We recently had a huge life change. We moved from our home base in Oklahoma, back to our native land, Canada. There was no question that it was going to be a very stressful event, for us, and the dogs. My dogs are three different ages, 11, 6 and just barely 0ne, years old, and each with very different temperaments. Although I prepared them as best I could for the long drive ahead, it was impossible to prepare them completely for the tremendous upheaval they were about to experience.
Barklay, my 6 year old, had the most difficulty with all the changes. He was still grieving the loss of his housemate D'Argo to cancer and was already showing signs of anxiety before the first box was packed. Easing his anxiety through the whole process was my number one goal. The first thing I did was to stop taking him to agility trials. He was my only dog competing as Oscar, 11, was retired, and Rygel, 1, was too young. Even though agility is fun, it is a stressful environment, and I was noticing a sharp decline in performance as a weekend agility trial progressed. Barklay would show great enthusiasm for the first run of the day, then his speed would decrease and he'd start refusing obstacles (a sure sign of stress and potentially injury). Rather than risk agility becoming something to be feared, we stopped. We went for long sniffy walks on familiar ground, spent quiet afternoons snoozing in the "quiet rooms", and had a variety of items to chew.
Barklay became particularly worried when I started loading the shipping container. Familiar stuff was disappearing into this unfamilar box. Oscar took the changes in stride as long as he had his favorite bed, but he also tended to internalize his stress (more on that later), and Rygel thought it was all a game (as you can see in the photograph, he thought is was great fun to ride inside the futon as I dragged it out to the container. I had only had Rygel for a few months, so everything was still a new and exciting to him.
As we got closer and closer to moving day, all three dogs became more and more reactive, startling at the slightest sound. This might have to do with the changes in the house itself. As it emptied, sounds became sharper.
I am not ashamed to admit that the dogs needed more help than my training could provide, and two of them, Barklay and Rygel, had to be medicated with Trazadone for the drive. Oscar, the week before we left town, had to have a cancerous growth removed from his leg, and he had a very difficult time coming out of anesthesia. Was it the undue stress? Was it his age? We don't know. But we decided it would be safer not to sedate him for the long drive to Canada.
The drive itself was relatively uneventful. We were all exhausted. I could barely stay awake at the wheel, so Peter found the reserves needed to make the 1600 mile journey as the sole driver. That gave me the opportunity to keep my attention on the dogs and making sure they were comfortable.
Upon arrival in Canada, we stayed at my childhood home until we found a home of our own that would suit my future business needs. It took six weeks and during that time, I could watch the behavior of the dogs as they went from super reactive to gradually settling in to their new environment which of course changed again once we moved into our new home.
It's been a month now, and they are still settling. Every new sound needs to be catalogued ("is it important or not"). I expect the process to continue for another two months as they get used to the new climate, new lattitude, new wildlife, new smells, new sounds, etc.
Moving with dogs is very much like taking in a new dog. For the first few days in a new place, keep activities quiet and calm. The next few weeks, the dogs get used to all the new sounds, smells, and routines. By the third month (and we're not there yet), they should be settled into their new home. Remember the rule of thumb: 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months. It works for any dog that finds itself in a new environment. Give them the time they need to adjust.