Congratulations on your new family member!
When dogs leave the stressful shelter environment, the most important step in helping them become wonderful pets is to allow them to decompress. Your main goal over these next few days and weeks is to provide a calm, loving environment for your new pet! We've listed a few tips below to help make your pup's transition into their forever or foster home a happily-ever-after!
What is decompression?
Decompression is the period of time that dogs need to unwind from being in the shelter, where they were worried and stressed, and get into a relaxed frame of mind.
Some dogs decompress in a few days and some take longer, especially if they’ve been at the shelter a long time.
During this phase, it’s important to give your dog plenty of time to get some much-needed rest and relaxation and to take in the new sights and smells of your house. You’ll do this by using a crate and teaching them that it’s a safe place to retreat (we’ll explain below).
When you arrive home, take your dog in your backyard on a leash, and reward them when they go potty with a treat.
Then bring the dog inside (still leashed) and give them a quick tour of the house. If they pick up something they shouldn’t, calmly say “leave it,” and give them a treat for dropping it.
Next, introduce your dog to each family member individually, and let the dog initiate approaching and sniffing each person.
Do not hug, kiss, pick up, stare at, or pat the dog on the top of the head during the initial introduction, since these things can be scary for some dogs.
Remind children to be very calm around the dog, and show them how to pet the dog softly on the back rather than reaching over their head.
Never leave your child alone with the dog without supervision, and never let a child ride a dog, get in the dog’s face or pull the dog’s ears, whisker, tail or any other body part.
Introduce your current dog to the new dog in a neutral location (one dog at a time if you have several), and keep both dogs on loose leashes. Walk around the block with the dogs on the outside and the handlers in the middle to start. Once you are comfortable, you can walk with the dogs in the middle and the handlers on the outside.
Remember: a tired dog is a happy dog! Ensure your new dog is getting lots of structured exercise these first few days and weeks. Read more about these introductions here!
Make sure there are no toys or food around that they can fight over, and don’t leave the dogs alone together until you are sure it is safe to do so.
The most important part is to take it slowly! It could be days or even weeks before you feel comfortable having the dogs off-leash, playing together.
Keep your cat secure until you know how the dog will react to it. Use doors, gates, and leashes to prevent contact initially, and when they do meet, keep the meetings brief.
Limit visitors for the first few days so that your new dog isn’t overwhelmed.
Using the Crate
Crate-training is an essential step for decompressing a shelter dog. Going from a small, confined space in the shelter to a big, open house can be overwhelming and very scary for a dog. It can cause anxiety, fear or desctuctive behavior.
Put the crate in an area of the house that isn’t isolated, but isn’t in the middle of everything, such as a kitchen, so your dog can observe you without feeling overwhelmed.
Introduce your dog to the crate by tossing a few treats or kibble into it. When your dog walks in the crate, say “crate,” and repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times. Make it positive!
Leave the door to the crate open, and allow your dog to go in and out of the crate as needed. Encourage the crate use by putting chew toys like Kongs and Nylabones, in it.
Initially, crate your when you’re away, so that they will not start tearing things up or getting anxious in such a large space. Always give your dog a potty break and/or exercise before crating them.
A new house with new people, smells and sounds can throw even the most housebroken dog off track, so expect a few accidents.
Be patient! A dog doesn't usually have to be crated when you're away for the rest of its life, but we always recommend crating when you're away during the first few weeks.
If your dog goes into their crate, don’t bother them, since they need daily quiet time to decompress and acclimate to new surroundings.
Start a schedule of feeding, potty breaks and play/exercise. Structure will make your dog feel secure and let them know what to expect.
Try to keep your dog on the same brand of food they ate at the shelter for a few days. Then gradually mix the new food with their old food for several days to prevent diarrhea.
Wait two to three weeks (or until your dog has decompressed and is relaxed) before taking your dog on outings.
If you were told that your dog isn’t good with other dogs, NEVER take them to a dog park or play area with other dogs. And make sure to keep them at a safe distance from other dogs when you walk them. Avoid retractable leashes.
If your dog is good with other dogs, you may take them to the dog park, but pay close attention to make sure they’re not feeling fearful or aggressive.
If your dog growls, do not punish them. Growling is a warning signal that the dog is uncomfortable. Instead, give them space in their crate or another room.
If you encounter any behavior issues, a training company called Frogs to Dogs, offers a free consultation for dogs adopted from LifeLine’s shelters. Also Positively.com is a great website that offers training tips for nearly every pet behavior issue.
Reward, Don't Punish
Give your dog attention for good behavior, such as chewing on a toy or resting quietly, and gently steer them away from bad behaviors.
The more your dog sees you as a provider of good things, the more attentive they be to you, and the stronger your bond will grow.
Take it Slowly
Give your pet as much time as he/she needs to adjust to their new surroundings! Go slowly, while providing a calm environment to ensure a happily ever after for all parties involved!
Decompression is a key step in ensuring a successful forever or foster home transition! But don't just take our word for it. Here are more resources to help you throughout the process: