If you’ve ever moved with a dog, you might relate to Hyperbole and a Half just a wee bit. (It makes me laugh every time.) As I write this — this post is pre-written — I’m preparing to move. In another week I’ll start packing boxes in and around dogs, then load them into a U-Haul and move into a proper house with a giant yard. I know that, eventually, the dogs will be ecstatic.
Eventually being the key word there.
I’m lucky (or rather, my dogs are REALLY used to my crazy life), in that my dogs have gone on vacations with me, are used to staying in strange places, and generally bounce back from new things pretty well. I also know that packing boxes is going to freak Lily out completely.
As a dog trainer, I know the following about any major life changes (including temporary ones, like vacations):
1. It helps greatly if the dogs are worn out; regular walks or runs are the best thing ever.
2. It helps greatly if I stay calm.
3. It helps greatly if we stick to their routine, both before and after the move, as much as possible.
I also know myself well enough to know that packing up my house, arranging the U-Haul, and moving is going to be VERY stressful on me. Add to that the fact that Quin’s chest reconstruction surgery is the day after I move, and, well… I’m not going to have time to take the dogs walking, and I may or may not be successful at staying calm.
Before I even start packing, I need a plan. My plan is formed from the knowledge about what helps in general, and me and my dogs in particular. Here we go.
1. I’m going to buy extra bones. I know that when Lily gets stressed, her first method of coping is to chew things like crazy. I can support her in this coping mechanism by buying her things to chew that will help her burn off her anxiety. In her case, that’s bones.
2. If I am feeling extra stressed, I’m going to give the dogs some Rescue Remedy. When I get stressed, we all go downhill. I might as well prepare for that, just in case.
3. I know that I may or may not have time to take the dogs walking or running. I know that it’s better for all of us if I do — it lowers my stress levels as well as theirs — but if I’m low on time, I’ll pack my bike last. I can at least take the dogs for a quick bike ride to burn off energy, even if we don’t have time for long walks.
4. If possible, I’ll take my dogs with me to visit the new house before we move. If I am able to do this, I’ll let them run around and play just as if we were visiting a client or a friend, while I do what needs to be done. That way when we move, they’ll be familiar with the house, and it’ll have good feelings associated with it. If I don’t have time to do this, then when we first arrive I’ll put them on leashes and walk them around the house before we unpack, staking out our territory together and setting some quick rules (don’t go out the gate, for instance) before I release them to explore. I don’t know why I think one method will work better than the other in these situations, but my subconscious tells me it will. I’ve learned to listen to my subconscious; I usually realize why after the fact.
5. Once we’ve moved, I’ll set up their stuff ASAP so Lily has her safe-space crate, they know where their bowls are, and feeding schedules can be put to rights immediately. This will also mimic when we’ve vacationed elsewhere.
6. We’ll start walks or bike rides that night, and continue them. While I usually only walk the dogs 4-5 days a week, we’ll try for twice a day rides while in the moving process to burn off extra energy.
7. Lily will stay stressed the longest; I know this. I’ll keep her supplied with bones, make sure the rules and boundaries remain the same (not give her leeway like us humans are inclined to do: that only creates inconsistency and yet more change), and tell her to keep behaving. This will settle her down as fast as possible. (That’s true for all dogs.) I might also keep her on Rescue Remedy for a few days as she settles in.
That’s my plan. It’s good to have a plan before you set out on something big, so that you know what you need to do before anything happens, and so you don’t find yourself halfway through a problem with no easy way to solve it. For instance: if I thought, “I will take my dogs walking,” and didn’t also think, “I’ll be busy and stressed, I may not want to walk, what’s an alternative?” then I wouldn’t think to pack my bike last. Then I might get halfway through packing, be too tired to walk with no bike, and things will rapidly go downhill from there.
The steps above are generally pretty good steps for most dogs. Obviously, they’re centered specifically on my dogs, and your dog might have a different solution. (Visiting a known and loved petsitter while you move, for instance!) But before you do something big… plan for it!
By the time you read this, I’ll have moved and settled in. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section, and I’ll let you know how it went!