Let your dog decompress!


We’ve all been there. We’ve all brought a new dog home, and we’ve all got excited about our new family members and immediately taken them places. To the pet store, family gatherings, into overwhelming social settings all the while the dog never even had the chance to settle in.

We get a lot of shelter dogs and the first thing most owner do is to give them the free reign of the house without establishing any boundaries or rules which sometimes results in uncomfortable situations. The dog just got out of a very stressful environment and we expect them to be incredibly resilient. After the shelter comes the decompression phase and within the first few weeks we don’t get to see the “real” personality of the dog. Usually it takes about a month before they truly settle in.

What we usually do with any dog that comes through our house is to implement a structured routine and shut down period.

When we first bring a dog home, we take them out into the front yard first and make sure they pottied. Then we bring them into the house and give them a quick tour. They are not introduced to our own dogs. That comes way later. We then crate the new dog to let them decompress and put them on a schedule. Dogs thrive off of structure and clear expectations. Through the shutdown period our already existing dogs get to know the newcomers. Our dogs are used to having a constant stream of new dogs coming in and out, but that doesn’t mean we toss them into cold water each time a new dog comes in.

Anyhow, here are some quick rules for bringing a new dog into the house which are widely used in the foster community. These rules also work for new puppies or already existing dogs that have had too much freedom and ignore their owners and are out of control:

– Don’t take your dog on a walk. Walks are overstimulating and there are way too many variables that are out of your control. You don’t know your dog, and your dog doesn’t know if he can trust you yet. Instead, exercise your dog in your front or backyard on a longline and get to know each other to build a bond.

– Do not take them to the dog park or pet store. Don’t visit your friends place or social gatherings until you’ve gotten to know your dogs quirks and built a bond. These situations can be overstimulating for your dog and you don’t know how they are going to react in these types of situations.

– Implement structure, boundaries and rules. That means if you cannot actively supervise your dog, your dog is crated. Do not allow your dog on furniture, do not allow your dog on the bed, it’s a privilege that has to be earned and a new dog shouldn’t be allowed these privileges without earning them, ESPECIALLY if there is another dog already living in the household. Put him on a schedule just like you would do with a puppy. It gives them routine and clear expectations. You control the environment. Do not let the new dog take control over situations.

– If you already have a pet, the new addition is an intruder and the new dog does not know the routine of the household. You have to set structure and a routine for the new dog without inflicting your existing dogs freedom and privileges. The already existing dog was here first.

– Handfeed! Nothing in life is for free! Food is money, it’s how you pay the dog. Do not give him anything for free. Let the dog work for his meals. Hand feed his meals for the first week and make him work for his food. This is a very important step, that resources in your house have to be earned.

– This is the most important rule of them all: DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE INTO A NEW DOGS FACE! YOU DO NOT KNOW THIS DOG! It can be incredibly intimidating to a dog that does not know you and most bites happen within the first two weeks due to this very reason. Do not make kissy noises and try to kiss the dogs face or give them any unstructured affection.

Most of the time, this is a two week protocol. In dog training, slow is fast. The slower you take things, the faster your dog feels safe and builds a bond with you. This is merely a guideline. How you implement it, is up to you. We’ve had great success with shutting dogs down, whether they’ve been new, or unruly young adults that needed a little more structure or puppies, boarding or foster dogs… it’s always worked.

Don’t feel bad about taking control, don’t feel bad about controlling the environment. Dogs are not made out of glass, they can handle it. And always remember: Slow is fast, fast is slow. You’ve got all the time in the world to build a bond with your dog.

While this guide is primarily for new dogs coming out of a shelter you can also apply these same rules to a dog that just went through a tremendous amount of stress. Especially military families with anxious dogs and pcs’ing every few years. Give your dogs time. Not all of them handle change well. Let them decompress!