Find the Best Dog Breed for Van Life and RV Travel

Dog in a van

Find Your Best Dog Breed for Van Life

Van life has become increasingly popular over the past several years in the United States. Its adventurous, flexible, and wanderlust lifestyle is very appealing to many people. Although “van life” can mean different things to different people it is essentially when someone decides to live in their van, RV, bus or trailer full-time while traveling from place to place. Some people decide to live this way for several months, just the summer, or even years.

If you find yourself interested in pursuing this nomadic lifestyle, consider having a “van life dog” join you on the journey. We will cover everything you need to know with your search on finding the best dog breed for van life.

Disclosure: This content may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on them, I may get a commission (without any extra cost to you).

Why Should I Bring a Dog with Me on my Journey?

1. A Dog is a Loyal Companion

They don’t call dogs man’s best friend for no reason! Even if you are not planning on traveling alone (meaning you are going with another human) a dog will make a great companion for you on your trip. Dogs are loyal by nature and are good company. Your pup will be by your side on those long travel days on the road. In a way, they are a piece of home you can bring with you.

2. Dogs Bring a Sense of Security

There’s no doubt that dogs can be great alarms to any sort of danger. With their superior hearing and smell, they will be sure to alarm you if anything seems out of sorts.

3. Dogs are Great Adventurers

I can only assume if you are the type who is interested in van life, you probably are someone who also loves adventures. Dogs are natural born adventure lovers. They will motivate you to go on daily walks, hikes, explorations, and live a more active lifestyle in general.

4. Dogs are Fantastic Models for Photos

I realize this point might be a tad silly, however dogs make the cutest models for Pinterest worthy photos. It is not abnormal for van lifers to want to document their adventures on social media. Obviously, beautiful scenery pictures are great for your Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest accounts but how cute would a picture of your pup with mountains in the background be? Plus, your friends and family will love seeing pictures of you and your dog all over the country.

a dog in front of a van in the great outdoors

What Qualities Make a “Good” Van Life Dog?

A.K.A- What should I consider when looking for the best dog breeds for this specific lifestyle?

Size of the Dog

RV travel means you are dealing with a small space. It’s really important to consider the size of the pup you are planning to bring with you. Will your big dog be miserable in a tiny van with very little room to walk around and be comfortable?  It goes without saying that smaller dogs might be a little easier in the space department when it comes to van life. Now, this is not to say you can’t bring a large dog on your travels with you, but you might need to be more strategic with your space.

Activity Level

It is a good idea to research the energy levels of various dog breeds. Although, you might spend a lot of time on hiking trails, there will be a ton of time sitting in a vehicle. High-energy breeds will need a lot more stops along the way to let out their energy so they don’t go crazy during the long car rides. If you are looking for a dog that does not require much exercise or activity, this will take research ahead of time. Make sure to check out this post for more tips on how to tire out your energetic dog.


Although every dog is unique in their own way and won’t fit into a cookie cutter description, it is a fact that some breeds are better suited for this type of lifestyle. Some dog breeds tend to be more anxious than others. RV living requires flexibility, adaptability, and low anxiety. You will be in new places (national parks, dog parks, camping sites, parking lots) with new routines, and meeting new people. A dog who thrives on a specific schedule and is high-anxiety might not do well with van life. Can your dog be easily trained? A dog living in a van will need to be able to listen to commands and follow direction and proper training due to the unpredictable nature of this nomadic lifestyle.

Maintenance Level

Dog owners living the van life will thrive with a more low maintenance pup opposed to a breed that requires regular grooming, appointments, etc. You will likely be traveling all over the country and will not be able to stop to get your dog a haircut. The best dog breed for van life is one that requires little maintenance-or care you can give yourself. To keep the dog hair at bay, consider bringing your own toolkit with a dog brush, or get a dog with a hypoallergenic coat that does not shed. Your dog’s grooming needs are not the only thing to consider in this department. Does your dog have to be on certain medications or do they have food allergies? These are all things to plan for and keep in mind when you are on the road.

Health Status

It is vital you make sure your dog is healthy and will thrive with this mobile lifestyle. Consider your dog’s age, weight, and general health. Will your dog be able to handle being in new environments all the time? If you are unsure, the best thing you can do is discuss your dog’s health with your trusted veterinarian.

people with a dog living the van life

What Does a Dog Need for Van Life?

*This is not an exhaustive list of everything your dog will need. Below are some examples of things you might find helpful to bring along on your many travels. Make a list of everything you will need to make sure you are not forgetting something important.

Dog Bed

Your dog will need their own safe space to relax while on your adventures. Make sure to get a high-quality dog bed that you can easily wash.


There’s no doubt you will need a harness and leash to take your dog with you on your hikes, walks, etc. A lot of places around the U.S. require dogs to be on a leash.

Travel Water Bowl

If you are planning on brining your dog on a lot of your hikes or other outdoor activities, a collapsible water bowl is a great option. It is compact and can fit in a backpack when you are not using it. Side note: we absolutely love this water bottle travel bowl here.

First Aid Kit

You can easily put together a little DIY kit for your dog to take with you on your trip. If you plan on adventuring in the great outdoors, it’s always a good idea to have some things on hand- such as gauze, cotton balls, non stick bandages, a dog-safe antibiotic spray, tweezers, etc. On the same note, its always a good idea to have some paw balm to put on your dog’s paws if you will be somewhere hot. These extreme temperatures and terrain can be rough on your pup’s paw pads.

Mental Stimulation Puzzles/Toys

It’s no secret your dog will be spending long periods of time in a small space. They can easily become bored if they are not given a job or task to do. This is where mental stimulation games such as interactive puzzles or dog toys can come in handy. There are many different puzzles/toys/activities for your dog to enjoy on the road. These objects can help to not only entertain your pup but can also provide other benefits such as stress relief and can prevent unwanted chewing/destruction that results from boredom.

* Check out our essential guide to traveling with dogs long distance for more tips and tricks to make road life with your pup run smoothly.

dog outside in front of a van

So, What is the best dog breed for Van Life?

Border Collie– Intelligent/Affectionate/Energetic

Many people will agree that border collies are some of the best dogs to take with you on your travel adventures. These dogs are considered one of the most intelligent breeds around. They are easily trainable due to their high intelligence. They have a lot of energy and will make a great hiking and adventure buddy. Border Collies are generally sociable and friendly dogs as well. They are also a great choice for van life due to their medium-size weighing in at 30-45 pounds.

Jack Russell Terrier– Well-Rounded/Alert/Energetic

Due to their compact size, Jack Russel Terriers are ideal for van life. They are well-rounded in the fact that they are a relatively small breed with the athleticism/energy of larger dogs. Jack Russel Terriers are also known to be pretty adaptable which is a vital quality in van life.

Labrador Retriever– Friendly/Easy-going/Adaptable

If you are a lover of large breeds, don’t worry, van life can still be accomplished with a larger pup. You will need to be a bit more strategic with your space and make sure your larger dog will be suitable for van life. Labrador Retrievers can fit the bill because they are generally positive and upbeat dogs with big personalities. They are extremely adaptable and flexible when it comes to their environment and will do just fine on road trips. Labs are a good choice in breed if you are big on hiking and exploring. They will be able to keep up with the physical demand of your adventures- plus most Labs like water as well. So, add some water activities/spots on your travel bucket list!

Australian Shepherd– Loyal/Energetic/Hard-working

This breed is near and dear to my heart because my two pups are miniature aussies and I can confirm the rumors (let’s just say facts at this point) about this breed’s ridiculously high energy levels. This can be both a positive and negative for those living in their vans. Australian Shepherds need a ton of daily exercise and activities. They get bored easily so you will need to make plenty of stops along the way during your travels. Mental stimulation games will also be important to bring along with you to keep their minds busy as well. Aussies are an intelligent medium-sized dog. So, they are a perfect match for someone looking for a dog that is not too big but also not too small. Aussies will be amazing adventure buddies and will never tire on a good ole’ hike.

Golden Retriever– Outgoing/Affectionate/Playful

The Golden Retriever is a fan favorite dog breed…and for good reason. Goldens are naturally sweet and sociable dogs. They are charmers by nature and love their families. Golden Retrievers are usually great dogs for water activities and other outdoor experiences. They are a larger dog but definitely not so large they couldn’t fit in the space of your van. Goldens do shed a ton so keep that in mind. You will want to keep your space tidy and have something that sucks up all the dog hair. They are plenty worth it though.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel– Devoted/Affectionate/Adaptable

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are also an excellent choice for a dog when you are planning to live this sort of lifestyle. They were originally bred as companion dogs so they have the traveling companion quality checked off the list! One of the best qualities about these dogs is they are relatively low maintenance when it comes to regular exercise/physical activity needs and they are fast learners. Cavalier Spaniels are still considered a relatively small size (maybe small/medium)  that would be a good fit for your van or RV’s space.

a van that has been converted into a home

Brittany Spaniel– Lively/Positive/Athletic

Brittany Spaniels are an ideal dog breed for van life. They are a great medium-sized dog that is extremely athletic. Brittanys will be able to keep up with all your outdoor adventures. They are fun-loving and have a happy nature. Here’s more good news with this breed- they don’t shed a ton. Their coats are pretty low maintenance compared to other breeds. With some weekly brushing, they are good to go.

Toy Poodle– Versatile/Affectionate/Playful 

If you are looking for a small dog breed to take with you on your travels, consider a toy poodle. My mom and sister have a total of 5 toy poodles between the two of them. Therefore, I am very familiar with this dog breed. Toy poodles usually weigh less than 10 pounds so they will not take up much space in your vehicle. They are also hypoallergenic and do not shed. However, they are high maintenance when it comes to grooming so that will be something to keep in mind. Poodles typically need to be groomed monthly so their hair does not become matted. This could be a problem if you do not know how to properly cut their hair and you are far far away from your local groomer.

Portuguese Water Dog– Enthusiastic/Confident/Smart

Although this breed is a little more uncommon it still has many ideal van life qualities. First, the Portuguese Water Dog is known for its minimal (virtually no) shedding. Since your RV will likely be pretty small, the less dog hair the better. These dogs are also highly intelligent and can be easily trained if you know what you are doing. The Portuguese Water Dog is built for water and work. They are highly energetic and will need plenty of physical activity along your travels.

Whippet– Gentle/Calm/Sensitive 

The Whippet is a medium-sized dog with the look of the sleek Greyhound but a tad smaller in stature. Whippets are great for van life because they are extremely low maintenance dogs. They are playful, affectionate, and calm. They rarely bark which is great for van life (who wants to hear barking in a small space all the time?).

Final Thoughts about the Best Dog Breed for Van Life

As you can see, there is not just one answer to the question, “what is the best dog breed for van life?” The “perfect van life” dog breed will vary from person to person. Are you a super active person who loves finding the best hiking trails in whatever city you happen to land in? Then maybe the Border Collie or Australian Shepherd is best for you. Are you someone who absolutely loves being around the water? Perhaps the Portuguese Water Dog would be a great choice. Maybe you want a super sociable dog who will get along with everyone and everybody. Then the Golden Retriever might be up your ally. If you are looking for a small breed to be your travel companion, consider the Jack Russel or Toy Poodle.

The most important thing is to do you research and think about your must-haves and what qualities are most important. In the end, a dog is a dog and there will never be the absolute PERFECT breed with no cons. There is a reason Van Life is obscure and the general population chooses not to live this way. Make sure you pup will thrive in this environment and enjoy the travels just as much as you do!

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