How to Help Your Dog Through a Move
Dogs are creatures of habit, and thrive in consistent environments. They know every nuance of your home. They know when the mail man comes, they know where the sunlight hits the dining room for their sun bathing, they know exactly where to find you at night, and they even have their favorite potty spots. They know their daily walk route by heart, and can even tell which doors in the house are opening based on the creaks and sounds they make. In your home your dog is comfortable, safe, secure, and less distracted. But then you need to move…
Whether you are moving to a new home in the same neighborhood, new city, or even a new state, moving can not only be an exciting adventure, but also an incredibly stressful one. For every ounce of stress that the move will inevitably cause you and your family, there will be a pound of stress for your dog. The excitement of new beginnings, new jobs, and better neighborhoods cannot be explained to your dog. And even if we could, I am not convinced they would be thrilled about it. There a multitude of changes about to happen for your dog and what was once a life of safety, comfort, and predictability, now becomes a life of danger, discomfort, and unpredictable environments. And just like humans, unpredictable situations in unfamiliar situations will likely cause the dreaded “A word” …
Luckily some dogs adapt to the change of a move rather quickly. They can be moved from place to place with great frequency, make friends wherever they go and not be bothered by anything. Other dogs, won’t adapt well at all. The moment they have a change in their life, you start to see the signs of anxiety. Some of those signs will be very noticeable. You may see that their stools are loose, they pace around the new house a lot, bark or stress about little sounds like the new fridge making noise, car doors shutting, the new house settling, and of course follow you around more than they ever have. These types of changes for a dog not only contribute to their stress levels, but yours as well. No one wants to see their dog struggle in the new home. So, what can we do to setup our dog for success in a brand-new home? Here are a few tips to helping your dog adjust, giving them every opportunity to love the new space as much as you, hopefully, love the new space.
Don’t Assume Anything
As previously stated, some dogs will adapt to the process of moving quickly and happily, while others will struggle. And while we all love to think that our dogs are bomb-proof, never assume that your dog is going to make the move without missing a beat. Yes, even if they have moved before and had no problem then.
You want to always assume that the move will cause them significant stress. If you assume that your dog will just adapt like a champ, and they don’t, you will wish you had taken this advice.
Let Them Acclimate Before the Move
If you are like me, you want to get moving the moment your keys are in hand. But there are many things to do for your pup before you move one box into the house.
First, bring known scents to the new house and start getting your house to smell like the old one. It will never be exactly the same, but if you have a favorite candle scent that you use frequently, or use calming sprays or essential oil diffusers in the old home, move those things to the new home while it’s still empty and start getting some familiar smells in the new place. A dog’s sense of smell is nuts, so you won’t need to let these scents sit for days or anything. Just start by plugging in your diffuser, light your candle for a bit, perhaps do some prep work around the new house while these scents sink in. Take a bag of super high value treats, like cheese, hotdogs, or chicken, and hide small piles in each room of the house for them to find later. Then go get your dog. If you lit a candle, don’t forget to blow it out before leaving the house.
Before you move a single box into the new house, bring your dog over with some favorite chew toys, their bed, and some fun games. Spend a couple hours with the whole family just having fun with your dog, building positive associations with the space. Let your dog explore the house at their own pace, finding those treat piles you hid before. You may see at first, they are pacing, looking around, almost as if they are searching for something. They may even be leaving the treat piles alone. Let them do this if needed, and try not to force them into any particular space. The house is empty, so this is a very safe time for them to get to know the layout of the house, and get rewarded for exploring. If they seem comfortable enough play hide and seek with them, but don’t make the game hard. No hiding in closets, or jumping out to startle them. Just stand in the rooms, call their name, and when your dog finds you be excited and happy to see them. Treat them, and play their favorite game of tug, or throw a ball. Whichever seems most appropriate for the new home. After a fun round of these games, time for a decompression walk!
A decompression walk is a fun way to allow a dog to make decisions, acclimate to a new environment, and for you to reinforce desired behaviors like focus, and recall. Go outside your new house with your dog on a long leash. We recommend at least 15 feet, but 30 feet or more works great. Start with the backyard. If your new home has a fenced in yard, let the dog explore, just as you did in the new house. Don’t have any set agenda outside of letting your dog explore the yard. If you don’t have a fence, go with them, but let your dig dictate where you go, what they do, as long as it’s safe, and how they react to new and different things. When they return to you on their own, mark with a “yes!” or if using a clicker, click, and reward. Then encourage them to continue exploring. Play with them as they desire, and even sprinkle some treats in the yard ahead of time, like you did the rooms in the house. Do this in the front yard on the long leash as well. Throughout the moving process, continue doing walks like these around the house, and in nearby parks and fields where you feel you may take them in the future.
NOTE: Please research your local leash laws before using decompression walks on long lines in public spaces. We always encourage abiding by your local leash laws.
You can repeat this process as often as needed. You may have the house empty for a couple weeks or days while you paint walls, or add new appliances. Use these weeks to continue getting your dog used to the new home before the big move.
Packing and Moving Day
On moving day, or moving days, it is best for your dog to not be near all the chaos. Even if your pup is great with strangers, having strange people come into the home, uproot their life, carrying furniture and boxes, is incredibly stressful. Best practice is to have your dog board at an overnight stay facility that they are used to, stay with a family member that they trust, or even just spend a day at their local daycare while all the heavy lifting happens.
After everything is moved repeat the same process you did when the house is empty. With all of things now in the house, everything will be a little bit different, and you may see stress levels increase a little bit. But all the groundwork you have laid up until this point will make the transition much smoother than if you hadn’t.
A Few More Considerations
With the environment change, and people coming in and out of the house, your dog will have more opportunity to get out of the house. Even if your dog’s recall is fantastic, and they have never run away, the stress brought on by the move may cause them to react differently and run away when they wouldn’t normally. So, it’s a great idea to make sure your dog’s tags are up to date, your phone number, and new address are on the dog’s tags, and you have a secure and sturdy collar. If your dog is not chipped, we highly recommend that your dog get chipped. If your dog is already chipped, make sure the chip information is up to date with your phone number, and new address. Collars can come off and get lost, microchips do not.
Be observant of the new neighborhood. Meet and greet other dog owners when your dog is not with you, so that you can potentially meet their dog, only after asking permission of course, so that those greetings in the future may be a little more seamless and there are dogs that you are familiar with. Of course, strange dogs meeting for the first time on leashes has its own considerations. If you are not sure how to do this safely, please seek the help of a local trainer that can help give you some help with dog-to-dog introductions.
If you move to an entirely new climate, let your dog acclimate to the new weather as well in their own way, building positive associations. If you move from the south the to north, your dog may have never experienced snow. You may be near water for the first time. Never force them in, but wade out with them and let them make the choice to get in, but only if they want to. It’s not about making your dog adapt to your life, but adapting to your dog’s needs.
Moving is stressful for dogs and humans alike. For as weird as a new home is for you, it’s even weirder for your dog that has no idea why their life just changed so dramatically. Be patient, give your dog space and time to adjust. Even older dogs may have some potty accidents until they adjust, show more signs of stress, or react to normal things in odd ways. Give them space to learn, put distance between them and strange things or sounds, and create positive associations early and often. If a substantial amount of time goes by and you are seeing stress levels not decreasing, or worse yet, increasing, please seek the help of a behavioral veterinarian, and have them recommend a trainer that specializes in force free and fear free training strategies that will help you, and your dog, adapt and succeed.