How To Deal With A Dog’s Anxiety In A New Place
Dogs, like humans, can experience periods of anxiety, even if they aren’t typically anxious by nature. And, just like with humans, that’s okay!
If your dog doesn’t typically experience anxiety, you might not be familiar with the signs — or, you might mistake the signs for something else. Or maybe your dog is new to you, and you’re just learning to speak its language. Dogs will sometimes pant when they’re anxious; it’s in response to their adrenaline spiking and pulse raising. Yawning can also be a symptom of being uncomfortable. And that smile? Might actually be a sign of anxiety — the corners of dogs mouths will pull back when they’re feeling uncertain. New people and places can cause feelings of nervousness, but you can help your dog adjust with these tips.
Keep your dog’s routine the same as much as possible.
Routines and consistency are the key to dogs’ feeling of stability, the antidote to anxiety, so if you are introducing something new to your dog’s life, it’s important to keep everything else the same.
Moving to a new place? While packing, try to keep boxes and anything disruptive out of your dog’s sight for as long as possible, and pack your dog’s stuff at the last possible second. And when you move into your new place, set up your dog’s area and stuff first. You might want to get your dog some new stuff to match the decor of your new place, but now’s not the time! Give your dog the comfort of their favorites as they adjust to their new home. Eventually, you can ease in some stylish new separates.
Keeping your dog’s daily routine the same — same wakeup time, same potty times, same walk times (albeit likely new routes), same meal times with the same food, and same bedtime — will help your dog manage the other changes in its life. If your dog is newly adopted and you’d like to upgrade its food, gently change your dog’s diet over the course of at least two weeks. Having a familiar toy or blanket from its previous home can also help your dog adjust.
Make sure your dog has a safe, quiet space of their own.
It’s important that your dog has a place to retreat to when things get overwhelming or uncomfortable. That can mean a crate, if your dog is crate-trained, or even a den-like little nook in a quiet corner of the home. If you’re moving, this can be a way of keeping your dog out of the fray, or to maintain a familiar little home within a new home; but it can also give them a place to escape anything making them nervous, like a new human or animal roommate.
Introduce new things, places, and people slowly and with lots of treats.
Moving into a new home? When showing your dog around their new home for the first time, make sure to intersperse the tour with their favorite toys and treats. Make sure to show them where their crate or sleeping area is, where their food and water bowls are, and where they can use the bathroom. If you can, it’s great to spend a few days at home with your dog to help them adjust instead of just leaving it in a new, scary space alone. Some dogs may explore their new home by chewing or marking their territory; be patient and understanding, while reinforcing good behaviors and discouraging bad ones.
Getting a new dog, or moving in with someone who has a dog of their own? Before the move, introduce your dog’s new canine roommate in a neutral place, with both of them on leashes. If that goes well, progress their relationship to a walk. Reinforce good behavior and positive interactions with lots of treats! This will quickly teach your dog that getting along with the newbie is a good idea. Still, make sure all interactions between the pups are supervised for the first few months, and separate them if they can’t be supervised. It’s also probably a good idea to keep them both on a leash for a while.
Even if your dog has never shown resource guarding tendencies, make sure to keep food, water, beds, toys, and treats quite separate, and that there’s more than enough for all the pups in your home. If your dog does have a history of resource guarding, consider keeping your dog’s toys out of sight for a few weeks, then slowly introducing them as your dog proves they can play nice with the newbie.
A busy dog is a happy dog.
Dogs benefit greatly from both physical and mental stimulation. Mental stimulation can keep pups distracted from anything potentially stressful going on, and as for physical exercise, it’s hard for dogs to act out when they’re exhausted! To paraphrase the great Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, exercise gives dogs endorphins. Endorphins make them happy! Happy dogs just don’t tear up your couch. Neither does a sleepy dog.
Counter-training can also help give your dog the tools to deal with its anxiety. When in a potentially stressful situation, giving your dog a command like sit or stay redirects their attention away from the stressor and back onto you. When you then reward your dog for following your command, your dog will learn that instead of being scary, these situations are opportunities for treats. This can also work with cases of separation anxiety! Leaving them a puzzle toy to work on will distract them from your being gone, and give them a reward in your absence. When you return, don’t make a big deal about it — this will only confirm to your dog that your absence is something to fear. Giving them commands will give the situation a sense of comforting normalcy.
Comforting scents and calm music can help your dog chill.
Dogs are sensory creatures, and this can be an avenue in which to calm them. Dogs have a sharpened sense of hearing, and music can be a great de-stressor. Studies have shown that listening to soft, slow tunes like classical or jazz music can reduce stress in pups.
Smell is perhaps the most important sense to a dog. A known smell can be a great source of comfort. If you need to leave your pup alone for a bit, give them a blanket or piece of clothing that smells like you. If your pup is new to you, ask their former foster to give a blanket or toy with familiar smells to ease the transition. And if you’re moving with your pup into a new place, spending floor time with your pup can quickly make it smell more like you and ease their transition.
If you still need help…
Sometimes dogs have a harder time adjusting than others, and you’ll need extra help to aid them. That could possibly mean additional training, or even medication. There are also over the counter options like CBD oil. On the material side, some dog owners swear by calming compression shirts, which apply pressure to the dog's body akin to swaddling a baby.
And of course, don’t forget to show your dog lots of affection as they adjust.
Moving can be a stressful time for us humans, but don’t get too swept up and forget to make time to give your doggo some affection! Physical touch — and massages! — can help reassure and relax your pup.
Above all else, give your pup time to adjust. Any of us would require time to adapt to new people, places, and dogs are no different. Let them sniff and explore. They may act out a bit, or regress in their training, but this should only be temporary as they adjust.