How to spare your pet anxiety on moving day

Dear Dr. Spiegel,

My dog, Holly Hanna is a “hotdog,” or in professional AKC terms, a dachshund.

Just to give you a little background, Holly has a Canine “A-Type” personality. She has to have at least a ten minute history with strangers before she’ll even think about warming up to them. But once she does, that person has lost their lap for the rest of the visit.

Holly also has a comic personality. She enjoys chasing blown up balloons around the house, and with getting the knot clenched in between her front teeth, flaps the balloon from side to side of her head. She can do this so fast that it is one of the entertainment features we use for our guests. They about split their sides laughing!

Like a lot of dogs, Holly loves to go “Bye Byes” in the car. However, once we’ve reached our destination, she is very anxious to return to her comfort zone. At age five, our present home is the only comfort zone Holly has ever known. She’s never experienced a kennel for even one night.

My concern is this — My family will be moving next month to a new home, and I’m concerned about how Holly will handle it. What things can I do to ease her into our new home so that she won’t feel so much anxiety in wanting to return to her old nest?Longing for an answer,

C.W., New Castle

Dear C.W.,

If you think sweet and nervous is Type A, I’d love to know how you’d label the growling, snapping, and biting beasts that I get to “play with” almost every day.

Not to make light of your situation, the fact of the matter is that a move to a new home can be a highly stressful episode for a family pet. Anyone whose read this column with any degree of regularity by now is familiar with the term separation anxiety. Well, moves to new homes are one of several common factors that can precipitate the onset of separation anxiety. Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public move into their new home with Rocky or Holly or Peaches or Muffin over a long weekend and then Monday rolls around and it’s back to work. But now the dog’s in a completely unfamiliar environment. An anxious dog gets his security not just from the comfort zone of its home, but even more so from the people who share that home with him (For cats, it’s usually the reverse… home, first; people, second). When both are gone, it’s easy to envision how one can suffer from separation anxiety.

To keep Holly from experiencing this trauma waiting to happen, if it’s possible, bring her by to visit your new home as often as possible before actually moving in. On your first visit (or if unable to make prearranged visits, on moving day), walk around the property with her for awhile before actually going in the house. Give her a chance to relieve herself, and then go exploring around the property. This will help to relax her and remove the strangeness of the new environment. When she is calm outside, then you can start exploring inside. Give her a walk through. It’ll be good practice for the tours you’ll be giving to your visitors and well wishers. Then settle down for awhile in a nice comfortable room (e.g., carpeted). Get her interested in some of her favorite games (e.g., Having a blast with balloons), and after she’s played for awhile you can give her a meal (where you will when you actually move in). By taking it nice and slow and enjoying some leisurely visits, you can create a smooth transition.

On moving day, try to keep her away from the commotion of the move. If possible, keep her with you in a quiet room with a favorite piece of furniture, or wait to enter until after the furniture’s all moved in. If she is crate trained or if she has a favorite dog bed, these are like a home away from home. Just like the child who gets attached to her “security” blanket, a dog who regularly sleeps in a comfortable crate or on a particular bed draws comfort and security from it. A movable place of comfort, such as a crate, (I prefer the plastic travel style) can also greatly facilitate a move.

Valium or Prozac are simple pharmaceutical alternatives.

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