I started thinking, if it's stressful and a little disconcerting for me, imagine what it must be like to Pierre! He obviously can't comprehend why we're doing what we're doing, or that this is a GOOD thing. All he sees is all of his stuff being carted out the door.
So. I started doing a little research on making a big move easier for your pets. There is lots of good information out there, but I adapted a lot of it to fit our situation, and these are the things that worked for us.
Before you Leave
1. Let your dog be a part of the process. Pierre always seemed much more stressed when I shut him away to get things done. It took a little longer (read: snout in box) to pack, but I think it helped him cope to see things being physically put into boxes, and it wasn't a big shock for him at the end when everything was gone. On actual moving day, when we were putting things into the truck, we put a baby gate at the door to the kitchen. This kept him from running out the door, but it also allowed him to see what was going on and for us to be able to give him pets and rubs every so often, to reassure him that he wasn't being locked away and left behind.
|Playing with a toy on top of my stack of packing paper.|
2. Speak in a reassuring voice, and give a little more attention than usual. While I was packing, Pierre would lay around with his brow furrowed, looking very worried. I made it a point to speak in happy, upbeat tones to him, telling him how much fun we were going to have, etc. We kept telling him that he was going with us, and that we weren't leaving him behind. I don't think he comprehended a word of what we said, but the tone of our voices seemed to reassure him at least. I took more breaks during the day than I normally would to play fetch and take him on walks, which seemed to keep his spirits up. Pierre also got a few new toys along the way...guilty as charged.
3. Try to keep routines as close to "normal" as possible. Even though my schedule was a bit abnormal, I tried to keep things stable for Pierre. For example, we left the couches in their same position until the very last day, and kept his "couch time" with me before bed the same every night. As tempted as I was to let him sleep with us and give him extra cuddles (he's normally not allowed), I resisted. Pierre slept in his own bed, in his own room (i.e. laundry room) every night. He rested better, and seemed calm in the mornings as a result. His appetite seemed to dip a bit, so I added a spoonful of cooked brown rice and chicken broth to his dry dog food to get him to eat his normal meals.
4. Get a complete copy of your dog's vet records, and get a refill on any prescriptions. I took Pierre to our vet one last time the week before we left to take care of any maintenance issues. For us, this just means a nail trim, gland expressions, etc. I got a 6 month refill on his heartworm/flea/tick medication, and when I paid, I just asked for a complete printout of his vet and shot records. If you need any vaccinations, this would be the time to take care of those also. This is really just for your own sanity once you move; you will have enough to worry about, so don't add "visit a new vet" to the list. You'll have what you need to get you through a few months, and when you do have to go, you'll have everything you need already to register your dog as a new patient. Also, by the time your dog has to get used to a new vet, he will already be adjusted to your new home, and you won't be stressing him out with too many changes all at once.
5. Let your dog's belongings be the absolute last thing that you pack. We left Pierre's bed, blanket, favorite toys, and food/water bowls in the house until, literally, the moment we walked out the door for the last time. It gives them a little sanctuary and comfort in the middle of the insanity that is moving.
6. Don't leave your dog at home alone in an empty house. Pierre was adopted as a rescue, so I had this fear that he would think we were leaving him again. Regardless, to keep your dog from feeling stressed and abandoned, don't leave them at home alone once you are mostly packed and everything is out of the house. If you must, try to confine them to a small space with all of their normal belongings. On the last couple of days when our house was down to bare bones, we went to restaurants that were dog friendly so that Pierre could join us, and tried to run errands individually so that someone was always at home with Pierre.
On the Way
Pierre has always done remarkably well in the car. He slept straight through the 9 hour drives we made around the holidays without a peep. Some of you will have to do a bit more prep and practice than we had to do for a long drive with your pet. For us, we (again) tried to keep the familiarity. Pierre rode in our own car with me, as opposed to in the moving truck with Eric. Pierre has a hammock that we put in the backseat to keep hair from getting everywhere and to keep him from getting in the front seat. I let him travel with his bed in the backseat, as well as a favorite toy and bowl of food. I stopped every couple of hours for a potty and leg stretch break, and to let him have a drink of water.
Once you Arrive
1. Let your dog be the first inspector. If you are just moving across town, you could potentially let your dog scope out the area before you officially move, which I think would be fantastic. Because we were moving so far away, that wasn't really an option for us. When we first arrived, we let Pierre walk around the outside, giving him plenty of time to sniff and mark the area (we have a male hound; it's just a fact of life). We also brought him inside first and let him sniff the place out before we started bringing our things inside.
2. Let your dog's belongings be the first moved into the house. This follows the previous advice. Last things out, first things in. This will signal to your dog that this is his new home, that it's safe, and that it's where he belongs. It will also serve as some comfort to him, as you will likely have to confine your dog while you move items in (see below).
3. Make sure you have somewhere to safely confine your dog while you move items into the house. The last thing you want is your dog getting out of the house, scared, and lost as you first move in. It was easiest for us to keep doors open while we moved large items in, so Pierre needed to be kept somewhere out of the way. Two things worked for us. One, we have a little porch outside that is closed in, so Pierre was able to get some fresh air after his car ride and still be safely out of our way. Second, we used a baby gate at the door of one of the bathrooms and put his bed, food, and water inside. He seemed to do better on the porch than in the bathroom, due to the fact that he couldn't see us coming and going and didn't whine as much to get out.
4. Try to use the same scents, and keep the same routines as you did in your old house. We are big "scent" people, so I always have a candle burning and air fresheners out and about. As soon as we came into our new place, which obviously smelled different than our old house, I lit the same candles that we used at home, and put our normal air fresheners in the wall. I have no idea if this actually calmed Pierre down or not, but dogs have such a keen sense of smell, I would imagine that it just adds another level of familiarity. Pierre also still sleeps in his own small room, with his own bed and food/water, just like before. No matter how tired we were, or how much we had left to do, I still stopped and gave him his few minutes of "couch time" before putting him to bed. He barked once the first night, but when I said, "Pierre, no," and he realized that we were still in the house with him, he went right to sleep without another sound. Also, when returning to our old house from a walk, I would always say, "Pierre, let's go home," and he knew to turn down the sidewalk to our house. So here, whenever we are heading back to our new door, I say the same thing. Hopefully, he's making the connection.
5. Involve your dog in your activities as much as possible at first. Just like we tried not to leave Pierre at home in an empty house before we left, we tried not to leave him alone in an unpacked house either. For one, I didn't want to stress him out more than he already was. Second, I didn't want him to freak out and destroy something (which he has been known to do in unfamiliar surroundings). Luckily, we live in an incredibly dog friendly area, so we're able to take him out most places with us. We did leave him alone within the first couple of days when we needed to shop for things, but we gated him into one room, and tried to make it for short periods of time. Turns out, he did just fine.
6. Update your dogs microchip information. Heaven forbid that your dog get lost or separated from you in a new area, but it's always best to be prepared. Don't forget to go online and update your address and phone numbers so that your contact information is correct should someone need to get in touch with you regarding your dog.
If you don't have a dog, chances are you think I am certifiably insane. Even if you do, you might think some of this is overkill. And it might be. However, these tips seemed to keep Pierre primarily stress free, and we haven't had any major behavior problems since our move. As most of you know, a stress free dog equals a stress free you.
If you have an upcoming move, I hope these help you and your pooch out!
If you have anything to add, by all means comment and let us know...we have a more permanent move coming up in just a few months. "Oi vey," says the Pierre.