Since the recent global recession many of us had to seek more affordable ways to source adventure. An inevitable result for surfers was the increased popularity of traveling by van, touring the coasts and chasing the waves. Some even convert cheap vans into mobile surf homes to live the ultimate free life.
This life brings lots of free time and the occasional lonely moments for solo travelers. Many dog lovers are tempted to get themselves a four-legged companion as a loyal travel buddy. I, myself, have a dog named Rufio who goes everywhere with me and is truly my sidekick. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t have people ask my opinion about them taking a puppy on board with them, so I’ve decided to write a few words of guidance for anybody out there struggling to make that same decision.
First off, I’ll throw a few warnings your way. We all know when you lay your eyes on a cute puppy, all rationality goes out the window and you find yourself choosing dog names before considering any of the consequences. We’ve all seen those TV advertisements, “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” It’s a good idea to dwell on that for a little while. (some dogs can live up to twenty years). You need to think about your long-term plan and whether a dog fits in with that. If you don’t have a long-term plan, then you can be damn sure that when you want to make one, many options will be limited when a dog comes into the equation.
It’s easy to travel by van with a dog, but flying is a whole different ballgame (especially if it’s not a lapdog). If you ever want to fly away for some exotic surf, you’ll need to find somebody willing to look after the pooch. Do you have a lot of people you can rely on for this support?
You’re currently living the free life. No time schedule and just moving and surfing with the tides, no restrictions. This changes when you’re a dog owner. Dogs need some structure in their life. Regular walks and training is really important. Dogs need attention to avoid being bored, and trust me, you don’t want a bored dog in your van. While your mates can jump in the water as soon as the waves begin to pump, you need to take your new friend for a nice walk first before leaving him for an hour or two. All of a sudden, the dog comes first and surf has to come next.
Training takes a lot of time. If you see someone with a dog that will stay at their van, walk at their side and not run off, you can be sure the dog isn’t like that naturally. It takes a lot of time and effort to train a pooch that suits the van lifestyle.
I’m sure I could rattle on for pages with warnings, but hopefully that’s enough to encourage a bit more conservative thought. If after more in-depth consideration, you’re still keen, there are a few decisions you need to make:
Where to get the dog from.
If you’re thinking of picking up a stray, you need to consider the time required for all the necessary vaccinations and paperwork to get the passport. Also consider the nature of the dog. Strays are of course wilder and survive through survival of the fittest. They’re generally much stronger, faster, durable and more intelligent. A super speedy and clever dog brings its own challenges at times. They can soon start to try and outsmart you if you don’t keep your wits about.
If you are going for a puppy then you should consider how puppy friendly your van is. Chewing, pissing and pooping are inevitable in the early stages. That being said, if you get a puppy from a breeder, you can have a better understanding as to the dogs’ likely future characteristics.
By adopting a dog from a pound, you can quite literally save its life, but you may be taking on more than you think. If it’s had a hard past, the dog could have psychological damage, which takes a huge amount of training and trust to overcome.
Rufio, hamming it up from the start. Photo: Matt H-B
Boy or Girl?
It does make a difference. Girls can be hormonal sometimes and will bleed on their cycle, while non-neutered boys can try to be dominant and will often run off at the first smell of a girl in heat.
If you plan to stay in a van for a few years, a Mastiff isn’t going to be a wise choice. Similarly, if you’re hoping to have a good guard dog, a Yorkie won’t fit the bill either. This can also be one of the problems with taking a puppy stray. If you don’t know the parents, you can’t be sure how big the dog will be.
Different breeds of dogs display very very different characteristics. The breed most suited to you will depend on what environment your dog will live in, how much exercise it will get, how much training you can do, whether you want it to guard, etc etc.
If you’re considering getting a dog and this article has told you something you didn’t already know, then my most important piece of advice will be to wait. Do more research before you take on this huge commitment. This article barely scratches the surface and there are loads more considerations.
Getting Rufio was the best decision I ever made. I spent hundreds of hours training with him and it’s all paid off. When I got Rufio he was six weeks old and I had three months that I could dedicate all that time to training him and getting all his vaccinations and paperwork straight. He’s amazingly well behaved and by far the coolest dog I’ve ever come across. In the past two years, he’s surfed with me, gone on kayak trips, motorbike tours and even paraglided with me. At the age of 18 months, he’d been to 15 countries. By having the right level of knowledge before I got him, I was able to train him effectively from day one, meaning that he can now live happily and comfortably in my on-the-go lifestyle.