Moving is stressful no doubt about it, but did you know it’s up there with job loss, marriage, divorce and death?
I have moved a lot, but that’s what happens when you have wanderlust, and most of that moving was done with dogs and cats in tow. Yes they were usually seniors!! I’ve moved apartments in the same city, moved to different countries and even continents. Needless to say I’ve learned a few things along the way, so I thought I’d share my words of wisdom.
Naturally I’m focusing on senior dogs as I write, but these tips will work no matter how old or what type of pet you share your life with.
I find it incredible how animals have an uncanny ability to sense when something is up, and I have witnessed it enough times that I know it to be true. What’s most amazing to me is how they seem to know you’re going to move even when it’s just an idea…before the M word has even been uttered.
I don’t even have to bring a box into the house for them to start acting all weird!
Then the disruption starts
- That schedule you’re so proud of is but a distant memory
- Meal times may turn into “whenever I remember” (okay not really but you know what I mean!)
- A walk is “squeezed in”
- Evenings snuggling up on the couch are nothing more than a happy memory (for humans and pets!)
I’d like to think I’m being a bit melodramatic, but as moving day nears it’s not an uncommon scenario.
Yes it would be great if schedules could be followed, but that’s not entirely realistic so the only thing we can do is the best we can do. Don’t beat yourself up, you’re doing a great job.
The good news is there are ways to minimise a move’s effect on our animals, which I believe to be particularly important if they are elderly and/or have anxiety or other health issues.
BEFORE THE MOVE
Here they are, in no particular order
Get your dog used to seeing boxes and suitcases a good couple of weeks before you’ll start packing them, by leaving them out for him to explore. If possible bring them in one or two at a time. Don’t make a big deal about them, and when he starts to sniff around and he’s calm reward him with a favourite treat. It will get him used to seeing them before the commotion starts.
Have a support system. Make arrangements for your dog’s care when you’re too busy or you need to get him out of the house because potential buyers will be dropping by. Ask friends, family and neighbours if you can call on them, perhaps even at the last minute. Connecting with a dog walker or two is a good idea, as is checking out day care facilities should you need a safe place for a few hours.
Do what you can to stick to their schedule of meal times and exercise. Many old dogs are sensitive to changes in schedule, particularly those with dementia or anxiety for example, and that can be a stressor in itself. If your dog is on medication it is even more important to watch that clock! If at times you need a hand call on that support system. Having said that you need a break, so going for a walk with the dog is a de-stressor for you as well.
I know from experience there are times a realtor will call with a last minute request to show your home. Keep a knapsack packed with water, bowls, treats and a favourite toy so you can grab and go.
Double check that microchip and tag details are up to date, and have a tag with your new contact details made and ready to use.
Start playing a CD of dog calming music now, I mean rightnow…okay when you finish reading!! When you find the ones he relaxes to, those are the ones you will play while packing because it will remind him of the relaxed state he felt. The two that work best for my dog are Through a Dog’s Ear and Relax My Dog. There is a 13 minute sampler of the first on Youtube so you can try before you buy, and the second has hours of free music to play. Through a Dog’s Ear is Red’s favourite!
An open house is not a place for a senior dog, or any pet for that matter. If you won’t be hanging either around then no problem, you and your dog can enjoy a day out. If, however, you want to be a part of it call on your support system.
Put him in doggie daycare for a couple of hours and see what he thinks. If he likes it you now have a place to take him when you’re busy, or he needs to be out of the house.
All the dog stuff should go in a clearly labelled box so when you reach your new home, you can unpack it first and get him settled right away.
If possible ask the realtor to come by with buyers during your dog’s walk time. It allows him to stick to his schedule as much as possible, and the less often he sees strangers traipsing through his home the better. Obviously it won’t always be possible, and you certainly don’t want to miss out on a sale, so for those times call on your trusted support system.
Pack up your dog’s favourite bed, crate, toys and blankets at the last possible moment. You want him to feel safe and comfortable for as long as possible.
If you will be driving to your new home and it’s quite a long distance, I recommend you keep a harness on your dog throughout the trip. If he’s never worn one before, now is the time to start getting him used to it. Rest stops can be hectic and new surroundings frightening, so don’t take a chance of him panicking and slipping out of his collar.
Pack a separate bag just for your dog of all the things you’ll need during the trip, trust me it’s easier than rooting around yours. Don’t forget –
- Medical records
- Pet passport/paperwork if crossing borders
- Medication for the trip plus a few days extra
- Food for the trip plus a few days extra
- Large bottle of water
- Favourite toy
- Food and water bowls
You may also want to play that dog calming music during the drive but a word of warning – be careful because it may relax you so much you’ll fall asleep…I’m not kidding. When I play Through a Dog’s Ear for Red, I end up snoozing and that’s on the couch!
If you’re moving out of your area, find out where the nearest 24 hour emergency hospital is. I also recommend starting a search for some possible vets you’ll want to check out when you arrive. Having some contact numbers is a wise precaution should your dog be feeling unwell after the journey.
DURING THE MOVE
Not all tips will be relevant as so much depends on how you’ll be travelling and where you’re going, and as before they are in no particular order.
If your senior dog is suffering from anxiety and takes comfort in your presence, try and keep him with you even through the upheaval. Of course you’re the best judge so if you don’t feel it’s a good idea, reach out to one of your support group until you’re ready to go. Even if they just take him for a walk in the neighbourhood it can help keep him calmer.
As soon as your start your journey, put the new dog tag on the collar. Until you reach your destination I would leave both of them. I prefer laser engraving as the letters and numbers are a lot clearer than regular engraving, and they last longer.
It would be wonderful if you could keep to your dog’s schedule during the actual move, but depending on how you’re getting to your new home, that may not be possible. If you’re driving you could plan rest stops around the same time as feeding and walking times, but no one can expect you to be bang on schedule. Of course if you’re flying, especially if your dog is in cargo, that just won’t be possible.
Have one person responsible for watching the dog when the movers are there. Not possible? Put him in a crate in a room no one has to go into. If a crate is not an option, ask a neighbour if you can bring him over or put him in doggie daycare for a few hours.
Some rest stops are crazy busy, but if you have to stop for gas you have to stop for gas. Some turn offs are quiet areas with nothing but a bathroom if that, so aim to stop there when it’s time to feed and walk the dogs. If “busy” is the only option, park as far away from other cars as possible, and try and find a quiet spot. Make sure the harness is on and do the best you can!
Have his favourite bed, blanket and a couple of toys with him in the car. If he’s flying, you can put his blanket in the crate.
Keep your dog well hydrated throughout the journey. If he’s flying in cargo, half fill the water container then freeze it. Staff will add water before the crate is loaded onto the plane, so the melting ice should give him enough to drink during the flight.
If the weather will be cold, don’t forget to pack him a sweater and coat.
Some cuddle time is definitely in order during the car ride, so you may have to spend time in the back seat with him.
WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME (OR “AFTER THE MOVE”)
Exciting! Overwhelming! Where do I even begin! Perfectly natural reactions when entering your new home. Don’t worry everything will fall into place.
Your dog’s routine and schedule resume the minute you walk through the door. He may be in unfamiliar surroundings, but at least his schedule will be familiar.
I don’t recommend you give your dog free access in your new home right away. It’s unfamiliar, strange and can be unnerving. Accidents in the house are not a good start, and with the door opening and closing he can easily get out and lost in a new neighbourhood, never mind country. Keep him with you, on a leash, until things settle, and he will feel comforted being close to you.
Set up a corner for your dog right away with his favourite bed, blanket, and toys. Show him the water bowl, plug in the Adaptil if it worked and play the calming CD.
When you have to go out, block off your dog’s area until he has settled in. The smaller space will help him feel safer. If he’s been crate trained even better. What about leaving the crate out with the door open so he has a hidey hole to escape to!
Don’t wash the dog’s blankets quite yet. Familiar smells may put him at ease and help him settle faster. I’m stating the obvious by saying if he’s peed all over it/them, this suggestion doesn’t apply!!
Resist the urge to throw a housewarming party right away, or spend evenings out establishing a social life. Of course you want to settle in and make friends, just be sure to spend time with your dog as well.
When first walking in your new neighbourhood aim for quiet times at first. If you live in the heart of a very busy city there’s not a lot you can do, unless you find a less busy time of day. Use the harness!!
Keep doing the activities your dog loved! If you used to enjoy going to a local café and sitting together outside watching the world go by, keep up that fun tradition.
Avoid doing the things your dog hates right away. For example, if he hates taking a bath, don’t throw him (I don’t mean that literally!!) into the tub on your first day in the new home. That’s bound to cause tons of anxiety, and maybe even create negative associations.
Be mindful about leaving him out in the yard alone while still getting settled, unless there’s no way he can get out. Some dogs may try and escape back to their old homes, even if they don’t yet realise they’re in a different country!!
If possible, try not to go back to work or start your new job the next day. Help your senior adjust, and especially if he has dementia, he’ll be even more confused if left alone in a totally strange environment.
ADDITIONAL STRESS BUSTING TIPS
I may have mentioned some of these stress busting tips above, but I wanted to create this section specifically to highlight some of the options you have to choose from. Not every suggestion will work for every dog, it’s likely going to be a case of trial and error.
Anti anxiety medication
There are medications your vet can prescribe to take the edge off, but sometimes you have to play around with dosages until it works. It goes without saying, although I’m going to say it anyway, don’t do that without guidance from your vet.
If you prefer something more natural keep reading…
When my senior dog Red started pacing and not settling for hours, and before I realised it was dementia, I was struggling to find something to calm her down. I discovered a cd called Through a Dog’s Ear, and it was remarkable. Within seconds of playing it she would relax and fall asleep. It is engineered to help relax anxious dogs, no matter the cause, and it’s absolutely worth a try. There is a 13 minute sampler on Youtube so you can see if it works before you buy.
The second thing I tried for her was called Relax My Dog, again on Youtube and there are several to choose from. Some of them last for hours so you don’t have to spend a dime.
A word of caution – if you’re playing it in the car, be careful it doesn’t make you drowsy. When I play Through a Dog’s Ear for Red I usually end up having a snooze it’s so relaxing, but I’m on the couch so there’s no worry.
According to the Oxford Dictionary pheromones are “A chemical substance produced and released into the environment by an animal, especially a mammal or an insect, affecting the behaviour or physiology of others of its species.”
Naturally calming, there are several products that mimic those produced by animals, and they are available as plug in diffusers, sprays, wipes and collars.
A Bach Flower remedy, it is used for animals who are fearful, anxious or have been through a traumatic experience. Three or four drops in your dog’s drinking water or a couple directly on his tongue is what’s recommended. Do your research to determine what’s best for your pup.
Easy to administer, I’ve used Valerian for my senior. A combination of Skullcap and Valerian is even more soothing.
Massage can go a long way to calm an anxious dog, and the great thing is it can be done anywhere anytime. My dog Jack loves a good massage, and after a few slow and gentle motions he’s fighting to keep his eyes open.
An anti anxiety wrap, the Thundershirt is a tight fitting garment that wraps around your dog’s body and calms him, much like swaddling does for a baby.
A few final thoughts
I have done my fair share of moving with dogs and cats, all seniors with the exception of one dog. Twice I moved to a new home in the same city, so it was as simple as putting them in the car for the short drive. Once it was a drive to Spain from England with two dogs, one of them my golden oldie Red. Mostly it’s been animals flying in cargo.
When rehoming isn’t an option, you do the best you can to make their journey as stress free as possible. Will there be an adjustment period? Of course, and don’t be surprised if your dog seems out of sorts for a few days, and that includes being off his food. If this persists, or something doesn’t seem right, please take him to the vet.
Best of luck on your new adventure!!
**Was your new home in the same city or out of the country? How did your senior dog handle the journey? What steps did you take to help? Has he settled in? Sharing helps others so please share your experiences below or on my Caring for a Senior Dog Facebook page.**
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.
*There are affiliate links in this post, which means if you purchase anything I make a few pennies…literally. That money helps me help homeless animals through donations and fostering, as well as keeping this blog running.