I’ve done a lot of moving with my dogs and cats, senior and otherwise, and there’s a reason it’s considered one of the top 3 stressors (the others being death and marriage!).
I’ve moved in the same city, to a different country and then a different continent, animals always in tow. I’ve learned a few things along the way, so thought I’d share some words of wisdom.
Animals have an uncanny ability to sense when something is up, and it starts when the idea of moving is just that – just an idea. At least that’s what it was always like for me. I didn’t even have to get a suitcase out for them to start acting all weird.
Strictly adhered to schedules are no more, meal times may change, exercise is a quick walk squeezed into the day, and evenings on the couch are a distant memory.
Okay maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but it’s a very likely scenario and one no one can be blamed for. The good news is there are ways to minimise a move’s effect on our animals, especially if they are elderly and/or have anxiety or other health issues.
Before the move
Let’s look at some of the things you can do before moving day, but note that not every point will be relevant, especially if you’re leaving a rental rather than a home you own.
Also, my helpful tips are in no particular order.
Leave your packing boxes and suitcases out a couple of weeks before you need them. It will give your dog a chance to get used to seeing them while nothing is going on.
If a realtor calls with a last minute showing and you need to get your dog out of the house, having a bag or knapsack packed and ready to go will make things so much easier…and less stressful. Fill it with treats, food if he’ll be out during meal time, a bottle of water, fold up food and water bowls, a favourite toy and blanket.
Check that microchip and tag details are up to date, and have a tag with your new contact details made and ready to use.
Do what you can to stick to their schedule of meal times and exercise. Many dogs are sensitive to changes in schedule, I know mine are, and that can be a stressor in itself. The truth is, you need a break from all the packing as well, so the chance to get outdoors and work off some of those nerves will do you as much good as it will your dog.
Ask a friend or neighbour to look after your dog if you’re having an open house, or put him in a doggie daycare you’ve used in the past. A lot of strangers traipsing in and out of your house is not something your dog needs to experience if it can be avoided.
If possible, arrange for the realtor to come by with buyers during your dog’s walk time. He sticks to his schedule with no interruptions, and the less often he sees strangers invading his home…the better.
If your dog has a favourite room or corner, pack that up last so he has his safe and comfortable place for as long as possible.
Start playing a CD of dog calming music now if possible, but try it for the first few times only when he’s in a relaxed state. If you’re driving to your new home bring it with you to play in the car, and play it when you arrive. The one I recommend is Through a Dog’s Ear. Red has dementia and it has worked wonders to calm her down. You can find a 13 minute sampler on YouTube before you buy.
Pack a separate bag just for your dog of all the things you’ll need during the trip. Trust me it’s easier than rooting around yours. Don’t forget your dog’s medical records, any paperwork you need if you’re crossing borders, extra medication in case you get stuck or don’t yet have a vet, enough food for extra meals, a large bottle of water, a favourite toy, blanket and anything else you can think of he may need.
All your dog stuff should go in a clearly labelled box so when you reach your new home, you can unpack it first and get him settled.
Start getting your dog used to wearing a harness if he doesn’t already. Rest stops and new surroundings can be scary, and you don’t want him getting out of his collar in a panic.
Think about buying a pheromone diffuser like Adaptil and plugging it into your home now. Like most things it won’t relax every dog but it’s worth a try, and if it does work it can be plugged into your new place when you arrive. A spray version can be used on your dog’s bed or blanket when travelling.
Know where the 24 hour emergency hospital is, and research some vets in advance of your move. You don’t want to be scrambling should your dog be unwell when you arrive.
During the move
Again, not all tips will be relevant as so much depends on how you’ll be travelling and where you’re going.
Try and keep your dog with you if possible, as they’ll take comfort in your presence even with some upheaval around them.
When moving trucks are outside your door, or suitcases are being loaded into a car, I recommend keeping your dog in a crate in a room with the door closed. If there’s no way you can get him into a crate, put him in a room that’s already been emptied. I’m so paranoid I would have someone guarding that door or at least put a big DO NOT ENTER sign on it, and tell everyone there are dire consequences if anyone so much as touches the door knob!!
Keeping to your dog’s schedule during the actual move would be wonderful, but depending on how you’re getting to where you’re going that may be difficult, if not impossible. If your dog is flying obviously it can’t be done, but if you’re driving you may be able to schedule stops that coincide with his routine. At the end of the day you can only do the best you can do.
If you are driving a long way, some rest stops can be crazy hectic so find one that isn’t or park in a quieter corner. Big trucks zooming by and throngs of people can be disconcerting.
Bring his favourite bed and toys so he’s surrounded by familiar smells. If he’s flying you should be able to put his blanket in the crate with him.
If the weather will be cold, don’t forget to pack him a sweater to keep him cosy.
Don’t forget cuddle time, even if that means sitting in the backseat of the car with him, and letting him snuggle.
Welcome to your new home
I know you’re staring at empty rooms and bare walls, thinking about everything that needs to be done. You’re probably also feeling stressed and of course that’s natural, but you know it will all fall into place.
It’s not advisable to let your dog run free in your new home as soon as you open the door. It’s all unfamiliar and strange and can be unnerving. Accidents in the house are not a good start, and with the door opening and closing he can easily get out and lost in a new neighbourhood, never mind country. It’s a good idea to keep him on a leash and with you until things settle a bit. He’ll feel comforted being close to you.
Set up a corner for your dog right away with his favourite bed, blanket, and toys. Show him the water bowl, plug in the Adaptil if it worked and play the calming CD.
When you have to go out and leave the dog along, block off the area you’ve set up for him and let him stay there, rather than having the run of the house. He won’t feel so overwhelmed.
Don’t wash the dog’s blankets quite yet. If you’re like me everything goes in the laundry after a trip, but in this case it’s best to leave the familiar smells around awhile, until your dog settles in. Unless of course he’s settled and ready to explore.
Routine and a schedule begin the day you walk through the door. He may be in unfamiliar surroundings, but at least his schedule will be familiar.
When first walking in your new neighbourhood, try and do it when it’s relatively quiet. New everything and lots of crowds can be scary. If you live in the heart of a very busy city there’s not a lot you can do, unless you find a less busy time of day. Use the harness!!
Give your dog time to adjust, so try and resist the urge to throw a housewarming party, or spend every evening out meeting people. Of course you want a social life, just keep things a bit calm at the beginning.
Don’t do the things your dog hates right away. For example, if he hates taking a bath, don’t throw him (I don’t mean that literally!!) into the tub on your first day in the new home. That’s bound to cause tons of anxiety, and maybe even negative associations.
If you used to enjoy going to a local café and sitting outside with the dog while he watched the world go by, find a local dog friendly one and keep up that fun tradition.
Some extra help for stress
I already mentioned Through a Dog’s Ear, and I highly recommend you start playing it as soon as you read this, and see how your dog reacts. It may take a few tries to get him interested in listening, or for it to have an effect. Red fell asleep within a minute, but some dogs may take longer.
Any additional help you offer in terms of medications or supplements will depend a lot on what you’re comfortable with. Some people prefer only natural remedies, others rely on drugs, and still others are happy to try whatever has a chance of working! Also please note what works for one dog may not work for another, so experimenting early gives you the time to find something that will help yours.
The most obvious place to start would be your vet. He could prescribe a very mild calming medication, just to take the edge off. To determine the right dose, they usually recommend trying it a few days before you actually need it. Too low and there was no point, too much and your dog may be too doped, not understand what’s going on and be disoriented. If you prefer a more natural approach, a visit to a holistic vet is a good idea.
An internet search of natural dog products will lead you to sites selling only natural calming products.
Pheromone sprays can be used on your dog’s bed and sprayed in his surroundings.
A couple of drops of Rescue Remedy in the drinking water or in his mouth has been known to help. Personally it has never worked for any of my dogs but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for yours.
Valerian is known to calm and another good option to consider. I recommend speaking to a holistic vet and doing some research about dosages, and any potential side effects.
The Thundershirt, a tight fitting garment that wraps around your dog’s body is a very popular choice and works for many dogs, but it’s trial and error whether or not it will work for yours.
Massage can go a long way to calming an anxious dog, and there are plenty of videos you can find on YouTube to teach you how to do it. My dog Jack loves a good massage, and after a few slow and gentle motions he’s fighting to keep his eyes open.
A few final thoughts
As I’ve mentioned I have moved many times with seniors, and since I would never consider rehoming any of my pets I do the best I can to ensure as stress free a journey as possible.
You may have noticed I wrote in a “worst case scenario” type of way, but that’s because I don’t know how your dog adapts to new situations so better to cover all the bases. It’s equally possible your dog will be calm and loving the new adventure, and I hope that’s the case.
Don’t be surprised if your dog seems out of sorts for a few days, but if you are concerned at all a trip to the vet is always a good idea.
Best of luck on your new adventure!!
This post was written by author Hindy Pearson. She is a long time shelter volunteer, dog trainer, and runs a website called Caring For a Senior Dog. Her new Facebook group, Senior Dog Care Club, is a great place to find tips, advice, ask questions, share experiences and connect with other parents of senior dogs. She is also raising money for a spay/neuter program in Spain.