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Our dogs are not unfamiliar with moving. Our older dog has moved six different times (five out-of-state and one in-state) and our younger dog moved from her foster's home to our apartment to our house. This lines up with data, which found that Americans move around 11 times in their lifetime on average (and the younger you are, the more you can expect to move). In 2021 specifically, 8.4% of the population (about 28 million people) moved, according to Census data, with summer being the most popular time for a move. And with 53% of U.S. households (totaling 63.4 million) owning dogs, plenty of those moving have pups. But moves are often stressful for our canine companions. So for those moving with dogs, here are 32 tips for before, during and after your move to help make it easier for them.
Moving can be very stressful (and even traumatic) for dogs for several reasons:
Dogs, though, are also very adaptable and will feel at least a little comfort as long as they're with their people.
Keep some of your packing supplies out before you begin, so your dog can become familiar with them. Allowing them to smell and investigate boxes, packing tape and more will help them feel less alarmed when these items begin to take over their space. To help your dog even more, you can create a positive association with the supplies. Do so by giving treats or praise anytime in their presence and when they examine them. You can also play with your dog around the supplies and even use them for play or brain games (e.g. putting treats into boxes and letting your dog find them).
If possible, avoid putting the supplies in the room your dog uses most for rest and relaxation or where they'll interfere with playtime, napping, eating and drinking. In addition, don't leave your dog unsupervised around the supplies as many can cause issues (like choking, gastrointestinal obstruction and more).
Dogs thrive on routine because it helps them learn what to expect in life and build trust in their surroundings. Unfortunately, moving can be very disruptive. But it's important to try to keep your dog's routine as normal as possible to reduce the stress of surprises and the unfamiliar. This means maintaining their schedule for meals, going to the bathroom, walks, playtime and more.
Pro Tip: For more intense packing days where you just can't stick to a routine, try taking them to a friend who can stick to your schedule or to doggy daycare.
Tiring your dog out can go a long way to help keep their stress levels low (less energy in general means less to expend on getting anxious). There are many ways to do so. If you have some time, try taking an extra long walk, going on a hike or inviting a playmate over. If not, you can go for a sniff-heavy walk (sniffing throughout a walk can be more tiring to your dog than a brisk 15 minute one without sniff breaks), a quick run or head to the dog park for a little. Other options include more physical play (like fetch, frisbee or chase) and more mental play (like brain games or training sessions). Your dog isn't the only one who will benefit from these breaks!
Pro Tip: If you truly don't have time to take a break to exercise your dog, ask a friend, dog walker or pet sitter to come help out.
Watching everything your dog knows being moved around and packed away can be jarring for them. Instead, you can see if a friend, dog walker or pet sitter can take your dog for walks during packing times. Or you can drop your dog off for the day with friends, family, a sitter or doggy daycare. That being said, if you can't find a way to get your dog out of the house, it's not always helpful to isolate your dog in another room or their crate while you pack. This can increase their anxiety, so it may be better to keep them with you and observe the activity in that case.
Pro Tip: If you decide on a dog walker or pet sitter, book them ahead of time so your dog can meet them beforehand.
Leave a small area of your home just for your dog, so they can escape the chaos. Opt for a room your dog loves or a place that's quiet, doesn't get a lot of traffic and will fit your dog's bed or crate. Set up their bed or crate and water bowl, then add some blankets, toys, safe chewing bones (like bully sticks) and any of their other favorite items. If their safe space is a room, make it the last area you pack up.
Creating a safe space of their own will be important to do for your dog on the other end of your move as well. It will provide a little familiarity during an unfamiliar time.
Pro Tip: Try using a fan or soothing sounds to help relax your dog and provide distractions, such as treat-filled and food-dispensing toys.
Though it will be difficult once packing begins, trying to maintain normalcy in your home will help your dog's stress levels. This means throwing away or recycling trash and used supplies, keeping boxes (both packed and unpacked) organized and waiting to pack furniture or large items (as well as your dog's stuff) for as long as possible.
With all the hustle and bustle of packing and moving, there's a greater than zero chance you accidentally pack some of your dog's things that you'll want or need on hand. Make a list of things for your dog and put them in a separate place so you don't pack them away. Items may include:
Pro Tip: Don't clean your dog's favorite blanket, dog bed or washable item before moving (though it may be tempting). Keeping the familiar smell will help with your dog's stress.
Update your dog's identification tags and microchip information close to your move, so you're prepared in case something happens. You'll certainly want to have your current phone number, but the new address is a good idea too. If your dog isn't microchipped, you may want to consider doing so as well.
If your moving within your city or area, you may want to bring your dog to the new neighborhood before you actually move. That way they can sniff, investigate, explore and familiarize themselves with the neighborhood. The more times you do this, the more comfortable (or even excited) your dog will become about the new territory. To create an even more positive association, bring treats or kibble to feed while walking the area.
Pro Tip: If possible, take your dog inside the new home. If not, try to bring something from there to your dog so they can familiarize themselves with the new smell.
Whether you're driving or flying to your new home, you'll need to prepare yourself and your dog for the journey. This includes buying the proper travel pet gear, booking pet-friendly places to stay, training your dog to be comfortable around travel items and noises, and more. Here are a few ways to prepare for the trip:
You may want to train your dog to get used to various parts of travel, such as staying in the crate or carrier and using a car harness. For crate or carrier training, start by having it out in the home. This will allow your dog to see, sniff and inspect the crate. Place some blankets with familiar smells inside, along with treats and toys the love. Once comfortable, start feeding meals in there - first with the door open, then shut briefly and then shut continually. Take your dog on a short drive in the crate, car harness or pet seat belt. For dogs small enough to fit in carriers, carry them around your house for a few minutes at a time while giving treats.
Pro Tip: Taking your dog through a car wash can simulate the sounds and motion of flying. Use praise and treats as positive reinforcement and speak calmly during the wash to ensure it's a good experience.
It's always a good idea to talk to your vet before any big changes, like moving. They may have some tips or solutions for any dilemmas you may be experiencing. You may also want to refill any medications beforehand, even if you have some left. It won't hurt to have extra medication and will be extremely helpful in the event that you accidentally pack them, lose them or don't have a new vet yet to prescribe them.
Pro Tip: If your dog gets motion sickness, talk to your vet. They can let you know of some over-the-counter medicine that's safe for dogs (and what dosage to use for your dog's specific weight) or can prescribe stronger motion sickness medication.
If you know your dog is anxious and moving is going to be stressful for them, you may want to look into calming or anxiety aids. You can try anti-anxiety gear (like calming collars or the ThunderShirt) or calming chews and CBD (just make sure they're a reputable and safe brand). You can also ask your vet about prescribing anxiety medicine. Make sure to test aids before moving to figure out if they're effective and take the proper steps to ensure it's effective (like you'll need to with the ThunderShirt).
Studies have shown that our dogs can feel our emotions and mirror our stress, so it's important to try to remain calm during your move. This is much easier said than done, but will go a long way in helping keep your dog's anxiety down. Use a calming voice and tone, try staying positive and avoid freak-outs or panic as much as possible.
If possible, keeping your dog away entirely on moving day is ideal. Not only does this prevent your dog from stressing out watching their home be uprooted, it also makes things smoother for you (e.g. your dog won't be in the middle of it all, potentially causing a tripping hazard or putting themselves in harm's way). Ask a friend or family member to watch them, drop them off at their doggy daycare or dog boarding, arrange a puppy playdate or hire a pet sitter that can take them to their home. If none of these are possible, employ that safe space you created for them during packing.
Pro Tip: If you decide on a dog walker or pet sitter, book them ahead of time so your dog can meet them beforehand.
Outside of dropping your dog off for moving day, you'll want to keep your dog with you as often as possible. Your dog is attached to you and making sure you stay together can help keep their stress levels lower. This is especially important if you can't find a place for your dog to go.
It may not be possible given moving day is busy and chaotic, but (again) keeping your dog's routine as normal as possible is helpful for them. This means trying to stay on schedule for feeding times, potty breaks, daily walks or playtime and anything else. The familiar routine can help ease their anxiety with all the changes.
Carving out a little time to exercise your dog can be super beneficial. If you somehow have time for a longer walk, go for it. If not, you can do a sniff-heavy walk, a quick run, a rigorous play session (like fetch, frisbee or chase) or some mental stimulation (like brain games or training). Wearing your dog out means they'll have less energy to spend on anxiety for movers, road trips and more.
Pro Tip: For longer car rides, look for hiking trails, dog-friendly parks or places to take a long walk. This will help break up the drive for both your dog and you.
Treats are a useful tool when it comes to moving day. Not only can they help associate the day with something positive, they can give you a little more control over your dog. You can use them to keep your dog by your side (or wherever you want them) and encourage the behaviors you want from them. You can use a dog treat pouch so you can access treats when needed but keep your hands free the rest of the time.
Pro Tip: Having treats on hand means you can sneak in some training sessions when you have a minute or two. This will provide mental stimulation and distractions throughout the day, which can help tire them out and reduce anxious energy.
If your knew your dog was going to be anxious and prepared accordingly with anxiety aids, now's the time to use them. Just make sure to give any. calming chews, CBD or prescription anxiety medication before all the action starts, so they kick in (usually at least 30 minutes beforehand and follow any instructions, e.g. administering with or without food).
You set aside your dog's essentials, now you'll want to make sure they're accessible during travel. This is particularly important for longer road trips where your dog will be getting several meals (and maybe medication) throughout travel. Also keep cleaning supplies accessible in case your dog has an accident or gets motion sickness. The last thing you want to do is rummage through your stuff to find these things.
For moves that require road travel, you'll want to ensure your dog stays safe when in the car. This means making sure they're secure (car harnesses or crates are ideal here) and that there's enough air circulation, ventilation and space. Your dog should be able to rest comfortable without the risk of something falling on them.
Pro Tip: If using a crate, you can cover it with a light blanket or sheet to prevent your dog from watching you leave your home, which can be scary and stressful.
Your dog should be the last thing into the car to avoid overheating. Cars can quickly reach dangerous levels of heat, becoming 20 degrees warmer than the temperature outside. Leaving the windows open isn't enough to cool a hot car down to safe temperatures, so keep the air conditioning on during warm months. You can also set up a portable car fan to ensure your dog has enough air circulation nearby.
Make sure to give any motion sickness medicine with time to spare before driving (typically 30 or more minutes beforehand). Also, feed them lightly to avoid vomiting (especially if they're prone to motion sickness or have sensitive stomachs), increase pit stops (for bathroom, water and play breaks) and use a leash when taking your pup out of the car to avoid them escaping or accidentally running away.
Pro Tip: Try to keep pets away from backseat speakers or switch the audio to front-only, if possible, to avoid blaring music or sounds at them.
Make sure your new home is ready and safe for your dog before bringing them inside. Some ways to do so:
One of the first things you'll want to do upon arriving at your new home is create another safe space for your dog. If they loved sleeping in your bed or the lounging on the living room sofa and it's possible to set up, do that. If not, you can use their crate or dog bed. Place some of their favorite toys and blankets there, as well as anything from the old house (like rugs or some of your belongings) to bring that familiar smell back. Try to keep the setup as similar to the previous one as you can. Overall, this will help indicate to your dog that the new home is a safe space and also gives them a place to retreat to if needed.
Pro Tip: If your movers are arriving after you, setting up a space for your dog gives them a safe and comfortable place to be during unloading.
Once the house is ready, you can show your dog around the new digs (though you won't want to force them on a tour until they're ready). It's recommended you use a leash to guide them so they feel secure and safe with you. You can start by showing them one room, allowing them to adjust, then moving on to the next room. Once you've finished touring the house together, take your dog back to their safe space. You can gradually let them loose in the house if desired but the sooner they get used to the new surroundings, the sooner they'll feel at home.
Pro Tip: You can make the first room you show them and let them adjust to a "home base," where they have toys, water, food bowls and other familiar belongings.
Moving to a new home is exciting and you may get the itch to buy new furniture and decor. But keeping some of your items can be helpful for your dog because they bring familiarity (like smells) from the old house to the new one. Also, it's recommended you set up your furniture in a similar way to your old home, if possible. Maybe (probably) more importantly, avoid switching out your dog's supplies right away. Keeping their dog bed, water bowls, toys, etc. until they acclimate to the new home can be comforting for them. Though tempting, try to avoid cleaning everything, especially dog items, before you move as that can take away the smell of the old house.
Pro Tip: Spend time on the floor with your dog. Not only will the quality time be comforting to them, but it also helps get your scent into the new house.
Just as you did before and during your move, you'll want to try to keep your routines normal. Resume your regular feeding and bathroom schedule, walks and play sessions, bed times and more. If possible, try to find a feeding spot and situation that's similar to their old one. For example, if your dog always ate in the kitchen while you did, continue that. Also, avoid switching up their food, collar, harness or anything else try to keep as much the same as possible.
Even if your dog has always been fine staying home alone, they may have some issues in the new home. This is because dogs are sensitive to their surroundings and need to learn to be okay in an unfamiliar setting. If possible, stay home with your dog for a few days after the move. This can help ease your pup's anxiety in the new environment and the transition to the new home. If your work situations allows for it, you can leave your dog alone for short amounts of time and gradually increase them. Try giving them safe puzzle toys to keep them busy while you're gone. The longer you wait to leave them alone, the better.
If you can't take a few days or work from home and you’re moving with other family members, try to switch off days so someone is always there with your dog. Or if you've moved within your area, you can hire a dog sitter. Just make sure you do so with enough time in advance for your dog to get to know them.
Pro Tip: Don't leave your dog outside alone without supervision for the first little while. Some dogs have been known jump the fence trying to return to their old home.
To help your dog acclimate and feel safe in their new environment, you may want to explore the neighborhood in small doses. This can prevent your dog from becoming overwhelmed and allow them to adjust at their own speed. If your neighbors like dogs, introduce them to each other so they aren't strangers. Carefully expose your dog to the new sounds of the area - be it like kids playing in a pool, people playing tennis or other sports, and beyond.
It's also important to remember that dogs tend to be fun-loving animals, so adding a little fun to their new world can go a long way. You can make your new house more fun by playing in every part of the home or hiding treats and kibble in different rooms for them to explore. And make their new surroundings more enjoyable by taking them for fun walks to explore the neighborhood. Reinforce positive associations with them by giving treats while out and about.
The excitement of a new home is something we want to share with our family and friends. But having people over can be stressful for some dogs, particularly those going through a big change. Because of this, it's best to wait a little while before having visitors, especially if they're unfamiliar people (like neighbors). Ideally, you would wait a few months, though that may be difficult. Even dogs who love strangers may not act like their normal selves when feeling underlying anxiety and stress.
Moving is a big change for everyone, but at least we know what's going on. Dogs don't and so they may need a little extra loving during this adjustment period. Playing, cuddling and spending quality time with them can help ease their anxiety and make them feel more at home. Studies have shown that dogs produce oxytocin and that their brains release this "love hormone" during positive interactions with humans and other dogs. Oxytocin has many functions, including social bonding, relaxation, trust and easing stress - all of which can help during this kind of change. To tell your dog they love them in ways they'll understand, check out our article.
It's important to remind ourselves that, after a move, our dog will need time to adjust to their new world. It can take weeks or months for your dog to become completely comfortable. So your patience, understanding and compassion will be necessary during this adjustment. Give it time, let your dog adjust at their own speed and don't rush the process. Remember, your dog doesn't understand what's actually going on - all they understand is that a lot has changed and the world they knew so well is no longer.
You may notice they act differently during the transition. For instance, your dog may develop a little separation anxiety and follow you around everywhere. They may bark and whine more or be less interested in food, playtime and more. Try using positive reinforcement training to help with these issues. If your dog is still acting differently after a month or so, it's recommended that you contact your vet and potentially find a certified trainer or canine behavior consultant.