Updated: Apr 5
How to minimise the stress of a household move for your dog. These are the best ways to help them settle into their new home.
I am not the type of person who moves often. In fact all my dogs once I have brought them home, this is the only home and safe haven they have ever known. With two of them being rescue, and Phoenix being the worst (he had 6 different homes that I know of before his forever home with me), him and Zoe suffering anxiety of different forms over the years, I knew this was going to be tough on them. Being a dog trainer everyone would assume this would just be an easy smooth transition, but let me tell you, it's not. There are a lot of small steps taken to the lead up of the move, and then of course once we arrived at our new home. This is our Journey from Terrigal to Noosa!
Tip #1 Try to keep your routine as much as possible.
Who doesn't love a routine? routines help us to create healthy habits, and can minimise anxiety as you can predict the outcome. Dogs are the same. Obviously when you are moving this is hard to do if you are still working, packing up the house, and cleaning. For my guys it was the usual bright and early walk, followed by work. However I did change the times of their Therapy work for Hammond Care towards the end as I needed to move things around for appointments and packing. They noticed that their food schedule had changed in the last week as we had no fridge/freezer. This meant no usual raw meat/veggies I feed them, no bones, just some tin sardines or salmon, with BBQ chicken. This was enough of a trigger for Phoenix to go off his food. Again, if possible try and keep their feeding schedule as normal as possible. Diet for both humans and dogs can change behaviour, mood, and skin/hair conditions.
Tip #2 Use Anti anxiety product's where possible
With Zoe having suffered separation anxiety when she was younger, and Phoenix anxiety from other dogs, and the fear of being left behind (his fear was once a reality) I knew the boxes, and lack of furniture was going to trigger their anxiety. Their safe haven, our home once filled with furniture, pictures, and all the comforts/familiar smells was bit by bit vanishing. All they saw was people coming into our home to take away furniture we had sold, things getting packed away into boxes, and all of us getting exhausted, stressed and emotional as we said goodbye to friends, and memories. So for the month before we started to move, I purchased two Adaptil wall diffusers for each end of the house, Adaptil Collars, and some spray for them all. I also had some Rescue Remedy on hand, and started to burn some lavender and chamomile every time I started packing. I had some Vitalitaè calming jerky treats to give them.
"it's about setting the dogs' up to succeed, and not waiting for them to become anxious".
Tip #3 Keep some of their creature comforts/favourites handy
For us we were a week sleeping on blow up mattresses, no furniture, fridges, tv's or their giant dog beds. This was hard for not only us, but the dogs. Unfortunately with the long drive from Terrigal to Noosa, I didn't have a lot of space in my boot, so therefore I couldn't keep a lot with me for the last week in Terrigal. This meant no crates, only the smallest of dog beds, their dishes. We did a trial run of what could fit in my boot before the truck came and loaded everything up. The dogs are always my priority, the majority of the things I took up in my boot was their things or my most prized items (photos of them, and my boy Chase). So apart from their dog bed, and their favourite blanket I kept out 3 of their favourite toys (1 for each), their snuffle matts each, and some special long lasting chews. I also kept with me their vet records, medications, travel gear, portable gate, and Phoenix's thunder jacket. These are things I would use in Terrigal, when we stayed overnight at Woolgoolga, for when we arrived at our new home in Noosaville. Quick tip use the snuffle matts and long lasting chew treats for when you first arrive as this will help them to settle.
Tip #4 Where to put the dogs when the removal truck arrives?
The day our truck was finally arriving to unload all of our furniture was finally here and we were so excited. We got up with the sun and took the dogs for their favourite walk up here along the river. For these guys Noosa is their home away from home. They were happy to get out and stretch their legs after the long drive up here. I again wanted to keep some normality and let them get out some of that excess energy before the truck came.
I didn't want mine to get in the way and saw this as the perfect training opportunity. I decided to set them up in the office that was separate a bit to the house but they could still see out the front. About 40 mins before the truck was due we all went down to the office and I put on the air conditioning, set up their water and snuffle mats, their toys/ blankets and just with them. Surprisingly, Zoe and Phoenix were the first to settle. Once they all settled I would leave them in the office and help unpack/direct. At first I only left them for 10 mins before I would check them, the following time 25, and I was slowly building the time to about 1.5hours. Not one bark, and when I would sneak a look they were all asleep and settled. This to me was brilliant. This was how I was starting to get them confident and settled in their new home... priceless.
I am curious what do people normally do with their dogs in this situation?
Tip #5 How to prepare your dogs for when you first leave them home alone in their new house?
I am sure a lot of you are thinking well I just left the dog's outside, or locked them inside and left. Again it is about setting them up to succeed, building confidence and trust. Each dog is different and some dogs can handle that, but for these guys I knew that wasn't the case. I would make sure that each morning they would have a big walk and then I would block access to a part of the house so they were separate as I unpacked. Phoenix quickly picked up the pattern of walking, and then he was to spend some time away from me, and that was a trigger. I then started to randomly leave them at times throughout the day. Sometimes I would be out of sight in the front garden, other times in the office while they were in the house. This was when they started to explore their new place on their own (yes! I knew they were becoming more confident).
The next part of it was for me to leave them at home, but with my mum still at home. I have an exceptionally close bond with my three. They come to work with me, the pub, the beach, Bunnings, and they have been my rocks over the 3 years in particular. I not only needed to train them that it's ok to be left home without me, but I also needed to train myself. The dogs didn't know my mum was still at home which was great. I had my two pet cubes set up to watch. They all watched me drive out of the driveway but it was my little girl Shadow that struggled the most. She ran through the house looking for me, and found Nan (my mum), and was relieved. She then waited for me. This to me was a clear sign Shadow was not ready at all to be left alone at home. I had the time so I wasn't going to rush her. In training sometimes you just need to take baby steps to get the best results.
From that point on I made a point of doing more training particularly with Shadow. Desensitising them to me coming in and out of the exit/entry points, and picking up my car keys. Sometimes I would go somewhere, and other times I wouldn't. I had to be so conscious that I didn't create any patterns (dogs are so quick at picking up patterns).
The first time I left them I walked down and around the street, this really helps as you can listen out for them and the further you walk away, the less they can smell you, and hence they know you have actually left the house. Again, Start off on a small walk, and slowly build the time up.
As for leaving in the car, the first time I only left them for 5mins, and again slowly built up the time. I often use the Pet Cube in this situation so I can watch their behaviour closely and look out for any signs of anxiety etc.
Of course they always want to come with me as much as they possibly can, but now I can say to them, no you Stay here and ill be back soon, and know they are no longer stressed.
Moving is stressful for anyone so why not make it easier on your dogs!
Just remember each dog is different, and some dogs may only take a day or two before they are happy to be left alone in their new home, while other dogs may take weeks, or even months. Don't rush it, and set the dog up to succeed.
Leave your comments below how your dog has coped with a big move!