Moving with Your Dog

By Debbie Stoewen DVM, MSW, RSW, PhD; Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM

Behavior, Care & Wellness, Pet Services

Most dogs seem to take moving in stride, but for some the loss of their familiar home and routine can be upsetting, and settling in to a new home can pose problems, for people and dogs alike.

"Dogs are generally quite content as long as their social group remains much the same."

Dogs are generally quite content as long as their social group (people and pets) remains much the same and the daily routine remains fairly constant. Dogs with preferred routines for eating and sleeping may have difficulty adapting until they get used to the new routines in the new home. When introduced into a household where there are new pets or people, problems might arise. You may be concerned about how the pets will get along, based on their experience with other pets, similar or different, or their individual preferences. When thinking about moving with your dog, there are three things to consider: the change in routines, the new home itself, and the new pets or people in the household.

How can I prepare for the move?

To help your dog adapt to changes in daily routine, begin the changes (e.g., in schedules or how family members interact) prior to the move. If your dog is not already on a fairly structured daily program of feeding, exercise, play, training, and downtime, then it can be very helpful to introduce a more predictable routine which can be carried over into the new home. If, in your current home, your dog does not have his own bed or specific place to eat, it might be helpful to establish these before your move, and then set up the bed and a specific eating area when you move into your new home (see handout "Using Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling to Train Your Dog"). If a dog bed (or crate) was used in your previous home, this may help your dog to adapt. Older dogs, dogs with chronic illnesses, and dogs that have led a fairly uneventful lifestyle may be more sensitive to change. Medications or special therapeutic diets may be helpful in these cases.

"If a dog bed (or crate) was used in your previous home, this may help your dog to adapt."

While you are preparing for the move, it may be advisable to keep the boxes out of view and to pack your dog’s bed, blankets and belongings last, so your dog’s world remains as stable as possible. Obviously, there will come a point when the packing cannot be hidden. At this time, if your dog seems overly anxious, or you cannot pay enough attention to him (being preoccupied packing), then it might be best to have someone else, whom he knows, care for him. Alternatively, you could take some time to desensitize your dog to the household disruption by providing favorite toys and treats, and playtimes, in conjunction with the packing. During the move, be sure to securely confine your dog or keep your dog in a quiet, out-of-the-way place to avoid anxiety, injury, or escape.

How should I introduce my dog to my new home?

You can introduce your dog to your new home by showing him around, indoors and outdoors, with a happy voice, treats, and play. Show him where his food bowls and sleeping areas are and lay out his toys for him. The comfort of a familiar bed or crate can be helpful. It is best to spend time with your dog in your new home for the first few days as he becomes familiar with his new environment. Some dogs, especially younger ones, may tend to chew things as part of their exploration, while other dogs may want to mark their territory with urine. Accompanying your dog around your house while he explores provides the opportunity to encourage and reinforce desirable behaviors while interrupt and deter undesirable ones. Remember that dogs are excellent at reading body language. Anxiety on your part might increase your dog’s anxiety, while a happy, upbeat mood will likely reduce it.

As you unpack, it might be advisable to restrict your dog's access only to those rooms that are already set up. If you want your dog with you in the unpacking area, be certain that he is well-supervised or entertained with some enjoyable distractions (treats or toys). As dogs are scent-oriented, the opportunity to investigate new odors, identify familiar odors, and spread their own odors, through playing in and exploring each room, can be an important part of becoming familiar with, and comfortable, in your new home. The pheromone diffuser, Adaptil®, might help your dog to more quickly settle into his new home. Adaptil® is a canine appeasing pheromone product that helps to reduce fear and stress in dogs in stressful situations. You can ask your veterinarian about this.

How long will it take for my dog to settle in?

There is no easy answer to this question as every dog is unique and will adjust accordingly. Most dogs relax within a few days, but some immediately enjoy the adventure of exploring their new home, while others take weeks to adjust. If the routines in your new home are different from your previous one, it may take longer to settle in.

"Toys, playtime, and treats can help the move be a positive experience for your dog."

Toys, playtime, and treats can help the move to your new home be a positive experience, especially if they are used to reinforce good behavior (e.g., being inquisitive, or calm and relaxed). For example, give your dog a special play toy or treat when he curls into his bed. As a reward, it may encourage him to settle down and relax. Be sure, even as you are busy unpacking, to offer playtimes and exercise to ensure that your dog's social and energy needs are met. When first leaving your dog alone in your new home, try to leave at a time when he normally rests, sleeps or quietly plays with his toys, and increase the time away gradually, to minimize the chance he will become lonely and anxious.

My new household has new adults, children, and pets. How can I prepare my dog?

No doubt the biggest concern will be the introduction of your dog to new family members – people and pets. The introductions will likely prove easier if the pets have been socialized to a variety of people, places, and animals. You might start by introducing your dog to their new family members in a neutral place to assess how they get along. Keeping the dogs on leashes may be helpful to manage them and keep them safe. Providing play and treats during the introductions helps to ensure a positive experience. Dogs that are fearful, aggressive, or overly playful and inquisitive when meeting other people or pets may need some extra time, effort and training to help them interact in a socially acceptable manner (see handout "Introducing a New Dog to Your Family Dog").

It is important for your dog to respond to simple cues (signals) and commands. You need to have good control of your dog. Before the move, take some time to train your dog or review previous training, and consider additional controls, such as a head halter, if you do not have sufficient verbal control. You can minimize the chance that problems will arise if your dog responds promptly to key verbal commands (such as 'settle-down' or 'focus'), heels or follows calmly, goes to a bed on command, and relaxes during a long down-stay. Head halter training is an excellent means of ensuring prompt responses. If you have any concerns about the potential for aggression, it may be appropriate to train your dog to wear a basket muzzle. Behavior training is also important with aggression, for dog as well as public safety. If your dog is comfortable in a crate, it can be used as a safe place in your dog’s the new environment (see handout "How to Crate Train Your Dog").

Will it be difficult for my dog to get along with the other pets in my new home?

New dog-to-other-pet relationships may be based on a wide variety of factors, including previous familiarity with other kinds of pets; how the dog historically gets along with other pets; which pet, if any, is preexisting in the household; how the existing pets react to new animals on their property; and the specific factors that are unique to each relationship. For the safety of all pets, they should be separated when not supervised, either using barriers or crates (if trained to rest calmly when crated).

How do I introduce my dog to the new dogs?

When introducing your dog into a home with one or more new dogs, it might be best to have the dogs interact with one another on neutral territory on one or more occasions before the move. This will allow you to determine whether there may be any relationship issues. On the day of the move, take the dogs for a walk together and have a playtime before returning to the home. It is advisable to avoid items of possible competition (and contention) from the outset, such as food, toys, and treats, except when the dogs are entirely supervised or separated from one another. Providing separate feeding areas and sleeping areas for each dog may be advisable at first, to prevent competition over these resources. Whenever the dogs are together, it may be advisable to have them on a leash and head halter to enable sufficient control should problems arise and ensure a positive and gradual introduction.

"By saving favorite toys and treats, and overt affection, for times of social interaction, a positive association with the presence of the other dog can be more quickly established."

By saving favorite toys and treats, and overt affection, for times of social interaction, a positive association with the presence of the other dog can be more quickly established. Should anxiety or excitement escalate, punishment and fear-evoking techniques must entirely be avoided. Desirable responses should immediately be reinforced, while undesirable responses should be immediately interrupted. The goal is to settle each dog in the presence of the other and reward acceptable responses. Keeping newly introduced dogs separate when unsupervised prevents problems and possible injury.

Also see the handout "Introducing a New Dog to Your Family Dog".

How do I introduce my dog to new cats?

When introducing your dog into a new home with one or more new cats, both the dog's response to the cat and the cat's response to the dog must be considered. The initial introduction of your dog to the household cat should be taken slowly and done in a controlled environment, with your dog on leash and a head halter and giving favorite rewards for acceptable responses. Some dogs have a strong prey instinct and love to chase, pin, or pick up animals they see as fair game. This can include cats, so always maintain control of your dog. The cat should roam free, with ample space and opportunity to climb and retreat, and should never be forced to meet your dog. Some cats may growl or swat at dogs, even dogs that are much bigger than themselves, so be ready to separate them if needed. Provide the cat with favorite treats and loving attention while exposed to your dog to create a positive association and keep her pleasantly distracted and occupied.

"The initial introduction of your dog to the household cat should be taken slowly and done in a controlled environment, with your dog on leash and a head halter and giving favorite rewards for acceptable responses."

A Feliway® diffuser in the home may help reduce the cat's fear and anxiety. Feliway® is a pheromone product that helps relieve stress in cats and calms them down. For extreme fear or aggression between cat and dog or dog and cat, a desensitization and counter-conditioning program may be required, and veterinary medical guidance may be considered. It would be advisable to keep unfamiliar dogs and cats separated from one another, unless being closely supervised, to avoid injury to either or even yourself or others.

How do I introduce my dog to new children and family members?

When introducing your dog into a new home with new children and family members, do whatever you can to associate all that is positive in your dog’s day (exercise, play, treats, food, and reward training) with the new people in the household. At first, be present to engage in these activities and interactions between your dog and the new family members. Your new family members need to know that any forms of punishment are unacceptable.

"Associate all that is positive in your dog’s day with the new people in the household."

Make sure your dog has a quiet, secure area where he can comfortably get away from it all should he become overwhelmed with the people and activities of the home. It takes time for everyone to get settled in and into a routine. Remember, even though your household has grown, it is important to set the time aside daily to give your dog the personal attention he is used to, needs, and deserves. For more information on introducing children and dogs, see the handout "Children and Pets".

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