Do you have or need to move? Need a friend to look after your dog? Going on vacation to an unfamiliar place? How do dogs adapt to their environment, when they are exposed to such major change?
Be aware that dogs are very sensitive to foreign surroundings and can quickly suffer from stress in an environment beyond their control. Dogs are routine animals and value stability more than anything else. Moving them away from their well-oiled daily life therefore presents a high risk of destabilization and anxiety.
Fortunately, there are simple measures you can follow to help your dog adapt to their new surroundings much more easily. Below, we will discuss 12 tips to reduce stress for your dog in the event of a major change in your/his life. But first, let’s review risks and symptoms.
How do dogs adapt to their environment? Risks for your dog
Dogs and new environments don’t usually mix. As with humans, all significant changes are stressful. Whether you are moving or your dog is temporarily going to an unfamiliar place, it may have a number of consequences such as stress, anxiety and even depression.
Badly prepared, your canine companion can also develop behavioral disorders linked to stress. Of course, the more drastic the change, the more likely your dog will be anxious. This is why it is important to adopt a few measures before, during and after this change, whether temporary or permanent.
Symptoms of stress in a new environment
It is essential to recognize the signs of a stressful dog in order to be able to act as quickly as possible and limit the damage. In the event of a change in the environment such as moving, going on vacation or staying at a boarding school, observe your dog’s behavior and look for the following signs:
- Obsessive behavior
- Compulsive licking
- Around in circles
- Ear and tail down
- Loss of enthusiasm for walks
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of attention
- Constant need for attention
- Sleep changes
If your dog shows one or more of the above signs it may indicate he is having trouble adjusting. However, there are several ways to ease his adaptation process.
How do dogs adapt to their environment? 12 tips to help him out
1) Visit your dog’s future environment in advance
Taking your dog to explore his new surroundings before moving day can be an effective method of reducing stress later. Showing him around his future home is also a good way to make the place his own.
Walk your dog around the future neighborhood in which he will live, giving him time to stop and sniff out this new environment.
When you move into your new home, stay with your dog as he explores, and leave immediately if he feels uncomfortable. The goal is to associate your dog’s new environment with a positive experience, not with feelings of anxiety and fear.
2) Facilitate the transport of your dog to his new environment
You may be traveling across the country with your dog in the car or maybe you need to let your dog fly to his new home. Whatever travel method you choose, the most important element to remember is to keep your dog calm. Don’t try to tell your dog how bad it feels to be locking him in a crate.
You don’t have to feel guilty that your dog is feeling cramped in the crate, as it will help him adjust when you move out and provide him with a little refuge. Put a blanket or a familiar toy in the cage for added reassurance. You can also consider distracting him with a chew toy. That way, he will be calmer on a long drive or distracted enough not to notice the strangeness of being on a plane.
Also, it is often tempting to give your dog a high dose of travel medicine, but this plan can be a bad idea. Some dogs start to feel very nervous when they sense a loss of control of their body.
Of course, if your dog is particularly prone to anxiety and stress, see your vet at least one month before your move and arrange for a prescription for anxiety medication.
If you prefer natural methods and avoid drug-related side effects, there are plenty of other gentle and healthy options for dogs as well.
3) Use items from your old place to make the new more familiar
Although you may be inclined to clean up and throw away your old stuff before moving day, the fact that your dog can’t find anything familiar in his new environment will only make him feel more uncomfortable.
4) Preserve a few cues for your dog
Make sure you pack your dog’s favorite objects and bring them to the new place, whether temporary or permanent. Whether your dog stays for a day or ten years in his new environment, your canine companion will always feel more comfortable surrounded by familiar objects and scents. If you are moving, also try to organize things in the new surroundings in a similar fashion.
5) Set up your dog’s space immediately
While it’s tempting to take care of other things that seem more important, it’s crucial to get your dog’s stuff settled first.
Whether you arrive in your vacation home or in your new apartment, immediately start organizing your dog’s space with blankets, toys and a bowl of fresh water. He will immediately have an area with familiar and comforting smells as well as objects that, no matter where they are, make him think of home.
This might not be the place where you intend to keep these items indefinitely, but even a temporary nook will go a long way in reducing stress and keeping him comfortable.
6) Prepare a box especially for your dog
To make it easier to move in, pack your dog’s belongings in separate boxes. This way, you’ll know exactly where to look for food and water bowls, toys, treats, and other things your dog needs.
7) Let your dog adapt to his pace
Dogs are usually curious and like to explore the surroundings but some may be terrified at the slightest change. Your dog’s personality will drive how he reacts in his new home and your patience will be required while your dog is trying to adapt. Also, you should walk him around the house so that he can discover the outdoors as well.
If your dog is doing something out of the ordinary, like peeing indoors or barking excessively when people walk past the window, realize that this is a reaction to stress and anxiety. It may take a few weeks for your dog to get used to his new surroundings, so don’t expect everything to be perfect from day one.
Be kind and keep doing things your dog will enjoy (a few extra treats here and there will help too!). Dogs sense our emotions and the way we feel will therefore be absorbed by him like a sponge.
8) Stay calm
Moving is a very stressful process and it’s in your dog’s best interests to keep everything smooth and relaxed. Dogs can pick up your mood by just the tone of your voice, so adopt a calming tone around your dog and avoid yelling.
If your dog remains calm and collected during the move, it will be easier for him to adjust to his new surroundings afterwards.
9) Be attentive and affectionate
Moves and other changes in the environment are often accompanied by many arduous tasks and can distract you from your dog’s distress. Even if your dog is safe in his bed, check with him frequently and reassure him, if he seems anxious. Reassuring words, hugs and love will ease your dog’s anxiety.
If possible, stay home with your dog on the first couple of days, so he knows you’re not leaving him behind or something. When you need to leave the house, start with a short outing (10-15 minutes), then gradually increase your time away.
Ideally, your dog shouldn’t be left alone in his new environment for too long for the first three or four days, which will give him time to get used to his new place and feel safe.
If you absolutely need to be away for a longer period of time, see if you can take him with you or if a trusted friend or family relatives can keep him company.
10) Make sure the new environment is safe for your dog
The first few days in a new environment are often a mess that prevents you from unpacking and settling in. The chaos created by half-unwrapped boxes will scare and confuse your dog, but it will also create a dangerous environment for your canine friend. The boxes should be secure, with nothing heavy upwards that could fall on your dog.
Keep doors and windows closed at all times. If your dog escapes into the new neighborhood, he won’t know the surroundings and your new neighbors won’t know where he is from.
11) Keep your old routine as much as possible
If you eat breakfast, walk around, and have dinner at the same time every day, always try to keep that routine. When moving with a dog, do your best to stick to your regular schedules, even if that means stopping in the middle of a task while on a roll.
The more you stick to your dog’s old routine when you settle in, the better he will be able to adapt to other changes that will occur.
12) Release your dog’s energy
As with humans, a tired dog is a calm dog. Too much energy to spare will contribute to increased stress levels. This is why exercise is essential for reducing anxiety and generally for keeping your dog calm during the process of adjusting to his new surroundings.
Play “fetch” in the garden or extend your usual walk (which should be easy, as you’ll have new streets to explore). The more you help your dog to let off steam, the easier the transition will be for him.