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Decompressing a Rescue Dog
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Adopting or fostering a rescued dog from the shelter is a happy time for you and a relief to the dog. For one thing, you have taken them away from a loud scary place. You are also excited because you’re bringing in a new member of the family. This new situation is exciting for everyone with new interactions and adventures to come.

BUT WAIT! Before you go showing off your new pet to your family, friends and resident pets, please give the new dog time to relax for a while. The last thing you should do is rush them into a whole new dramatic situation that could get them into trouble because they aren’t ready for it.

Think of it this way as a human. . . you have been looking desperately for a job to support your family; you have been looking for over three months, your savings are dwindling fast and you are very worried. You’re getting up everyday looking at the newspaper/Internet, going to interviews and finally you get a job.

The first day on the job, you’re excited and nervous and just want to feel your way around. But no one tells you the expectations or shows you how to do your job right. And a co-worker is making you look bad by trying to push your buttons. You want to do the right thing but if no one gives you time to learn your job and no one is controlling the guy harassing you, something could happen and you’re fired. Of course, we don’t know how a dog feels being returned to a shelter, but I imagine it is very stressful. The dogs that appear to have the worst time adjusting to a shelter environment are the dogs turned in by their owners.

Dogs that have been at the shelter, especially for a long period of time, have been under a lot of stress and need time to decompress and get themselves back into a calm state of mind.

I had a foster dog once who behaved well at the shelter but would not make eye contact. When I got her home her eyes seem to dart everywhere but she wouldn’t look at me. It took a couple weeks for her to calm down and to make eye contact with me. I created a routine for her by taking her for a walk in the morning, playing ball afterward then putting her in a crate to rest for a couple of hours. I would give her something to do such as a filled Kong or some other type of dog friendly chew toy to give her a mental workout in the crate. Once she was calm, I introduced basic training such as look, sit, down and come. All the while I kept her separate from my own dogs. When I felt she was ready, I slowly introduced her to my own dogs by taking them on walks together outside the house.

It is always best to allow dogs to get acquainted away from home, such as on a walk or at a park. After they seem to get along during the walk, let them socialize in the backyard. When that is successful, then you can let the dogs into the house. . . but only if YOU feel comfortable with it. If you are hesitant about any of the steps, don’t do it. Dogs can sense that you are uncomfortable and one of the dogs may feel they have to protect you or another family member. If at any moment something happens between the dogs, go back to the previous step until there is no worry or hesitation on your part.

Decompression time can vary for individual dogs. Some dogs need more time than others but it is safe to say at least a week is best for the new dog. Always treat the dog with respect and give them guidance, exercise (dog walks, playing) and bond with them. If after the decompression phase the dog starts to show behavioral problems, address them with training. You may need to consult a dog trainer or ask family/friends if they have had similar situations and how they handled it. Look online for articles/videos that may have answers you need. One of the top reasons dogs get returned to the shelter is because the owner didn’t take the time to show the dog the expected behaviors or rarely interacted with the dog.

The NUMBER ONE rule is to keep your new/foster dog in a crate during the decompression time and always when you are not home. After decompression and everyone is acquainted and comfortable, it is your responsibility as the owner to decide if the dog stays in or out of a crate when you are not home or can’t pay attention to the dog. The last thing you want is to come home and find an awful mess because you left your animals unattended. If you don’t decide for them, they will make their own decisions and you probably won’t like the results.

(Adapted from