While moving home is often an exciting part of your life, no-one can deny that it can be stressful, for a whole host of reasons.
Although dog owners have known since the day they brought their pup home, studies have recently shown us that dogs do in fact mirror the stresses of their owners. In short, owners who have high cortisol levels (the stress hormone), have dogs with high-cortisol levels. Owners with low cortisol levels, have dogs with low cortisol levels.
We can tell our dog is stressed by looking at their body language and frequent yawning and paw licking.
So, if we’re stressed about an upcoming house move, there is a pretty good chance our pooch is going to be too!
So how do we deal with it?
The take home from the study we’ve mentioned is this; dogs mirror their owner’s stress levels. Despite it being easier said than done, it’s essential to manage our own stress levels if we are to keep our pups settled. If we’re calm, they’re calm.
Accept that stress is a totally normal part of moving. Use a to do list and keep it by your bed. If you wake up in the middle of night remembering something you need to do or chase, write it down ready to tackle the next day. Stay organised and give yourself enough time – even if this means starting to pack early. Most importantly, ask for help, whether this is from friends and family or professional movers.
The bonus with starting to pack early is it gives your pooch time to get used to the house being different. Things will start moving from their normal place and there will be boxes where there never used to be.
With both humans and dogs, there is this thing called ‘trigger stacking’.
Think about a normal day for you, you may spill your coffee on your way to work, or you may be stuck in traffic, making you late for an appointment. Those two incidents on a normal day may not bother you too much, it just happens sometimes. Or those two incidents across a week or month probably wouldn’t even register.
But, say one day, you get pushed into a puddle as you’re walking, you then get your coffee spilt over you, your email is down in work, your favorite lunch spot closed, your next client is late, email finally comes back online and you have to work late to clear your inbox! That’s a pretty bad day, and most of us would probably snap at someone when we walked through the door at home.
Think of preparing your pooch for the move like this. Those incidents spread out over a period of time, aren’t quite as stressful as all being in one day.
So, start packing early. Just a few boxes here and there. Focus on one room at a time.
Alongside this, keep pup’s routine as similar as possible (not too many changes at once remember). Take him out for his walks when you normally would, feed him when you normally would. Try to keep his space in the home as untouched as possible (where he eats, sleeps, rests etc). If this isn’t possible, consider creating a space in the home for him. So, you may introduce a crate as a den/safe space (link to crate training article). This can also be helpful for the move, if the crate moves with you, he knows it’s his space in the new home.
Try to keep your relationship as similar as it always has been. It’s really easy, when you’re stressed to neglect certain things. Try to allocate some time in each day to play with your pooch, even around the boxes. You could do a kibble trail around the boxes; you could hide treasure (toys or treats) around the house. He just needs to know that even though the house is upside down, nothing else will change. 10-20 minutes a day of play could be all it takes! You also get to escape from packing for a few minutes too!
If your pooch is showing signs of stress with the upcoming move (excessive grooming, licking, barking, chasing, pacing, circling, yawning, body-shaking, salivating, inappropriate elimination, inactivity, reduced appetite or any other new behaviors), pheromone diffusers can be worth investing in. Studies have shown these diffusers can help dogs and puppies adapt much quicker during times of anxiety or fear.
Thinking and planning ahead gives you the best chance of preparing your dog for moving home, it is also essential to manage your own stress levels during the move. If you are ever concerned about your dog and how they are managing any changes in their life, speak with your veterinarian or a qualified pet behaviorist.
Contributor: John Woods, Founder - All Things Dogs