It is hard enough to raise a puppy in a regular house, imagine shrinking the size of your house to a mere 300 square feet, putting it on wheels, and having it travel across the country.
When we concocted this crazy idea of ours, we never intended to include a 10 week old puppy on the journey. Unfortunate circumstances (which I won’t get into now) led to us making the decision to add little Theo into our family.
Adjusting to a world outside his litter was scary enough, but we threw him into a small space with another dog and two cats!
Having raised puppies before, we knew we were in for a ride. But this ride would be quite different from our other experiences. Instead of a stable environment, Theo’s would always be changing. This is a good thing and a bad thing.
Anyone who has dogs knows that socialization and introducing your dog to a variety of environments and experiences is key to having a well-adjusted pooch. In the past, we had done most of this through our yearly vacations, camping trips, and (of course) puppy training classes.
Traveling on the road did not allow us the luxury of being in one place long enough to attend classes with Theo. If we had thought it all through, I am sure we would have stayed in Colorado just a couple weeks longer and tried to take him to classes while we were staying with my family there. But we didn’t.
Instead, we made every effort to get him out of the motorhome and socialized as much as possible.
This included taking him to restaurants, bars, and tasting rooms that allowed dogs.
Once we reached California, it also included dog beaches.
We made sure to get him out as much as possible by taking him on regular walks and hikes. And we tried to introduce him to as many people as possible. Who doesn’t want to pet a cute little puppy?
Much of this may not sound any different from raising a pup at home, right? Very true.
One thing to take into consideration while on the road is veterinary care. Instead of having a regular vet, who may see your dog from puppyhood to old age, you wind up taking the dog to a bunch of different people, such as we did while getting him all of his puppy vaccinations, neutering, and yearly check-up. There is no regularity in care, for you or your dog. You need to have good judgement and the ability to trust people, particularly when something goes wrong. When little Teddy got a foxtail stuck in his foot, we found a vet quickly and had to trust that she knew what was best for him. Not having a history with her was hard.
Another thing to consider is the size of your home. Yes, whenever possible, you can take your dog outside on walks. However, on those cold wintery days — or rainy days — this may not be an option. Then you are stuck inside 300 square feet with little space to get exercise.
We are fortunate that Mr. Theo does not take too much exercise to wear him out. A couple of intense games of tug-o-war and he is ready for a nap.
That is one benefit of traveling with a smaller dog, he tires faster than our larger dog and he takes up less space. However, navigating in an RV can be tricky for those short little legs of his. Getting in and out of an RV can be difficult, as the steps are not easy for him to manage (the same thing goes for jumping on the bed). We are lucky that he is so agile now but as a puppy, these things were a challenge — and they will be a challenge when he gets older, too.
He has learned how to play well in our little space with Piper, our other dog, and both of the cats. They race back and forth from the driver’s seat to the bedroom, chasing each other like crazy, or wrestling like it is the next big cage match.
Having a big sister was a great help in getting him adjusted to life on the road.
Fortunately for us, he potty-trained very quickly and we had very few accidents in the house. Snagging him mid-urination is not my idea of a fun time, but luckily it did not happen often.
Early on, we trained him to walk on a harness and leash so he is comfortable with this option when he needs to go outside quickly — though in our current situation with the fenced yard, we do not need to worry about this.
We went with the crate training method for potty training, which has always worked well with our other dogs. The only problem with this is that you have to have room for a crate. Ours is metal and breaks down easily but it is still an extra object that we are hauling around on the road.
Something to remember as well: RVs are not made the way houses are. Urine can damage things much faster and it is important to quickly and properly clean up any messes.
When we weren’t using the crate, such as when he was very young and we were with him all the time, we could quickly take him outside for bathroom breaks. This is where the RV stairs became an issue. It is almost more like a ladder than stairs, and we were rushing in and out to make sure he didn’t have an accident. Doing this while on the road is definitely a hassle. While driving, we often left his harness on him so that we could easily attach his leash and get him outside whenever necessary.
One instance in particular stands out and most of you have heard this story before. We were driving down the road in Arkansas and Theo began to whine a little. I looked at Andy in a panic and said, “Theo has to go potty right now!” We pulled the RV over on the side of the road as quickly and safely as we could. I slipped on some sandals, fastened his leash and harness to him, and stepped out in the ditch. He quickly relieved himself but not before I noticed he was in distress. I had unknowingly placed him on top of an ant mound and they were biting his tummy. I brushed them off of him quickly, sustaining a few bites of my own, and we jumped back on the road. But this is one memory that sticks with me when I think about potty training on the road.
While on the road, we did not have a fenced area for him to play so we got him a tie-out and attached it to the RV. We had some issues with him getting tangled up but nothing major.
Visiting friends and family, or having them come visit us, is another great way we have been able to socialize him.
We have had our ups and downs. With any puppy comes some form of destruction of property. In an RV, things are placed so closely together that areas you thought were inaccessible actually are. With the couch pressed right up next to the dining room table, the table is not a secure place to keep things. He can jump onto the couch, walk across the back of it, and get onto the table without issue. He would not have had this option in our house.
And in a small space, you just have to understand that they will most likely want to sleep anywhere they can get comfortable.
And I mean anywhere.
The #1 reason we were successful (in my opinion) in raising a puppy on the road in a motorhome?
We treat him like a member of the family, and that includes showing him all the affection he can handle. In my mind, this makes all the extra hassle completely worth it.
Now that we are stationary, we do plan to bring him in for training classes. Despite our best efforts, there are areas where Theo can improve. We are happy we made the decision to include him in our lifestyle change and thankful that it has been going so well!