How a Dog Training Pro Handles Her Move (And You Should, Too)

In this blog, Maureen Patin, CPDT-KA will give you the best tips when moving with your dog!

Moving can be an all consuming activity with a mountain of minutia. Between packing, selecting movers, starting up utilities and registering for schools you’ll probably find yourself pretty stressed out. By the time you walk in the door of your new home, you’ll be frazzled enough that your dog’s adjustment could be little more than an afterthought.

You probably haven’t thought of your move as a big opportunity for improving your dog’s behavior. But that’s exactly what it can be. I’ll give you practical tips for leveraging this opportunity, while also preventing the high levels of stress in your pup that can accompany moving.

As a certified professional dog trainer who happens to be in the midst of a major move, these thoughts are top of mind for me. My husband and I have three high energy dogs who have grown accustomed to having our 11 acre wooded property as their personal playground. Our move to semi-urban living will be a huge change for all of us, but especially the canines.

I’ll share with you my plans to ease their stress and nurture the in-home behaviors we love having in our dogs.

A Dog’s Perspective
Your dog’s world view is incredibly narrow compared to yours. He likely spends a far greater portion of each day in his house and yard than you do. His walks are the highlight of his day and are the majority of what he knows about the world. If he’s a really lucky dog, maybe he gets to go to training classes or on trail hikes with you regularly. But even in that case, you have to admit his world is pretty small.

Now, think about the fact that moving to a new house is going to upset his apple cart in a big way. You’ll be the only constant he can count on. And since you’ll be pretty stressed out by this whole thing, he’ll be picking up on those vibes. It’s no wonder that so many dogs exhibit high levels of stress during a family move. And in many cases significant behavioral issues pop up as a result of all that stress.

Establishing New Habits with Your Dog
Did you know that moving into a new environment is an incredible opportunity to reset the deck with your dog, behaviorally speaking? We humans are certainly creatures of habit. But dogs are even more so. For example, housetraining is all about habit. If I have a dog who occasionally has potty accidents in certain rooms of the house, a move can be a great chance to create the right habit in the new environment. Other examples of behavioral challenges that could benefit from a change of venue are front door behaviors, fence fighting with neighbor dogs, and asking to come back inside without destroying your back door.

Remember it’s all about habit. Even though you’ll have a million things to do as you settle into your new space. When you’re in a completely new space you have a big advantage in setting new habits. This is true of yourself, too. Things in your environment become subconscious cues for certain behaviors. For me, seeing the TV in my old kitchen makes me want to sit and drink a cup of coffee and watch the morning news. In a new environment, I can more easily create a new more beneficial habit. In the new space, the old habits aren’t yet rooted in environmental cues. It’s a great chance to create new habits.

Two Essential Dog Habits to Immediately Create in the New House
1. Going potty in the right area
2. Having calm behavior at the door

Two Key Habits to Set
There are two habits that nearly everyone agrees they need with their dogs. First, we all want a dog who has a strong, reliable habit of not having potty accidents in the house. And we’d really like a dog who potties in a specific area of the yard, rather than all over it. Moving into a new home is the ideal time to make sure you either support a well house trained pooch or make improvements with one who is less than reliable. It only takes one potty accident (especially early in the new home experience) to set a dog up for a downward spiral of potty accidents.

Hopefully your dog had an established habit of either letting you know when he needed to go out, or holding it until he had an opportunity to go out. With a move to a new house, those habits could easily be interrupted. He isn’t so sure which door he needs to go to, and he isn’t as confident that he’ll get regular opportunities to go out. He also isn’t so sure that this whole house is the living space. As far as he knows maybe that weird room at the end of the hall that no one seems to use is meant to be the potty area? Be sure you don’t give him a chance to have a potty accident. Keep him close to you or confined, and take him outside very frequently to the place in the yard that you want him to use. You might even be able to establish the habit of pottying only in the part of the yard that you want.

The second nearly universally desirable habit is behaving calmly when guests are at your front door. You’ll want to start work on this from the very first day you’re in your new house. First, be sure to desensitize your dog to the new doorbell. Throughout the first few days there, ring the bell, then feed a treat. Do it multiple times each day. Have a container of treats near the front entryway. If someone comes to the door and rings the bell, first give your dog multiple treats. Then, clip on a leash (also kept handy by the door) if it’s needed to help him behave politely as you answer the door. Your goal is to create the expectation in your dog that when this doorbell rings, treats will rain from the sky. This will result in a much desirable habit than the dog who becomes a whirling dervish at the sound of the doorbell.

There are many other household behaviors that can best be reset with a move. Think through them, and create a plan to make the right thing happen using food treats and/or leashes. It doesn’t take long for a new habit to form in a new environment.

Managing Your Dog’s Stress During a Move
The other area to plan for is minimizing your dog’s stress level during the move. Stress in dogs (and people!) does not bring out their best selves. A dog that is feeling stress is far more likely to develop serious new behavior problems or even have some old ones resurface. It is up to us humans to make the transition as stress free as possible. Here are a few tips for making that happen for you pooch:

  • Familiar bedding, bowls and toys should already be in place when your dog arrives.
  • Continue with his normal schedule as much as possible. Feeding, play and walk times are essential.
  • Capitalize on neighborhood walks. Be sure to allow lots of sniffing. Sniffing is incredibly calming and mentally enriching to dogs. It will also give him the 4-1-1 on the area.
  • Plan for extra enrichment activities. Really yummy chew items (e.g. bully sticks, raw bones, NoHides, etc) are especially good at calming a dog.
  • Be careful the first few times you leave your dog alone in the new house. It’s not unusual for a dog to try to escape since he doesn’t feel quite at home yet.

I’ll be utilizing all these strategies in my own big move to make the move easier on both the human and canine members of my family. By planning ahead for your dog’s transition, you can do the same. With just a little planning and effort, you could even make progress on some long standing behavioral issues. A qualified dog trainer could help you lay out a game plan that capitalizes on the change in environment. Contact What a Great Dog! Training Centers to schedule an in-facility or virtual private session.