The First Days

Decompress the Dog

It’s hard for most adopters to not be totally over the moon with excitement after they have adopted a dog. How could they not be? Most adopters find it hard to contain their joy after bringing home a new companion. While it is absolutely OK to be thrilled to have a new member of the household, it’s very important for adopters to wisely navigate this time with their new pet. 

The first days and weeks following adoption are not to be taken lightly. No matter how friendly and sweet a dog appears to be, it should not be assumed that he can handle crowds, new people, new animals, children, noise, grooming etc. — and be expected to be perfectly content. Regardless of how long a dog was in the shelter environment, the dog is coming home stressed. Stress chemicals do not immediately dissipate when the dog leaves the Rescue; in fact, it can often take weeks and even months for dogs to truly settle into their new home (and it varies in time from dog to dog).  During this period, they are going to be extra sensitive to being overwhelmed and can be more easily pushed into reacting poorly (more so than a dog that has been in a home for a long period of time). 

So, first thing: Adopters should be ready for their dog before they adopt! They shouldn’t plan on hitting the pet store right after they finish the adoption paperwork. Families should have a management plan ready to go, and homes should be prepared (supplies and set-up) for the dog’s arrival. The dog must be given time to settle into a new place and routine. Adopters should fight the urge to invite family/friends over to meet the new addition and instead plan on just allowing the dog to relax in a supervised area.  

The family needs to remember that even if the dynamic when meeting the new dog was fantastic, interactions (with both humans and other pets) should be monitored and managed, and the new dog should be given lots of opportunities for space. Using a crate, baby-gates, and/or other rooms are great ways to offer breaks. Such management techniques prevent unwanted interactions, allowing the dog to feel safe in his or her space. 

As much as a person may have the urge to smother their new dog with kisses and love, they should squash that feeling! It wouldn’t be normal or socially acceptable to kiss/hug/cuddle a stranger, which is what the dog perceives the adopter to be at this time. Frankly, even dogs that have lived with their guardians for years don’t appreciate being kissed/hugged, but they may tolerate it — after they have the understanding the owner poses no threat to them. Building a bond with an adopted dog can take time, and if the adopters let the dog set the pace (only give attention when the dog asks for it, etc.), they will help the dog build the trust that is crucial in a human-animal relationship. 

The best way to help a dog adjust to a home is for the schedule to be as boring, uneventful, and predictable as possible. During the first 3 weeks (at a minimum) families should plan to avoid taking the dog new places, allowing unsupervised interactions with other animals, having new people over to the home, and putting the dog in situations where he or she may be more stressed.

Sure, it sounds a little boring, but decompression time is a welcomed gift to the adopted dog. Adopters can use this time to read a new book, learn a new skill, or even start an Instagram account on behalf of their new furry friend. The dog won’t mind how many followers they get. #adoptedandhappy

Hillary Hayward, CPDT-KA

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