This dog is a xenophobe. Good thing we're moving!
August 25, 2010 11:01 AM   Subscribe

It's my dog's first move and I suspect it will be a rocky time. Help me figure out how to transition and help her not stress out!

So I own this little dog, and I love her, but she's not exactly a people person. (Long story short, she needs more socializing and I've been trying some things, but have plans set in mind for the future to help her on this) I adopted her when she was six months old and she was abused by a child, so she's exceedingly wary of strangers. She adores me (and mister actionpact too), but she has separation anxiety and seems to be afraid of new/strange things. She's fine when I leave the house now, but in strange situations when she's left alone she cries. (Except it sounds more like screeching. Oof.)

Trouble is, we're moving from the Phoenix area to Portland, OR in October into a completely different situation-- the mister is staying in this house in Arizona, and the dog and I are moving into an apartment with two other friends. I imagine the first couple of weeks are going to be rough-- but I'm trying to engineer the situation so that a) my friends will not hate us, and b) she is not so stressed out and can feel comfortable. (Especially with the first couple of days of trying to unpack things, get groceries, perhaps grab lunch, etc.) The issue of my friends being strangers I think will be easier to handle-- she's extremely food-motivated and on times we've had people dogsit her or I've traveled with her, she loves people after a day of getting fed by them. But it's the separation anxiety that concerns me more-- she's crate-trained, so this is good, but I don't want her crying for hours on end when I need to go out. It won't be fair to her (she tends to lose hair when she stresses out), but it won't be fair to my friends or my future landlord either. So the sooner we sort this out the better!

So I was hoping you guys could help suggest good strategies for helping her get comfortable in her new home. We're using ABF U-Pack to move my stuff and flying up to Portland, but I'm thinking about seeing if I could mail the crate in advance so that when we get there she'd have a safe place right away, and as she loves sleeping in my sweaters I thought I could wear one the day of the flight and keep it in her crate to make her feel secure. I was thinking about getting some tranquilizers from the vet (I did this when I went cross country with her to keep her calm around my sister) just to have on hand to start. And also filling a Kong with food to keep her busy seems smart too, as well as lots of exercise and exploring her new neighborhood. But maybe you've gone through something similar and can tell me what's worked for you? Any ideas would be great, and of course more ideas to socialize her both now and in Portland are always welcomed too.

Thanks folks!
posted by actionpact to Pets & Animals (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get some ACE from your vet and put her down for the time while you are moving. If she gets stressed out and is freaking out, give her some ACE. Otherwise, other than you going out and moving in and being settled before she comes out, there's not a whole lot you can do. You can also use benadryl to help knock them out (2 mg/kg) IANAVet, but my wife is, but that still doesn't mean you can take any sort of medical advice even for animals from strangers over the internet.

Also, remember, the more stressed out you are, the more stressed out your dog will be. If you are calm and fine, she'll pick up on it and act acordingly.
posted by TheBones at 11:06 AM on August 25, 2010

Yeah, dogs take their cues directly from their people, the more stressed out you seem to be the more the dog is going to react to that.

If at all possible, give her a safe place in your room (maybe the crate with the door propped open), but keep the bedroom door open and encourage her to follow you through the house. If the friends you are staying with are around, have them offer her treats so she associates them with with awesome.

In general though, don't let yourself seem too frazzled. Give her a place to retreat to if she seems overwhelmed, but don't coddle her if she seems scared. (it seems cruel, but it reinforces that there is something to be scared about, because from her perspective, it's frightening you as well.)

Stay cool. Dogs live in the moment and are easy enough to please. Keep calm and she'll be fine.
posted by quin at 12:08 PM on August 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice! I definitely know keeping calm is the best strategy, although to be honest my dog kind of takes it to 11 when it comes to getting upset, even when it doesn't seem like a big deal. (I learned early on not to coddle when she's sad, but while I'm okay with her crying it out til she gets used to it, I'm not so sure my roommates or landlord will be no matter how much I've prepped them. Thankfully, she loves her crate (and her carrier) so I'm sure having that safe space will be huge in comforting her.

I'm hoping also that lots of playing and long walks will help her feel relaxed too. One thing that is an odd trend is that when I take her out for long walks here, her tail goes down and she tends to pull back against the leash, kind of acting scared to go. But when I traveled with her in Connecticut and Philadelphia, I don't recall her doing this. I'm wondering if it's the lack of grass around here to distract her. Fortunately there's tons of vegetation in Portland, so I think she'll be more interested.

Keep the suggestions coming!
posted by actionpact at 12:38 PM on August 25, 2010

Nthing the advice that YOU are the key and you need to stay calm as step one.

For the separation anxiety, plan ahead. If you know you have to be out of the house do do normal "chores" then make sure she is plum tuckered out before you put her in her crate. A good walk, a run, whatever suits the breed/size of the dog....just some activity that wears her out. You can also leave her with a special treat that she ONLY gets when you are out. A kong or marrow bone filled with (low fat) peanut butter and frozen is my favorite "puppy pacifier."

I'd recommend that you not have the new roommates push interaction in any way (not even with food). Have them ignore her totally and build up to sneaking her kibbles now and again.

Instead of drugs like acepromazine perhaps consider using something like D.A.P.. I have never used it personally but I have friends that swear by it as a calming/training tool. Good luck on the move!
posted by labwench at 1:04 PM on August 25, 2010

I just moved with my dog (you can see the question I asked about that here) and what seemed to make the biggest difference was my belongings arriving from the movers. We saw the new place a few times before the stuff came, and she'd be like, yes this is an apartment, I am not particularly interested, but once the stuff came, she was like, hey my bed! (ie, my bed.) And, hey, this is my crate! This is my spot where I lie down under your desk! I'm gonna go nap on my favorite dog bed!

I did send along a box of toys ahead of time, and had them scattered about the place when we came to visit, before my stuff arrived. She would walk around and sniff it all and seemed comfortable enough about everything. The days when she got more exercise were always better than the days when we lazed about, and it is of course great to keep her busy. My dog also sometimes gets nervous on long walks - at night at least - but it helps her a lot when we walk with another person or dog...maybe your dog will be more brave if your walking group is bigger, if that's possible?

Overall, she's doing great though (ok except for a tiny bit more other-dog-uneasiness, but I have some thoughts on that that are mostly unrelated to the move) and I think a huge part of that is that I am WAY happier here than I was in my old place. I definitely agree with what's been said about your own mood having a huge effect.
posted by violetish at 4:11 PM on August 25, 2010

I would not use acepromazine. It does not really relieve anxiety, and can actually increase it (and cause serious agitation) in some dogs. It's also really outdated, there are many better options now.

Ask your vet for Xanax for your dog. It works well for most dogs for anxiety as long as you get it into them a couple of hours before the real anxiety hits. Do keep in mind that sometimes fear keeps aggressive behavior in check, and alleviating the fear can make a dog more likely to bite, so manage your dog properly. Otherwise, the standard things apply: lots of exercise (a tired dog has less energy to spend being anxious), puzzle toys, training. Spend a few minutes every day working on a clicker trick, that can help enormously. Good luck.
posted by biscotti at 10:27 AM on August 26, 2010

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