How to help your dog relax in a new environment
Just like us, dogs get anxious when they’re placed in scenarios that they’re not familiar with. Think of the feelings you had on your first day of school, or at that job interview where you weren’t confident about your skills. Well, dogs feel that way too, especially if they’re placed in an environment that they’ve never seen or smelt before. If you’re transporting your dog to a different country, they’ll experience a whole new world of sights, sounds and smells and they need a little bit of reassurance from you, as the pooch parent, to show them that everything’s going to be okay.
How Does Anxiety Affect Dogs?
Although dogs do experience the same emotions as us when it comes to anxiety, they show it in different ways. You’ll not often see a dog chewing its nails, for example. The problem is, it’s sometimes difficult to pick out the signs in dogs. They can’t come out and tell you how they’re feeling, and the fact that they’re in a whole new environment can make it confusing for us humans too, as we don’t know how they’ll react to the change.
The main indicators to look out for are:
- A change in eating habits. Your dog might start to eat less because they don’t feel hungry, or because they’re too distracted by anxiety to be interested in food. Equally though, they could start to ask for much more food and might start eating other food items around your house. Yes, dogs can comfort eat too.
- Withdrawn behaviour. If your dog is usually cheerful, loving and always excited to be around you, you’ll notice a big difference if they suddenly start spending a lot of time in rooms away from you or in a corner on their own. Corners feel like safe spaces for dogs, as they can see what’s coming from all angles, knowing nothing is behind them. If your dog has taken to sitting by themselves in a corner, then it might be time to act.
- Choosing to be alone. Dogs are natural pack animals, so if you have more than one dog, that’s great. However, if you notice one of your dogs deliberately spending time alone or nipping at the other dogs in your household as a warning to stay away, then there’s something wrong.
Anxiety can quickly turn into a form of doggy depression if not handled well. Spending time alone, away from you and not eating the right diet are signs that your dog needs some love and attention to make them feel better. So, here’s what to do:
Be a Role Model
Your dog looks up to you as the head of the pack, so you need to put your best foot forward and lead the way. When you’re in a completely new environment; new house, new garden, new country altogether, there’s going to be a lot of things that your dog is unsure of. Especially if you take into consideration how much more sensitive they are to smells and sounds than we are.
You need to reassure your dog that everything around you is safe. If you want them to explore their new outdoor space, do it with them. They trust you and if they see that you’re confident, then it’ll push them to feel the same.
Dogs love intimacy. It’s built into them as pack animals. That’s why you’ll always see them laying in a heap on the floor, rather than sitting nicely in their beds. The contact of someone they trust helps to give them confidence. No matter what, they’ll feel a need to protect you and knowing you’re there close to them, will make them bolder and more confident. Spend time with your four-legged friend outside taking in the new smells and sounds together or in the house curled up on the sofa.
Exercise is always a winner. It even helps people with their anxiety, so it must be great for dogs too, right? Walking allows your dog to take their mind off things. It gets them excited about exploring the outside world and it also tires them out so they’ll be able to sleep when they get home. Take a walk around your new neighbourhood with your dog. They’ll become more comfortable with their surroundings and feel better about their new home.
Dogs love a routine. They know exactly what time their meals are each day, what time their walks are and where they’ll be sleeping at night. When you make such a big change in their lives, it’s important to keep as much as you can the same for them. Alright, you might be in a different time zone, so walkies might differ. But get back into a routine as fast as you can so they know what to expect.
It’s also advisable to take their old toys and bedding with you when you move. They’re going to want those old home comforts in a new environment. So, don’t be tempted to start from scratch. They won’t appreciate it.
What Not to Do
When you notice the signs that your dog isn’t happy, it’s tempting to do whatever you can to comfort them and make them feel better. However, it’s not always that easy. As we talked about, some dogs will show their anxiety with a change in appetite. DON’T be tempted to give them more food because they’re asking for more.
It’s also not advisable to change the type of food that they’re eating if you notice that they’re eating less. It’s unlikely that they’ve suddenly decided they don’t like that particular brand and changing their diet is likely to upset them more.
Try not to leave them alone for too long at first. Yes, you will have to leave them alone eventually, but think back to when they were a puppy. You’ll have had to wean them gradually off the time they spend with you so that they weren’t shocked when you suddenly left for hours at a time. Go back to that. Start with leaving the room for a few minutes and work your way up to a few hours at a time. Remember, you’re their comfort blanket and they’ll become more anxious if you leave them in a new place and just disappear.
Look for other tips from experts, e.g. here’s what the American Kennel Club has to say about anxiety in dogs. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/treating-dog-anxiety
Remember to always think ahead when you’re planning a big move. Your dog will be anxious at the move, there’s no avoiding it. But be mindful of this and take all the necessary measure to make it as easy as possible on them. Our pet shipping department has all the answers to your pet travel questions.