Updated: Dec 24, 2022
Congratulations you adopted a new dog! Now what?
We know how exciting it is to adopt a new family member and how you can’t wait to do all the fun activities you’ve been longing to do with a canine companion. But wait, they need some time to decompress first.
Taking it slow with your new family member for the first few months will solidify your relationship and give you the best path to happiness and success with your new pup.
What is decompression?
Decompression is a calming period a dog needs when first arriving in your home. The dog must have this time to adjust to its new environment, people, and other animals. The average decompression time is about two weeks, but it differs for every animal. Many people do not realize how crucial decompression is and how it can make or break how your dog settles into its new home. Please set your dog up for success.
Closely following this decompression and integration guide and giving your dog plenty of time and space to adjust to their new life is an essential part of ensuring that your new pup is a perfect match for your family.
Create a Management Plan
Adapting to change is always stressful, but even more so for rescue dogs who often come into their new homes having experienced loss and instability. Welcoming a new canine family member and building trust will take time for your existing pet/s as well. Giving everyone the time and space they need to settle in will set all of you up for success and the loving relationships you were hoping for.
Creating a plan ahead of time will help everyone decompress and get to know each other safely and slowly so that you don’t experience setbacks. Your plan should include:
• How to keep pets separated for the first three days (physically and visually)
• How to handle introductions to kids
• How to handle introductions to other household pets
• Exercise, potty, and feeding schedules
All human members of your household should agree to the schedule as well as to how you will handle training your new dog. Remember, clear communication and consistency, especially in the beginning, will help all of you make a smooth transition into an integrated pack.
After You Bring Your New Dog Home
The First 3 Days
Separation is Key
During your new pup’s first 3 days at home, it’s imperative to keep their world small and safe, while simultaneously allowing your current pets time to get used to smelling and hearing a new furry family member in their territory. For these reasons we do not advise allowing your new pup to meet your current pets inside the home for 3 full days. We understand that this seems counterintuitive as you want to make sure your new dog is a perfect fit for your family; however, allowing everyone to decompress and acclimate to one another will set you all up for long-term success.
For separating pets during these first 3 days, we like the crate and rotate method: when your new dog is out, your current pets are safely secured in another room, behind a gate, or in a crate and vice versa. Ideally your new dog should not see your current pets until you are ready to properly expose them. While total visual separation might not be possible, at a minimum pets should be kept physically separated during this initial acclimation period. This will help reduce the likelihood of frustration or reactivity.
During this time you want your new dog’s world to be as safe, calm, and predictable as possible. Following these guidelines, as well as the schedule you’ve designed, will help:
When you go out, unless it’s unavoidable, leave your new dog at home. If you leave your dog in their crate, always remove their collar.
Do not take car rides unless absolutely necessary.
Do not take them to crowded places or gatherings.
Do not take them to dog parks.
Do not introduce them to strangers or anyone who doesn’t live in the household.
Do not hug, hold, or even pet them unless they ask you to do so.
Check out this video on how to tell if a dog wants to be petted.
Other things you can do to encourage calm include:
• Using an Adaptil collar or diffuser.
• Leaving a fan running for white noise.
Low Key is the Way to Go
Instead of taking on the world, stick to low-key activities that will help your new dog acclimate while bonding to you. A consistent schedule with lots of rest will do more to help your new dog become part of your family than anything else you can do right now.
Walk in your yard, around your apartment building, or in the neighborhood just the two of you (no other dogs yet). Ensure that your pup is safely secured with a well-fitted harness, martingale collar, or slip lead to prevent escapes. Allow them to sniff and take them to their potty spot to eliminate prior to bringing them inside. Don’t let your dog into your backyard unsupervised—they may escape or they may get distracted and not fully potty which can result in accidents in the home or crate.
Once they have gone potty and done a lot of sniffing, bring them inside and place them in their cozy area or in their crate with fresh water and an enrichment item or their food depending on the time of day. You are free to sit in this area with them, feed them treats, read them a book. Just keep things calm.
Allow your dog to sniff around in a room or two (remember no other pets at this time) and begin to get used to their new environment. For the first few days, they should be sequestered in one room or on leash with you at all times. Allow your dog to explore a new part of your house each day and reward for appropriate behavior.
Puppies under 6 months will need potty breaks about every 2 hours. Adults dogs can go 4–6 hours between potty breaks.
During out-of-crate sessions, you can also start work on basic cues such as the The Name Game (with one dog only), Eye Contact, Capturing Calmness, Hand Targeting, Place, Come, and Stay. Keep sessions short and positive with lots of rewards. The goal right now isn’t to win an obedience competition, but to start building your bond.
Building regular rest times in to your dog's routine will help them process the stress of rehoming and will reduce unwanted behaviors such as mouthing and hyperactivity.
Repeat this sequence of sleep, eat, potty, play/explore, potty, sleep, etc. for three days while observing your dog’s unique needs and challenges as well as joys.
Remember, this is not the time to introduce new people. Afterall, to your dog you’re still a new person. If you plan to have visitors make sure your new dog is safely tucked away in their safe zone. Similarly don’t allow strangers to pet your dog while you are on walks. Practice saying, “They can’t say hi. They’re training. Thank you!”
Setting Up for Success
These first few days paint the picture for your dog as to how you expect them to live under your roof. During this time they will start to learn what your rules are, so make sure you and your family know what the rules are and apply them consistently. Management is imperative! The easiest way to teach your new dog not to potty in your home is to never allow it to happen in the first place. Similarly, the easiest way to teach your new dog not to chew up your pillows or have zoomies on your sofa is to never allow it to happen. Instead, set your dog up for success by setting the groundwork with patience and consistency.
• Provide appropriate things to chew on
• Reward calm indoor behavior
• Be clear and consistent about your rules and make the consequences predictable
• Never physically punish your dog by hitting, spanking, choking, or “bonking” them
• Don’t allow your new dog to explore the house without supervision while expectations are being established
After the first three days of stress vacation, you can slowly begin integrating your new dog into life with your other pets if they are
ready. Some dogs do take longer than others to decompress. If your new pup still seems jumpy, nervous, or extremely excited to see your other dog they may need a bit more time to settle in prior to the introduction. If your prior pets seem nervous or growly at the new dog, also give them more time.
Learn how to properly introduce your pets here.
After the First Two Weeks
After about the first 10–14 days, you can slowly start increasing the areas where you walk your new dog. On these walks, allow them to greet friends and family who don’t live in your home if they choose to. Our favorite way to teach a dog to say hi to new people is by giving them an option with the cue, “Go Say Hi.” Then let your dog choose to walk over and greet the person briefly and come back to you for a treat or praise. If they choose not to say hi, that’s ok too! Never force your dog to greet people. (See the video below.)
• You can also work on handling exercises
Beyond the First Month
Now that you are entering the end of your first month with your new dog, you can continue to slowly expand their world and introduce them to new adventures.
Take care to ensure that each of these is a positive by observing your pup’s body language. Don’t force them into situations where they are uncomfortable. Instead, work on confidence building exercises and positive exposures.
Below are some fun exercises you can use to help an under-confident canine.
If your dog likes socializing with non-family dogs (not all do), it is probably now safe to start slowly introducing them to non-family dogs and allowing group play.
Ideally this play will be with dogs you know in large back yards or private rentable yards called SniffSpots, rather than with strange dogs in crowded places.
We do not recommend taking your dog/s to a dog park for at least 4–6 weeks after adopting them, and only after you have trained a very reliable recall cue (see video below).
As a general rule we do not endorse dog parks and would advise our adopters to avoid them but we do understand each dog is unique and each park is different.
After your dog has decompressed and built a relationship with you, they will likely start feeling comfortable being themselves around you. This can manifest in behaviors you might find undesirable. Now is the time to start work on modifying those behaviors, either with your Doggedly adoption coordinators and/or a Doggedly approved trainer.
We believe every interaction you have with your dog is training, so be sure to capture every good behavior your dog exhibits with praise, affection, or a treat and interrupt or redirect unwanted behaviors (see the video below).
Remember, we are with you every step of the way so do not hesitate to text or email any time of the day or night with any questions or concerns!