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Training Your Dog to Stay Calm During a Move to a New Home

Training Your Dog to Stay Calm During a Move to a New Home

Moving to a new home can be an exciting yet stressful time for you and your dog. Your dog's routine is disrupted, they are exposed to new sights, sounds and smells, and their territory has changed. This change can cause anxiety, restlessness and behavioral issues in some dogs if not properly managed. The key is to start early with training and take steps to keep your dog calm and comfortable throughout the entire moving process. With some preparation and training, you can make your dog feel safe and relaxed in your new home.

Start Training Early

Don't wait until right before the move to start training your dog to stay calm. Begin working on training exercises focused on relaxation and impulse control several weeks or even months before the move. The more time you have to practice, the better chance you have of your training being successful when the stress of moving day actually hits.

Some great training exercises to start with include:

  • Settling exercises like mat training. Teach your dog to go to a mat or dog bed on cue and reward them heavily for remaining settled on it. Gradually increase the duration your dog must remain on the mat before getting a reward.

  • Impulse control games like "leave it." Put a treat on the floor and reward your dog when they resist grabbing it until given a release cue. Help teach them that patience and self-control pays off.

  • Relaxation protocols that teach your dog to relax in various positions like standing, sitting or laying down on cue. Starting with short increments of time and rewarding calm behavior.

Use Calming Aids

There are a variety of great calming aids for dogs that can help take the edge off during stressful situations like moving. Introducing these calming aids before the move can make them even more effective when the chaos hits. Some popular options include:

  • Pheromone diffusers/sprays like Adaptil that help relax dogs. Use them in your current home then set them up again in the new home.

  • Anxiety wraps and shirts that apply gentle pressure thought to have a calming effect. Let your dog get used to wearing one in advance.

  • Calming supplements or chews like Zylkene that provide relaxation without sedation. Ask your vet for recommended options to try.

  • Calming essential oil blends that can be spritzed on bedding or used in a diffuser. Most dogs respond best to blends with chamomile or lavender.

Create Familiarity in the New Home

An unfamiliar new home can be what unsettles your dog the most. Creating some familiarity with smells and surroundings they know can help it feel safer right away.

Some tips for creating familiarity include:

  • Set up furniture and play areas in similar configurations as your old home and use old blankets or beds to carry familiar smells.

  • Pack away decorative items at first so your home doesn't seem drastically different. Introduce new decor slowly over time.

  • Use pheromone sprays liberally throughout the new house when moving in.

  • Spend time in each room playing with your dog so good associations start being built.

  • Allow plenty of opportunity for your dog to sniff, explore the yard at their own pace. This will help them feel at home quicker.

Keep a Consistent Routine

While moving inherently disrupts your dog's routine, keeping consistency wherever you can will be reassuring.

Ways to maintain consistency include:

  • Sticking to your dog's regular feeding, potty and walk/exercise schedule as much as possible.

  • Following old bedtime and wake up routines in the new home. Dogs relax through consistency.

  • Using the same cues, verbal commands and body language you used in your old home.

  • Setting up their crate, play areas, food and water bowls in familiar places.

  • Driving familiar routes and going to old potty spots at first before introducing new ones.

  • Keeping interactions with family members and ratios of individual time/attention similar.

Use Crates and Barriers

The hustle and bustle of moving day can be very stressful for dogs. Using crates, baby gates and closed doors to restrict your dog's access and define a safe space can be extremely helpful.

Some ways to utilize barriers include:

  • Keep your dog in a comfortable crate with a long lasting chew toy while furniture is being moved.

  • Set up a separate room with a baby gate just for your dog to relax in on moving day. Provide lots of chew toys and puzzles with treats in that room.

  • Use tethers to keep your dog nearby but out from underfoot while movers are in and out.

  • Crate your dog in a back bedroom during the height of moving day chaos.

  • Ensure your dog's crate/safe space set up in advance in the new home with familiar bedding.

Provide Plenty of Exercise

Adequate physical exercise is always important for your dog's health and behavior, but especially crucial when they are experiencing big changes like moving homes.

Be sure to focus on providing extra exercise like:

  • Long walks around the neighborhood before and after the packing/moving frenzy.

  • Playing fetch in the backyard or taking a hike at a park to burn mental and physical energy.

  • Wake up earlier than normal on moving day for a long walk so your dog starts the day tired.

  • Keeping treat dispensing puzzle toys on hand you can fill and give your dog in a crate on moving day.

  • Stopping on moving day for a potty break walk/play session if the drive is long.

A tired dog is much less likely to be restless or anxious. Use exercise to get energy out and provide mental stimulation.

Pay Attention to Body Language

It is important to be in tune with your dog's body language and signs of anxiety like:

  • Pacing, whining or shaking.

  • Panting when not overheated.

  • Drooling or lip licking more than normal.

  • Becoming suddenly clingy/needy.

  • Loss of appetite.

Paying attention to these signs allows you to intervene right away to minimize stress before reactions intensify by using redirection, sensory enrichment like a food puzzle, or introducing a pheromone spray in the room you're in.

Provide Reassurance and Distractions

Verbal reassurance, maintaining a calm confident demeanor and providing positive distractions can all help your dog settle in periods of high stress or uncertainty.

Ways to reassure your dog include:

  • Speaking to them in a happy, relaxed tone of voice and providing frequent praise.

  • Giving them brief affection or pets when you walk by, but not overly coddling.

  • Acting neutrally/nonchalant yourself when introducing anything new; don't act anxious.

  • Playing light-hearted games like tug or fetch to shift focus to something positive.

  • Hand feeding a portion of meals on moving day to build positive associations.

Your dog looks to you for behavioral cues. Remaining confident and neutral yourself when encountering new things promotes confidence in your dog. Redirecting with praise, play and treats helps shift reactions from stressful to happy.

Manage Transitions

The initial transition into the new home is a key time to manage carefully to prevent fearful or anxious reactions from developing.

Tips for smooth transitions:

  • If possible, move smaller items first that smell strongly of home. Save moving furniture/large items until your dog seems comfortable.

  • Drive your dog to the new house in their favorite vehicle if you can. Don't introduce a strange new car on moving day.

  • Introduce your dog to the new home on a leash, don't just open the door and let them burst in.

  • Walk them calmly from room to room on leash giving them time to acclimate.

  • Reward calm, quiet behavior with treats when entering each room for the first few days.

  • If you have multiple dogs, move one at a time and get them settled before introducing the next dog.

Managing this transition phase to not overwhelm your dog is key. Take it slow and make it a calm, rewarding experience.

Be Patient!

Some dogs adjust quickly and feel right at home in your new house within days or weeks. But for other dogs, truly settling in and feeling comfortable can take several months. Be patient and understanding if your dog seems unsettled as they transition.

With time, positive associations and your dog feeling more "at home," reactions like barking or destroying items should subside. Use prevention and training to manage behaviors, but avoid punishment like yelling or scolding. This will only increase anxiety.

If after several months your dog still exhibits signs of anxiety or you are unable to resolve behavior issues, consult your vet or a professional trainer/behaviorist for guidance. But in most cases, your dog just needs time to make the mental shift that this new home is theirs too! Be patient and keep those training and reassurance techniques going consistently.

The Key is Preparation!

Preparing your dog both mentally and environmentally to handle a big move will give you the best chance for success in keeping them calm. Don't wait until right before the move date to think about training. The more time you have to implement these strategies, the smoother the transition will go for both you and your four-legged family members!

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