Tips from a Pro RVer

When you live full time in an RV with six dogs and travel around the United States, you learn some tricks and tips along the way. Thankfully full-time RVer and dog lover Debbi Compel sat down with us to share some of her wisdom to help other dog owners enjoy their time in their rigs with their dogs.

Debbi and her husband live full-time in their custom-built RV with their six dogs. Yep, you read that right. Six dogs, including one German Shorthaired Pointer, three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and two Manchester Terriers. The dogs range in age from two to fifteen and were top of mind when the rig was custom built.

Prior to selling their home and joining the life of the full-time RVer, they participated in dog sports and were experienced traveling with their dogs to shows and competitions. As a result, they were able to build upon that experience when they decided to pursue a life of traveling with their pups.

The Dog Rig, as they refer to their RV, is a forty-five-foot custom Showhauler built on a Freightliner Cascadia Chassis. They designed the entire floor plan themselves, creating a toy hauler RV rig with a dedicated dog area complete with six dog crates.

Rubber floors help make cleanup easy since six dogs inevitably mean twenty-four muddy feet and plenty of shedding. They added a slide out to the dog room and placed the crates in the slide to create a comfortable place for them to be crated when their humans want or need to go somewhere that the dogs cannot go.

Crate Safety

The Dog Rig has six dog kennels to transport the dogs safely. The crates are all professional quality, made from aluminum with stainless steel locks. All six crates are keyed the same so that a single key can lock or unlock them. When driving, the crates are never locked so that they can quickly let each dog out in the event of a fire or other emergency.

When traveling, the dogs wear harnesses and leashes with their owners’ contact information on the harness. This is also for safety so that they quickly get all six dogs out of the motorcoach if they need to do so. In addition to monitoring them electronically, they also stop frequently to check on them to ensure that the dogs are safe and happy in the dog room since it is divided from the rest of the RV.

Collars are removed when crated as they can be a choking hazard in a crate. This is why their harnesses also have contact information on them.

Outdoor Containment

With six dogs living full time in an RV, it is a deal breaker when a campground does not allow fencing and they will simply stay elsewhere. Not only does fencing make potty breaks easier and allow the dogs to relax off-leash outside, but it also keeps other dogs out of their campsite.

Debbi explained that it is inevitable that there will be a loose dog from another campsite. Having fencing simply makes for a much happier, relaxed atmosphere, so that owners can walk their dogs without other dogs lunging at them from tie-outs. Dogs can hang out in their campsite without being attached to a leash the entire time.

The Compels recommend 40-inch-tall metal fencing. They prefer individual panels rather than an exercise pen. Not only is metal fencing more secure for keeping dogs in or out of the area, it is also easier to go over different sorts of surfaces and holds up better than plastic when set up outside twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for many years. It is more expensive but is an investment worth making.

Dog Food Storage

Even with six dogs, Debbi purchases small quantities of dog food that she can store in a dog food vault. This keeps the smell down and makes the food less attractive to animals, both small animals like mice or larger animals like bears. In their toy hauler, they have a large deep freeze, so they are able to feed a combination of kibble and raw food.  When they first adopted a full-time RV lifestyle, they thought that they would need to travel with large amounts of food, but she has found that no matter where they travel, they are at least within a few hours’ drives of a store where she can find top quality pet food or have it delivered from an online pet food company to the local post office or the campground office.

High Quality Ramp

Although they started off with a dog ramp for the dog area of the toy hauler, they have since upgraded to a high-quality ramp from a medical equipment company. The ramp is set up so that all of the dogs and humans can walk up and down it. This means less stress for the little dogs and senior dogs since they do not need to go up and downstairs to get in and out of the rig. With a 600-pound weight limit, they can easily have all of the dogs and both humans on the ramp at the same time.

Power Generator & Temperature Monitors


 A power generator is a must-have when living full time in a RV with dogs, as is a temperature monitor. Debbi pondered, “I don’t know what people did before that.” They have encountered campgrounds where the power went out frequently, and between their generator and their temperature monitor, they were able to ensure that their rig stayed cool. Their generator is part of their setup, and even though it has AGS, or Automatic Generator Start, they still do not leave their dogs for more than six hours at a time and utilize their temperature monitor while away to ensure that it is not too hot.

Outdoor Shower & In-Camper Laundry

Just like a life with dogs in a stationary home, dogs who live the full-time RV lifestyle get dirty, need baths and have occasional digestive distress. An outdoor shower is a life-saver for bath time so that you do not need to try to wrangle a wet dog in an RV bathroom.

A washer and dryer in the rig will save a trip to the campground laundry area or local laundromat when you have a canine “biohazard” experience…aka vomit or an accident on the carpet or bedding. In fact, Debbi recommends using washable throw rugs in the RV that do not have a stiff back so that you can toss them into the laundry easily.

Boots & Other Comfort Items

Dog boots are a necessity when traveling, especially in certain parts of the country. Between flaming hot concrete, and things like cacti and other sharp, pointy plants in the western part of the United States, boots are extremely important. In order to get the right fit and good quality, Debbi suggests planning ahead before the need arises.

Raised dog beds also provide comfort for the dogs when they are lounging in the fenced-in area. Just like boots can protect from rocks, cacti, and other rough surfaces, so can elevated dog beds like these pictured that are made from PVC.

A Happy, Healthy Lifestyle

“My dogs dictate the life that we have,” Debbi said. She talked about her most senior dog whose health was declining when they started to travel. Over the last three years, his health has improved as they enjoy more physical exercise than when they lived in a traditional house, and she attributes that to the benefits of travel. “Just like it does for us, it’s enriching and he’s getting younger because of the mental health benefits of having fun outside.”

Debbi is an admin and active participant of several RV groups on Facebook, including RVing with Purpose, Park Your Dog’s RV Here, Where’d You Stay RV. 


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