Moving – It’s rough on dogs.

Imagine going for a ride and when you get home your house is no longer there. A completely different house has taken it’s place but people are acting like it’s your house. Your stuff is not there. (Stuff being familiar smells mostly – I think smells substitute for what we think of as memory a lot of times in dogs.) The stuff that is there keeps moving around, your toys, bowls, etc. Inside and outside are in different places, you aren’t sure how to get outside and you’re not even sure that outside really is outside – it sure seems different. Strange people and critters have been here who have no business in your normal environment and all traces of you and your people have been removed from it.

You can’t even find the bathroom! There are no maps. Your person is completely preoccupied and doing completely different things than you are used to which is making you certain that she’s as lost as you are. This is very scary! You need comfort and being a dog rather than a person you can’t get to the Ben & Jerry’s so you go for a familiar smelling shoe that happens to be accessible and climb on the bed with it. Having your person’s smell close by and having something to chew on are just making you feel better when your person (also already stressed out) comes in and freaks out on you for the shoe thing. All is lost! You pee on the bed in panic without even thinking about it and things spiral downhill from there.

I really think this is what moving is like for dogs (although peeing on the bed is just one example of how they might react) and moving causes so much stress for humans that we tend to overlook the stress it will put on the dogs. It’s not unusual for dogs to begin some new bad habits when you move (barking and chewing being the ones I hear about most). I think though that with a little planning this is also the perfect time to get rid of some bad habits. Dogs are so ritualistic and breaking patterns is really hard but when the patterns are broken by something external you have the perfect opening.

Doors are a very big thing in dog life. My dogs have terrible behavior at my back door that has crept up on me over the years. They all push against the door yapping and fussing. I can make them be quiet before I open the door but when I do open it they slam through it (noisy again) and every one of them has a bruise from the corner of the door because they would rather slam into it in a poodle pile than wait and walk nicely. My back door is in my laundry room which is off the kitchen and until recently had no door. When we put a door on the laundry room there was an instant change in the dogs because they had no habits related to this door. With the laundry room door closed they all stood in the kitchen looking perplexed and asking “What do we do?” which is exactly where I want them! This is a perfect training opportunity.

A lot of dog behavior is centered around doors: Jumping on people when they enter, how they react to people knocking at the door or walking past it, how they behave when you come in or go out, how they behave when they go out or come in. (Do they get their feet wiped before continuing on? Would you like to start that habit? Now is the time!)

Here are some things I would do to make moving easier on the dog and to use it to change habits (and not create any bad new ones)

Assuming that the dog is crate trained I would make a point of having the dog spend some time daily in the crate before moving. This way when you get to the new place the dog will have one very familiar area (and keep the bedding from the old place in it for a few days, even if it’s not spotless).

Do some (at least) daily training sessions with the dog before moving. Practice sitting, staying, being quiet…all the basics. Call him to you a few times a day and give him a good treat for coming. When you move, continue this. It will be very comforting to the dog because it is a familiar ritual and it a place where you are clearly being the leader. A moved dog needs a good leader.

Try to plan to put the dog’s stuff (food bowls, toys, etc.) in their permanent place as soon as you get to the new house rather than moving them a bunch of times. If the dog uses a litter box you HAVE to decide ahead of time where it will go and it will have to stay in that place.

Make a list of your dogs “standard” behaviors both those that are routine (and good) and those you’d like to change. One standard behavior would be whatever it is the dog does to let you know he has to go out. Let’s say he sits by the back door and waits and this is what you want him to continue to do. So when you get to the new house, bring him to the back door, have him sit, then take him out and when he pees give him a super treat – just as if you were training a new pup. Try to run him through his standard behaviors in the new house and make a plan for re-training the behaviors you don’t like. I know this can be hard when you are so busy moving but it’s not often you get an opportunity like this and the stuff packed in those boxes can wait a few days!

Do a lot of treating and reassuring. Pay more attention to the dog than you have time to.

Here are a few additional tips:

If you’re dog’s ID’s on their collars don’t have a cell number that’s going with you, make sure you get new ones before you leave.

In the chaos of moving you’ll want to make sure the dogs are crated when things are being moved and the door is opened 1500 times. (I would not rely on baby gates for this or closed doors to rooms they are in.)

It would be a good idea to check out licensing laws and get dog licenses before you get there. If a dog managed to escape while the move is happening you want to make sure you’re already legal.

If the dogs are microchipped be sure to change your contact info with the database (Pet-Trac or whatever one it is.)

Finally…Be SURE you have some Petastic or Nature’s Miracle when you first enter the house wtih the dogs. It’s not at all uncommon for a well housebroken to have an accident in a new house. If that happens you’ll want the smell out right now before it becomes an invitation.

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