Helping Your Dog Adjust to a New Home

6 Tips on easing the stress of moving with a dog
By Karen B. London PhD, April 2017, Updated May 2020
moving with a dog

Move is a four-letter word. (So is “pack” by the way, but that whole issue is subsumed within the horror of the move.) It’s not just you who hates moving—everybody does. Moving, with all the hassles and associated packing, is usually a horrible experience with a bit of the dreadful and stressful thrown in just to make sure that you really hate it. The misery associated with it affects our dogs, too. There’s no way you can avoid some of the unpleasantness of moving, but there are ways that you can ease your dog’s transition to a new home.

Moving with a dog requires more preparation to ease stress but you can set your dog up for success by planning ahead. Follow the important tips I’ve outlined below.

Before You Pack

  • Have the boxes and other gear like packing tape, newsprint, and bubble wrap in your house way ahead of packing and moving so your dog can get used to them.
  • Associate them with play and treats so that your dog develops positive rather than negative feelings towards them.
  • Boxes can easily be damaged by dogs, and dogs can easily be damaged by bubble wrap, so don’t let them be together unattended.

moving with a dog

While You Pack

Carve out a little time for your dog despite the mayhem in your life. If you can make a lot of time to take your dog out for walks, classes, or for playtime, so much the better, but even a little goes a long way. If you are swamped by all the packing and other torturous parts of moving with a dog and your schedule is disrupted, that’s understandable. Still, it’s important not to make the mistake of thinking that since you don’t have time for a 45-minute walk, no walk is possible. Even 10 minutes of getting out of the house to walk or 5 minutes of fetch in the yard is a way to be kind to your dog, and to yourself. Everybody needs breaks for a little fun! Hopefully, this rough patch will be brief, and after the move you can return to a routine that involves the usual amount of time devoted to your dog.

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Keep your pet away from the actual packing as much as possible. Watching everything in the house be shuffled and packed is inherently unsettling for most dogs. The less they see this going on, the better.

Sometimes being out for a walk with another family member may be an option that allows you to pack without stressing out your dog. If it’s possible, have your dog at a friend’s house so he’s away from the packing nightmare entirely. Now is a great time to ask, “Can you watch my dog tomorrow evening?” or “Are you able to walk my dog some morning?” Many people will be so relieved that they can be of service without having to lift a heavy sleeper sofa that you are likely to get the assistance you need with a smile.

How to Help a Dog Adjust to a New Home

Keep Old Routines

All of the changes associated with moves are inherently stressful, so do what you can to keep some things the same for your dog. If you can maintain the same general routine as before, that is helpful to dogs. So, if your dog is used to getting up, going into the yard, eating breakfast and then going on a walk, try to follow that same pattern in the new place. If you have to change things up because of a new job or other commitments, try to keep as much of the old routine in place as possible for at least a couple of weeks. Once your dog has settled in, additional changes will be easier to handle.

Don’t buy new gear right now

It is natural to want to buy new stuff when you move to a new place. For your dog’s sake, confine those urges to your own gear—towels, furniture, trash cans etc.—and leave his stuff alone for at least a few weeks until he is used to the place. Yes, I know it’s discouraging to bring a nasty, fur-covered old dog bed and water bowls with dings in them into your new home, but those things are comforting to your dog, so don’t take them away. If your urge to buy new things for your dog is overwhelming, indulge it with new toys or things to chew on, but resist the temptation to replace his regular gear for now.

Lots of loving

Giving your dog lots of attention and spending time with him playing, walking and just being together sounds simple. After all, that’s what you normally do, right? The problem is that when you move, you can become overwhelmed with so many details to attend to and all the work that has to be done. Of course, you never think you are someone who would ignore your dog or skip his walk, but a move can make anything possible. It’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to do as much for your dog as you could if you weren’t moving, but commit to spending quality time with him every day and that will help him out a lot.

Treats and more treats

Leave treats, stuffed Kongs and familiar things when you depart. Even dogs who have been perfectly comfortable for years being left alone when you leave may struggle in a new home. Most dogs are extremely place sensitive and need to learn to be okay when left alone at the new house. Try to wait as long as you can before leaving your dog alone at the new house, even if that means awkwardly taking him everywhere for a few days or so.

If you’re moving with other family members, one option is to take turns staying home with him for those first few days so that at least one of you is always with him. When you do have to leave him, start with short departures if you can. Always leave your dog with something he loves such as a Kong stuffed with treats or something new (and safe even without supervision!) to chew on. If he has his usual dog bed, crate or blanket that he knows from the old house, these may comfort him.

Floor time

Spend time on the floor with your dog. One of the things that helps dogs to feel at home someplace new is familiar smells. You can add those familiar smells to your house faster by spending time on the floor with your dog. Being on the floor together also adds to the time you spend giving him the loving that he needs during this stressful time.

Be patient

This may be the most obvious advice of all, but being patient and letting dogs adjust at their own speed is wise. Some dogs will be perfectly comfortable within a few days, many take a few weeks to settle in and some dogs can take months or more to feel at home in a new place. No matter how long it takes your dog to adjust, your patience is more likely to speed things up than impatience ever could.

photo by colorblindPICASO/Flickr

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.