Saturday, December 15, 2012

Transitioning Dogs to Post

[Please pardon my departure from my usual topics of food and Mexico.  I wrote this post for The Hardship Homemaker blog, for which I am an occasional contributor and thought some of you might like to see it.]

For many people living their lives overseas, moving from country to country every few years and uprooting their human family is hassle enough without a pet. But I'm a dog person, and I'm guessing some of you are, too. I simply couldn't imagine life without my dogs (particularly because they are now 8 and 7, and therefore were members of our family before we started this Foreign Service adventure). So when we signed up for this, we knew our dogs would be coming along for the ride, no matter what it took. I know some of you feel the same way...but how can we make it easier on our pets to live this lifestyle?

Our Pups: Jonesy Boggs (pug) and Nieve (chihuahua)
For now we'll set aside the details and hassle involved with health certificates, quarantines, pet transport, expenses and the like and talk just about our pets, their transition process, and their comfort.

First of all, I am a big advocate of crate training regardless of your lifestyle, but I think that getting a dog used to its crate from the very beginning is a huge benefit to us Foreign Service folks. (If your dog is a little older, don't fret. It's NOT true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and adult dogs can learn to get used to crates just might take a little longer and more persistence on your part.) In my mind, crate training is not an excuse for leaving your dog home alone all day long, locked up so that he doesn't (out of boredom) tear up the house. For the most part, my dogs are outside of their crates all day long, even when we're gone. However, when they were puppies, having the crate helped tremendously with potty training. Dogs instinctively do not want to go potty in their sleeping space, so it was an easy way to say to my dogs "when you're inside you don't go, and when you're outside you do." I never used the crate as punishment, although sometimes it was used a quiet "time out" spot like you might have with a child. But the vast majority of the time, the crates were a personal space where they have toys, their special bedding, and a place to be alone for a little while--maybe to eat their treats or sleep without interference from the other pets or the kids. Now that they're older, the crate is a space of comfort for them...their own territory. I'm sure you can already see that this space where they feel "safe" is not only a great option for when you have special guests over for dinner or babysitters who are scared of dogs, but it also sets your pet up for not having as much anxiety when he's loaded into the crate for your next big move. Additionally, when you get to your new home and absolutely everything is unfamiliar to your dog, that small, comforting space is a constant for them, and that is huge for their peace of mind.

Speaking of constants, it works for dogs as well as humans. We all know that for ourselves and our kids, traveling with a familiar blanket or toy and some favorite snacks helps tremendously with the transition. It is no different with our dogs. They crave the familiar smells, tastes and feelings of "home" so make a couple of your pet's favorite things a priority on your packing list, as well, including a blanket or two, toys, a little bit of food and some treats.

Finally, realize that pets will go through emotional ups and downs the same way humans do during a period of transition. Their needs may change from hour to hour, let alone day to day. Be sure to remind your family--kids too--to try and be cognizant of what your dog is telling you he needs, which is particularly hard during the hustle and bustle. Sometimes he may need some extra cuddling and attention. He'll first tell you that by trying to jump on your lap or get your attention. If that doesn't work, he may act out to get your attention. Try to read the signs. Alternatively, your pet may want to have some alone time and his own space, away from noise and other stimulation. You might find him hiding in the bathroom or laundry room. This is a perfect time to have a crate as well, so your dog can get away, relax, and decompress.

If you're interested in learning more about crate training, check out Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer's) article on the method.

Best of luck to you and your dog(s) on your next move!