, but you need poo-bags. We go through at least two of these a day on most days. The best ones are biodegradable, or earth friendly, or something. Sometimes I wonder if we’re doing more damage by using hundreds of plastic bags than letting his poop decompose somewhere (look, if he poops in the middle of the forest, I’m probably going to leave it there), but anyway, that’s another subject entirely.
• Towels! I have little hand-towels for wiping feet, and bigger towels for wiping bodies. Loki is wet so, so often that I end up using multiple towels while I wait for others to dry.
• Pharmaceutical items – his tick collar seems to be really effective. I went from pulling off 3-4 ticks a day to 1 every couple of weeks. I got the Seresto collar, which is supposed to last 8 months (probably less because of how often he’s swimming). I still don’t agree 100% with using strong chemicals on my dog but I’m less keen on the idea of ticks. Worming tablets, whatever medication your dog might need, etc.
• Agility Gear – Clicker, tug toys, agility leashes, training treats, target mat. All the random agility paraphernalia that we need. Hopefully soon a set of travel jumps too. Yay!
• Paperwork – all of Loki’s paperwork, his export documents, his pet passport, his vaccination records from Australia etc., are all kept in a folder in my glovebox.
• Fold-up crate – Loki travels in his crate on the floor of the van. It’s a pain in the butt because every time I want to get to the fridge or cupboard I have to put it somewhere, but he’s so safe in there. He won’t go flying if I have to slam on the brakes, if someone crashes into us from behind he’s well away from that area, and I think he’s more relaxed in there too. It’s not as good maybe as one of those crates specifically designed for cars, but the setup I have makes that impossible.
• Vet-bed for inside the crate – this is a bed that sucks moisture to the bottom of it and holds it there (until it can dry out), which means the bed itself isn’t wet. This is really important for a dog who is wet as often as Loki is.
• A portable bed – I won the Hurtta Outback Dreamer bed in a competition and I love it, and so does Loki. It’s a fantastic bed for if we’re in a city or town and need to go to a restaurant, as it lets him know where his place is and he settles down and relaxes on the bed. I haven’t used it in cold climates and he doesn’t really climb inside it, but he does think it’s comfy.
Things that haven’t been as useful
• Toys. I bought Loki a little chipmunk toy and a ball, thinking he might like to play while in the van, but honestly we don’t have enough space for games inside. While we’re outdoors he usually finds a stick and we play with that (don’t worry, I’m well aware of the dangers of throwing sticks. We don’t play like that).
• Boots. I won some boots for Loki in a competition. I’m not sure they’re actually the right size, I should probably try them again, but so far he hasn’t really needed them, even in the snow. He got some snowballs the other day but I just pulled them out and off we went. And he’s really never walking on salted pavement at the moment… Maybe when we end up back in towns that actually salt their roads… In a way, I’m in two minds about using them because he does walk weirdly in them, and I question whether it’s worse for him to walk with an adjusted gait than it is to walk in snow/salt/ice.
• Portable/fold up water bowl – Really useful in Australia or for hikes along a beach, less useful in Europe where there’s a lake, river or stream every 5 minutes. Possibly if you were in warmer climates (Spain, Italy, etc.) or I guess really cold climates where the water is frozen over, you’d need a fold-up water bowl with you to give your dog water on the trail.
• Cooling coat – Well, ok, we arrived at the end of summer, but it never got even nearly warm enough for me to feel like Loki needed his cooling coat. Maybe next year.
What do you think? Anything I forgot? Any other essential items you need to pack to live the Van-life with your hound? Let me know!