5 Tips to Help Your Dog Adjust to New Places and Spaces
It has been 10 months since I let my lease expire, sold my things, and took off around the world with my dog, Luna. Since then, we’ve lived in 10 countries and more than 20 apartments, hotel rooms, and guesthouses. Every time, Luna handles our housing and culture switch with grace.
Anyone who has ever moved houses with a dog knows that dogs tend to stress over change. I’ve heard horror stories about pets marking every room in a new home (or, heaven forbid, even in someone else’s home that they aren’t used to) as well as tearing up furnishings and just generally acting stressed and miserable.
Yet Luna and I have avoided this, and today I share some of our secrets. These include things I did before Luna and I left the U.S. and also things I do in each new space to make her comfortable and encourage good behavior.
Here are the things I've done to prepare my dog for new spaces:
1. I take my dog with me everywhere.
From the moment I adopted Luna, I pushed the limits of where I could take her. I took her to coffee-shop patios and nearby parks. I asked friends whether I could bring her along to house parties or just to stop by for coffee. I took her to work every day. I took her shopping.
I became an expert at asking forgiveness rather than permission. And we did get kicked out of a few stores. You’d be surprised, though, how many places really are dog friendly but don’t advertise the fact.
2. I bought a super-cozy dog carrier -- and made it her space.
The carrier has a faux fur pad and a dark chocolate exterior. And when I purchased it, I put in a few treats, left the door open, and let Luna explore. Very quickly, with the treats and the cave-like feel of the carrier, this became Luna’s safe space. She retreated there to sleep, to get away if she didn’t want me bugging her, or to hide from scary stuff like the vacuum cleaner.
When it came time to travel, this safe space became Luna’s constant. The carrier always goes with us. It’s always available to her. And it’s always the same. So if she needs to sneak away from all the new stimuli, she has somewhere to go.
3. I never make a big deal out of leaving my dog alone.
When Luna was a puppy, I didn’t leave her often, but when I did leave, I never made leaving or returning a big production -- no matter where I was leaving her (whether at the house to run an errand, walking outside with a friend while Luna stayed at the friend’s house, or leaving Luna with a co-worker for an hour while I got lunch).
Because I have never been anxious or excited about leaving or arriving, Luna’s anxiety and excitement levels run very low. She still greets me at the door when I return. She still wags her tail and wants to smell me and see where I’ve been. But she isn’t freaked out or wound up -- because, for her, that’s just how her life has always been.
4. I always strive to make new spaces a positive or neutral experience.
If Luna acts neutral or positive in a new space, I give her treats and snuggles. I let her walk around and explore, smelling the interesting new smells. I try to prevent any negative associations before they happened.
Once, when a little girl in one new space was about to pick up the dog (which she was far too small to do gracefully), I calmly stopped her before she had Luna in the air -- and showed her how to scratch Luna’s favorite spot behind her ears instead.
This tip is one I picked up from therapy training: if you can prevent negative associations with kids, new spaces, men, women, other dogs, and so on early in their lives, you can prevent negative behavior from ever starting. This is why I believe that this one little experience helped Luna have only positive associations with new spaces and children.
5. We stick together -- at least for the first day or two.
When I arrive someplace new, I try not to leave Luna alone for the first 24 to 48 hours. I want her to know that this is where we live now, and that I’ll be coming back. This is why I spend my first day unpacking and settling in. I take her for a short walk in our new neighborhood, and then we come back to our home. (I even call it home -- consistently asking Luna whether she wants to “go home” at the end of our walks.)
While I don’t leave her often, after that first day, I can run to the grocery store or to do some other errands if I need to. She’ll just curl up in her safe space and nap -- knowing that this is “home,” at least for now.
What about you? Do you travel with your dog? How do you help her adjust to new spaces or timezones?
Other stories about dogs and travel: