It makes me just a little bit anxious to even think about moving, and everything that it entails: Sorting through your belongings to decide what you're going to keep and what you're going to get rid of, collecting boxes and packaging material which sits around your house for weeks before you even move, and carefully putting all of your belongings into boxes in preparation for the actual move itself. And all of this is before moving day, which adds even more stress to the process!
As stressful as this is for us, we should remember that moving to a new house with dogs is just as stressful for them. When they see changes in their home such as boxes piled everywhere, observe us putting our belongings into the boxes, and seeing their entire environment change in a short amount of time, it will cause confusion and apprehension in many dogs.
Moving into a new house with a dog doesn’t have to cause them to feel overwhelming stress. There are things you can do both before your move, during your move, and after your move to make things less stressful for your dog. You might be stressed and feeling pressure to get everything done before the big day, and it may be tempting to temporarily neglect your dog so that you can get everything accomplished.
But taking a little bit of time to help your dog adjust to all of these changes will go a long way towards not only making your dog feel better in the short-term, but can make a big difference in helping your dog adjust to moving to a new home all together.
Ways to help your dog before moving day
Taking your dog to your new home before you move, and allowing them to explore the house and yard will at least give them an opportunity to be familiar with the home before they live there. If that isn’t possible, you should take your dog to the new neighborhood and walk them around, if you’re currently living close enough to the new home to do so. A couple of these trips before moving day can help with your dog’s adjustment.
If possible, bring your packaging material into the house as far in advance as you possibly can, even if you don't plan on packing items up right away. Let your dog get used to seeing boxes sitting out, packaging tape and other packaging material.
It can also be helpful to both the humans and to the dogs if you gradually pack over a longer period of time, rather than place everything you own in boxes within just a few days. We own so much that we don't use on a day-to-day basis, that it would be easy to start packing things like books and out of season clothing well in advance.
When you're first starting to prepare for the move, and you're bringing boxes into the house and starting to pack up, it can be very helpful to remember to maintain your dog's routine. So, make sure that you're feeding your dog at the same time that you normally do, and that they get whatever exercise you typically provide for them.
You can also go out of your way to make your dog feel better about the sight of boxes strewn all over the place, and the action of the packing itself. Take some breaks and spend some time with your dog playing with them and giving them treats. Encourage them to investigate the boxes, with treats dispensed for bravery.
Because of the addition of boxes into your home, it would probably be a good idea to keep your eye on your dog to ensure that they aren't starting some recreational chewing on the boxes. Even a dog who is fantastic at never chewing on anything they're not supposed to, could be confused as to whether the boxes are chew toys or not.
Help your dog on moving day
The actual date of the move is going to be extremely chaotic. Whether you're renting a U-Haul and moving everything yourself with the help of friends, or you have hired a moving service, there will be a lot of commotion. Not only will you be stressed, but if your dog is there it will cause anxiety for your dog as well.
Having your dog out of the house on the day of the move will make things go a lot easier for both you and your dog. If you have friends or relatives your dog knows very well and they are willing to help by watching your dog that would be the best situation. Otherwise, you may want to check into a boarding facility that would be able to take your dog for a day or two.
Before you bring your dog into the new home, make sure you have all of their belongings set out. Resist the urge to wash your dog's bedding to have it clean for the move, because dogs depend quite a bit on smell. You don't want to bring your dog into a brand-new environment and have everything be unfamiliar. If at the very least their dog bed smells like normal it will help them settle in.
Remember that this is a new place for your dog, and don't rely on their ability to find things on their own. It would be really helpful if you gave your dog a tour. Show your dog where they can find their dog bed, toys, and food and water dishes.
Take them to the door where you expect them to go out when they need to do their business, and take them outside for a tour of their potty area as well. Don't assume that showing them the door one time is going to be enough. For a few days you may want to behave as though your dog isn't well house-trained, and do a lot of supervision and taking them outside frequently.
Try to keep your dog schedule in your new home as close as possible to the schedule that you had in the previous home. This is not the time to change what time you feed your dog, or what time you go out for a walk. Too many changes at once will add additional stress and will make it take longer for your dog to adjust.
Preventing separation anxiety from developing due to the move
We know that one of the triggers for dog separation anxiety is a big change in the dog's life. Moving into a new house with a dog is definitely one of the things in that category. It can be very useful to prevent separation anxiety from being triggered by making sure your dog is never left alone in your new home for the first couple of days. Remember that this is a new environment for your dog, and they may not see it as being home, and won't be comfortable in it for a little while.
You can help your dog start to become comfortable with your absences by working on approaching the door and touching the handle until your dog seems completely bored with your approach. Adding in one step at a time, repeat each step until your dog ignores what you’re doing before you go to the next step.
These exercises can be spread out throughout the day, and take only a few minutes to do. If your dog doesn’t already have separation anxiety, you should be able to move through the steps within a few days.
1) Approach the door, touch the handle
2) Approach the door, turn the handle
3) Approach the door, turn the handle, open the door about a foot and immediately close without stepping outside
4) Approach the door, turn the handle, open the door, quickly step outside and right back in, close the door
5) Approach the door, turn the handle, open the door, step outside, close the door behind you for 1 second, go back
6) Gradually increase the amount of time you’re on the other side of the door at first by a few seconds, and then a few minutes at a time.
When you get to the point where you are separated from your dog by the door, it can be very helpful to have a camera on your dog with an app on your phone that allows you to view your dog in real time. This can be as simple as setting up a zoom meeting between a laptop and your phone. If you have security cameras, you can use those.
Watching your dog on your phone when you two are separated will allow you to know if your dog is exhibiting any signs of anxiety. If so, you can go back to an easier step and work your way forward again.
When you leave your dog home alone for real, it may be helpful to make sure it is a short absence. Maybe a quick run to the store or other short errands. It is also helpful to leave your dog with something special to work on while you’re gone. A toy stuffed with food such as a Kong or Topl is a good choice.
Helping a dog with separation anxiety adapt to the move
Stress can trigger a resurgence of anxiety. So, if your dog has a history of separation anxiety and you’ve been able to resolve it, it will be especially important to temporarily suspend absences for a time and re-train your dog to be comfortable with your leaving.
With a dog that has a history of separation issues, you would take longer to go through the steps outlined above than if you have a dog that has never suffered from separation anxiety. It’s better to re-train and prevent separation anxiety from returning, than take things too quickly and have your dog spiral back into not being able to cope with being alone.
If you’re currently working through a separation anxiety program, be aware that your progress may not transfer to your new home. Because your dog has already been successful and made some headway, the process will most likely go faster the second time around. It’s still better to be conservative after the move and start with desensitizing your dog to your touching the door, but not actually leaving.
Sometimes moving to a new house with dogs that have suffered with separation anxiety has the benefit in that you’ve removed your dog from an environment that they associate with anxiety. The new home offers a clean slate, and can help a dog overcome separation anxiety at a faster pace than did the previous home, as long as you prevent your dog from feeling anxiety when left alone.
Without a doubt, moving is stressful for everyone in the family. By making sure to take the time to help your dog feel as comfortable with the entire process, it will make things go smoother and help reduce stress related behavior issues that could show up.