Moving house with your dog

Moving house with your dog
Your furry best friend is so much a part of your family that it can be easy to forget just how little they understand about what’s going on in your house. They like routine - especially if that routine involves walks, the park and treats - and (generally) dislike car journeys that end in a visit to the (shhhh…) “V-E-T” but otherwise they just lovingly trust that you know what you’re doing and go along with it.

It’s important to remember that your dog can’t understand much of what you’re saying (aside from key words like ‘walk’, ‘food’ and ‘no!’) so they have to rely on your body language, tone of voice and mood. Moving house is a major life event, and your dog is likely to be able to pick up on your increased stress levels and agitation even though they don’t understand what’s happening.

So how can you take care of your dog, physically and emotionally, when moving house?

Before the move

What your dog perceives:
  • As far as your dog is concerned, this is when things start getting strange. 
  • You start packing boxes, which might look like you’re going on holiday. 
  • That might stress out or excite your dog, depending on how they normally react when you go on holiday. 
  • Then, you start taking pictures off the walls and moving boxes from room to room. This is when your dog starts to realise that this is totally new territory and begins to get stressed.

What you can do to help:
During this time, the best thing you can do is to keep your dog’s routine as stable as possible. Make breakfast when you normally would; go for a walk when you normally would. Take time in the evenings just to sit for half an hour with them and watch TV together or whatever you’d normally do as a family, even if you have loads of jobs to do to get organised for the move.

Practical advice:
Think ahead about the journey to your new house on moving day. Think about how your dog behaves and reacts generally when travelling by car, and about how that might be exacerbated in the context of a rather chaotic, stressful day. 

If you know that car journeys are difficult even at the best of times, talk to the V-E-T about how to make that less stressful or uncomfortable on moving day. If you’ll be driving for a long time, plan to build in time for rest breaks so that your dog can get some fresh air, and take plenty of fresh water for them to drink.

If you have children, you’ll have already looked at schools in your new area and made arrangements for them to be registered when you move. For your dog, getting a good V-E-T in the area is important, so do some research and look at reviews for local V-E-Ts in your new neighbourhood. Get your dog registered as soon as you’re certain that you’ll be moving to that area. That way, if there are any health issues or accidents during or soon after the move, you won’t need to panic or struggle to find a good local V-E-T.

If your dog doesn’t already have a microchip, get this done immediately, before the move. If they’re already chipped, make sure the contact information on the system is up to date with your latest phone number. If your dog escapes during the move, the microchip is the most likely way you’ll be reunited so make this a priority.

On moving day

What your dog perceives:
  • A group of strangers comes to your house and takes all your stuff out. They load it into a van and drive off. 
  • Your dog knows that their job is to stop precisely that kind of thing happening, so they’re barking like mad to alert you to the problem, but you keep telling them to shush.
  • You’re all pretty stressed out and arguing about who should be doing what, and not really paying your dog much attention even though they’re trying very hard to warn you about the people who have just taken all your stuff.
  • Then you put your dog in the car but drive in a different direction to where the V-E-T is. This is good news. 
  • You take your dog to a new house that smells (to your dog, at least) of strangers and their pets. This is less good news.
What you can do to help:
Do you have a member of the family who can look after your dog for the day? Or for a few hours while the house contents are loaded into the moving van? 

If not, you need to allocate a family member to be with your dog and soothe them. Reassure them that it’s okay, use a calm tone of voice and show that the removal workers are not a threat by being friendly towards them.

Practical advice:
On arrival in your new house, clean it from top to bottom. Use odour-eliminating spray to get rid of the scent of any previous pets who lived there. Then move your dog’s belongings, like their toys and blanket, into one of the rooms and make that their safe space for the day. Take one of their blankets or toys and rub it at dog height around the other areas of the home - this is known as ‘scent-swapping’ and it will let your dog know that this is their territory and safe.

Check that the garden is secure and that if you let your dog out there to explore they can’t escape. It’s an unfamiliar area and they won’t be able to use their sense of smell if they get lost.

Keep their routine as familiar as possible. Give your dog their dinner when they expect it. Try to take them for a walk at the usual time. At the very least, give them as much attention as they’d normally receive.

Settling into your new home

What your dog perceives:
So much uncertainty! They’re in a new house, and they don’t know where anything is or what the rules are here. You’re all distracted unpacking boxes and arguing about what goes where. They’re not sure if you remembered to bring the biscuits. Where should they go to the toilet? Is there a park nearby?

What you can do to help:
You’ll have a thousand things to think about and organise in your new home, but make sure you show your dog around their new home. Show them where their bed will be, and where you’ll be sleeping; show them where their food bowls are and where the door to the garden is so they know where to stand to ask to go to the toilet.

Reward good behaviour rather than punish unwanted behaviours. If there are toilet accidents, show them where they need to go to use the toilet instead of shouting at them.

Practical advice:
Update your dog’s address on their microchip and collar tag. Make sure the people who bought your house know what your dog looks like and what they’re called, and give them your contact information. That way, if your dog escapes and somehow gets all the way ‘home’, the new owners will be able to help you reunite.

You’ll soon get to know the best places for walks and start making friends with other dog walkers (dog walking is, without a doubt, the easiest way to meet new people in your area). Your dog will learn all the best places to sniff and exchange news with other dogs in the local area, their hair will be all over the furniture in the house - and it’ll finally feel like home.

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