Moving with Your Dog

Most dogs seem to take moving in stride. Dogs are generally quite content if their social group (people and pets) remains much the same and the daily routine remains fairly consistent.

Some dogs do not adjust easily to the new scents and sounds of a new home, the change from having a yard to needing to be walked on a leash. There may be additional challenges if your dog joins a new social group – new people and/or other pets. You can begin to prepare for these changes ahead of the move.

How can I prepare for the move?

Before you even begin to pack, consider the changes that your dog might face in a new home. Will there be a change in your schedule? Will your dog still have a yard, or will he need to learn to eliminate on leash? Will there be many unfamiliar sounds, such as street traffic or neighbors?

Several weeks before the move, begin to introduce your dog to these situations. Even if you have a yard, begin taking your dog on leash walks. If you are moving to a city, bring your dog to a city environment and create a positive experience. For example, you might relax at a café with your dog on leash or bring some treats and do some fun training. Create a playlist of novel sounds that your dog might encounter and play them while you and your dog relax in your current home.

"If your new home is nearby and the move will be gradual, bring your dog for some short visits when you are able to supervise."

While you are packing for the move, it may be helpful to let your dog stay with a familiar pet sitter. Dogs are often uncomfortable when their furniture is being packed into boxes, and the echo of a home without furniture can be disturbing as well. Be sure she still has her familiar bed and blankets until you are ready to load her into the car for the final departure.

If your new home is nearby and the move will be gradual, bring your dog for some short visits when you are able to supervise. Create fun adventures in the home: bring familiar beds, food bowls, and toys and spend some time training and playing with her. During the move, be sure to securely confine your dog in a low-traffic area so she does not escape.

How should I introduce my dog to my new home?

Let your dog explore your new home one room at a time. Follow along to be sure he does not find anything he could accidentally ingest. Some dogs, especially younger ones, tend to chew things as part of their exploration. Other dogs may attempt to mark their new territory with urine. Be ready to distract your dog if he postures suspiciously. If there are rooms that have not been set up, or valuables that have not been put away, leave the doors to those areas closed to prevent him from accessing them until you are ready.

Arrange your dog’s belongings in their appropriate locations. Set up his toy box if he has one. Help him settle in his bed when you relax (or on your couch if that is allowed). The comfort of a familiar bed or crate can be helpful. Set up his sleeping area so that it resembles the one he had in your former home. Be sure your dog does know how to find his food and water. Toys, treats, and interactive social time (training, play) can ease the transition of the move. When it is time to rest, use treats to encourage your dog to settle in his bed.

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

Every dog is unique. Most dogs relax within a few days. If your move involved a major change, such as moving from a large home to a small one or vice versa, or from city to country or vice versa, it may take longer for your dog to acclimate. Some dogs adjust more quickly when a pheromone diffuser such as Thunderease® is used.

"It is best to avoid leaving your dog alone in your new home for at least one to two weeks."

It is best to avoid leaving your dog alone in your new home for at least one to two weeks. He should be fully settled in your presence before he is left alone. During your first departure, leave at a time when he normally rests, and increase the time away gradually, to minimize the chance he will become distressed. Meanwhile, if you need to go out, consider bringing him along or hiring a pet sitter to stay with him.

There will be another adult and child in our new home. How can I prepare my dog?

If you and your dog have lived alone, there will be some adjustments to sharing a space with other people. Be sure to introduce your dog to the new family before the move. It would be ideal to have the new family visit you in your current home, but if that is not possible, arrange a neutral location. Allow your dog to become comfortable by sharing some of your dog’s favorite activities – a walk, some tricks for treats, or a game of fetch.

Before moving in, provide the other members of your new household with important information about your dog. They will need to understand your dog’s routine for meals and being taken outside. They will also need to understand how to behave around your dog. Your dog may not appreciate shouting and running about, particularly during the introductory period. All members of the household should be clear about safety guidelines, such as refraining from reaching for your dog when she is resting or when she has something valuable, such as food. Establish a safe, comfortable spot where your dog can rest undisturbed when she needs space.

All household members should know the verbal cues that you have taught your dog so that they can communicate. Explain that they should not correct or punish your dog. Let them advise you if they have any concerns about your dog’s behavior. If you have any concerns about your dog’s ability to adjust to living with new people, and particularly if your dog has not interacted with children, connect with an experienced behavior professional who can facilitate the transition.

There will be another dog in my new home. How can I prepare my dog?

It is helpful to introduce your dog to her new canine housemate in a neutral setting. Plan multiple sessions before you move in together. Begin with leash walks, keeping enough distance that both dogs are comfortable. The prior social skills of each dog will affect the next steps. If both dogs are playful and have experience playing with many dogs, it can be helpful to arrange play dates off leash. Also, practice having the dogs settle together while wearing leashes, in case you need a leash for additional control.

Once you move into your new home, have someone keep the resident dog occupied while your dog explores. Also, spend some time with both dogs on leash while you and the other person in the household relax. Each handler can reward their dog for resting quietly but avoid rewards such as high-value treats or effusive pets, as these could trigger competition. If the dogs appear neutral or friendly, you may allow them to interact, but be sure that valuable toys and bones have been put away. Supervise 100% of the time to be sure that the dogs remain calm – stiff posture and long stares suggest that the dogs are not comfortable and should be distracted and separated.

"Supervise 100% of the time to be sure that the dogs remain calm – stiff posture and long stares suggest that the dogs are not comfortable and should be distracted and separated."

During the initial weeks, until both dogs are fully tolerant, they should be separated when you leave the house or are unable to supervise. Continue the routine of shared leash walks. Use care during mealtime; feed the dogs separately or use a barrier so they cannot approach each other’s bowl. Introduce toys gradually, avoiding high-value items that could trigger a fight.

For dogs that are not experienced socially or dogs that have exhibited anxiety in social situations, progression may need to be slower to prevent either dog from experiencing fear or possibly exhibiting aggression. Some household dogs never play with each other but simply establish a neutral relationship. If you are concerned about your dog’s ability to tolerate having another dog nearby, seek professional guidance before the move.

There will be cat in my new home. How can I prepare my dog?

Before moving to a home with a resident cat, it is important to teach your dog some skills. First, introduce a calm settle. Set up a mat beside your chair and encourage your dog to settle while you hold his leash. Use some treats and some gentle pets so that he can relax for a half hour without becoming restless. Then add some distractions.

The second skill to train is a tolerance of confinement. Practice closing your dog into a room or in a crate even when you are home. Your dog may have a food toy to help him rest. Build up his time gradually. He may need to be confined while the resident cat has freedom to roam.

When you and your dog arrive at your new home, be sure the cat is safely confined. If possible, establish a cozy, “dog free” cat room that will always be available for your cat’s comfort. Allow your dog to explore the home and acclimate to the odor of the cat. Do not try to introduce the two pets until your dog has fully adjusted to the home. Until that time, rotate which pet is confined safely while the other explores.

The introduction of the pets should occur with a barrier in place. Hold your dog’s leash and set up a baby gate or screen that your cat cannot scale. Allow the pets to interact through the barrier, if they are interested. If they do not attempt to interact, then begin sessions in which each pet receives a meal in a dish set a comfortable distance away from the barrier, and then separate them when they finish. Eventually, they may begin to investigate each other through the barrier.

If the cat and dog seem neutral, with no lunging or hissing, try having sessions with both pets on leash in an open room. Each handler can feed their pet some treats. If you are not concerned that the cat will become aggressive toward the dog, then you may begin to let the cat roam free. The biggest challenge for most dogs occurs when cats move about - many dogs try to chase. This is where your calm settle training comes in handy. Reward your dog with great treats as he remains settled even though the cat is moving about.

Even if sessions go well, the pets should be separated when you are not able to actively supervise. The dog or the cat or both should be confined when you leave the home. Some dogs have a very strong prey instinct and are difficult to distract when they begin to chase small animals. Dogs that have a history of chasing and catching small game may never be safe around cats. Once the chase begins, their instinct kicks in and they can fatally injure a cat, even if the cat is their friend. If you are concerned about your dog’s ability to mingle with a cat, consult with a veterinary behaviorist for expert guidance.

Be sure to provide the resident cat with everything she needs to be comfortable. Placing Feliway® diffusers in the home can be helpful. Cats are very sensitive and can develop serious physical illnesses when emotionally distressed or when they do not eat their full daily ration of nutritious food. Enrichment should include safe, comfortable resting places such as elevated perches and trees. Litter boxes should be readily accessible without risk of being ambushed by the dog. Be sure to confine your dog regularly so that your cat has plenty of time for wandering through her house and for joining in social interactions with her people.