What is decompression time?
Some people call it the two-week shut-down…..ITS LONGER THAN THAT!
So, what are you planning to do when you get your new family member?
"Well, we plan to go shopping to get a new collar, lead, bowls, toys, etc. and of course we want to show everyone our new doggy. We will stop by the in-laws. Oh, and then there is my best friend who has a dog too and we KNOW they will get along….and then when we go home, we're going to let them out with our other three dogs and the cat so they can all meet one another and wear each other out playing."
I'm sure that all sounds like a very reasonable thing to do, especially if you've just obtained an adult dog; but, think about this for a minute: Does this new dog know you?
Think for a minute how you might feel if you were never going to go back to your "home" and that you were expected to live with new people who didn't understand your language.
What if these new people took you to all sorts of different places expecting you to greet everyone happily and feel comfortable with an overload of attention all at one time?
How would you feel after all that, to have to go to your new "home" and interact with a bunch of strangers? It's very likely that you'd feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready to retreat but really have no place to go to. You might begin to have a melt down and yell at people for coming over and cuddling you and insisting that you do this and do that.
Well, many dogs are put in the very same position and the only way they know how to get their point across is to act up or "misbehave." The dog may act up by nipping at children, growling when being moved off furniture, starting fights with the other animals in home etc.
So, what is this "Two Week Shutdown?"
"Two weeks" is a general guideline. Some dogs will settle in faster; some will take longer. It all depends on the individual dog and their needs. Its about paying attention to your dog.
If you watch carefully they will "tell" you when they've had enough.
During the initial two-week period, the dog is taking in the new environment, the people in it. Remember the dog has no idea who you are. Pushing the dog to accept new things too fast makes you (who should be the calm kind leader) look like you have no control over situations.
This makes the dog feel that THEY have to make decisions for themselves and you DON'T want that. Dogs who feel the need to make decisions for themselves are the ones who "act up" or "misbehave." It is your responsibility to the dog and as an owner to make sure the dog looks to you for direction and guidance. Putting the dog in new situations with a person they don't yet know to trust fully is setting the dog up for "failure."
When you first met your "spouse or significant other”, you were I’m sure on your best behaviour, you were not relaxed enough to be all of yourself were you? Just think of the things you do physically once you get to KNOW a person, you wouldn't run up to a stranger and hug them and squeeze them. Imagine, if on the first date, this new person, was all over you touching you and having their friends hug you and pat you on the head, and jostle your shoulders, looked in your mouth then he whisked you off to another strangers home and they did the same thing. Would you think this person normal and SAFE? Wouldn't you feel invaded and begin to get a bit snarly or defensive? Wouldn't you think to push these people away for obviously your date is out of their mind, as they aren't going to save you from these weirdoes!!
Yet we do this very thing to our dogs, and then get upset or worried that they aren't relaxed and accepting of EVERYTHING instantly!
In providing the dog the initial two weeks to "shut down," you are allowing the dog time to see and hear you and the sounds and routines of your home.
Do little or no training at all. Interactions with the new dog at this point should be positive so as to strengthen the bond.
Depending upon whether you have a garden or not - no big walks, car rides, pet shop trips, other animals (unless carefully introduced, and they must have the freedom to have time/space away from them too).
Obviously, trips to the vet are excluded from this.
There are lots of enrichment activities that you can do inside the home, and many of the online websites, YouTube and Facebook groups/sites give great ideas. Here are a couple:
Teach the dog by doing the shut-down, you are the one to look to, that you are now here for the dog. They can trust you and look to you for guidance. Then you can venture out into new situations one at a time, the dog knows he can put trust in his new humans and can relax a little.
When introducing the other dogs/pets slowly. Keep the initial introductions VERY short. 10-15 minutes at a time. Supervise ALL the time. Increase the time by small amounts daily. If you have other animals, it’s best to let them get acquainted with the new dog outside your home. Take them on a walk together and let them meet on neutral territory; an established dog may feel more territorial in their own house, with what they deem as their possessions.
You will notice a difference in your new dog within these two weeks. You will hopefully see a smile start to come out. You will also start to see more little quirks.
You'll begin to get a glimpse of other behaviours you may want to correct with training. But, you will have a healthy start in training your dog, because you've given the dog a chance to get to know you and trust in your guidance and direction.
The main point to remember: SLOW DOWN. Don't push your new dog to accept many different things and give the dog the opportunity to get to know you. Two weeks may seem like a long time, but it’s very short in comparison to the next 8 or more years you will have with your new dog.
Foster homes have the added responsibility to find and expose the dog’s true personalities and also making sure the adoptive home follows the two-week shut-down so that the dog falls into a safe and familiar pattern, and each home has allowed the dog the moment to relax and check out the next new world.
It’s really hard for dogs to experience decompression time within a foster home, and then have to experience the process all over again when they are placed in their forever home.
Foster dogs come from various places, some are abused, abandoned, turned in, running loose, etc, often they land into a 7 day pound which is a stressful environment, then they rush into a life in a foster home, and then once again into the adoptive home.
It is difficult for foster homes as it can take on average four to six weeks for the new rescue dog’s personality to surface.
Often a lot longer.
Especially for dogs who have come from many European countries such as Romania and Cyprus. Many have never been inside a residential home, or had much contact with humans.
Keep things quiet and calm in your home as much as possible. Every sound, movement, and smell will be new to them. Keep toys and affection to a minimum. “Let the dog come to you”.
“Less is usually better at the beginning.” Resist the temptation to shower your dog with affection and toys. “The real idea is you want to establish structure”.
Dogs need a space to feel safe. To help with the transition, give them a space that is quiet, comfortable, and cosy. You need to allow the dog to be comfortable. They're naturally going to be a little self-protective. Give your dog a spot to let him emerge out of their shell in his own time. Covered crates may help. Do not attempt to go near your dog if they are resting in this area.
Advise your friends (especially children) to give your new dog “face space.” Ask them to resist the urge to touch or get near their face. Let your dog go to them, and pay close attention to how they communicate comfort or discomfort.
It is also really important that items that the dog has taken are not snatched from them, and extreme caution is taken regarding potential resource guarding issues. This is very important especially for example in a house with young children, who may leave their toys around the house. These will be considered ‘fair game’ to a dog.
It is also useful if the dog has peace and quiet from other pets and humans when they are eating their dinner.
Dogs are creatures of habit. Their happiness depends on their environment. Dogs need a routine so they know what to expect from their owners and their lives. Their behaviour will reflect this accordingly. Once they have a solid structure, they can handle occasional changes like a pro. Feeding, walking, playing, sleeping, and other daily activities need to all be a part of your dog’s regularly scheduled routine. They thrive on consistency.
You naturally want to help your dog form positive associations in their new environment. You want your new dog to feel like it’s their home and the sights, sounds, and smells that come with it, these are the most wonderful things in the world. Keep treats on hand to praise and reward your dog if you’re getting ready to vacuum or there are other activities you feel your dog may not have either seen before, or that they may fear. Your dog will soon then associate any unpleasant experiences with that of comfort, affection, and tasty treats.
The key to success will depend on you providing a safe and low-stress environment.
It is all about respecting each other’s space; if your dog chooses to hang out by themselves for a while it is important that they have that choice.
Avoid giving your new friend obedience commands. Imagine having multiple people ordering you around in a language you do not understand, all with different tones of voice and volumes.
Have the decompression time, for as long as that period takes and only THEN start the training. Otherwise this is a sure-fire way to increase stress, the opposite of what you want to do.
Instead, it is okay to lure your new dog into places or positions you would prefer and, when they get it right, you can reinforce that behaviour by using kibble with a mixture of training treats and/or using a verbal marker like saying the word yes. By trying different treats, you can determine what is really motivating for them. Some dogs are motivated by food, toys or praise. Be careful with some rescues as simple plain kibble may be very stimulating as a reward, and something more enticing like soft sliced meat far too arousing.
Dogs are also very good at picking up on visual cues. Do not allow anyone to stare directly at your dog or hover over them in a stooped position. For humans, looking at the person they are interacting with is considered polite. For a dog, a direct stare is an implied threat. Instead, encourage a brief look and then looking away.
Sitting or getting down on the dog's eye level makes humans more approachable. Eye contact training can come later.
Establish rules for good contact and bad contact so that all members of your household will follow this. A general rule of thumb is to keep any petting below the mouth line. Under the chin, the chest, and the sides are safe areas for most dogs. The best time for petting is when the dog moves closer and relaxes. Just as important as safe petting practices, do not allow anyone to pass their hand over the dog’s head or back. These types of hand movements can be very scary depending on what your new dog was exposed to in the past.
If the dog moves away, they are sending a clear signal that should be respected that they need more space.
When interacting with your new dog always watch their body language. Do you see the whites of their eyes? Are the pupils dilated? Is the mouth closed or closing? Are the ears pinned back? Is the body and tail stiff? These are all signs the dog is uncomfortable and it needs more space. Time to back off.
Speaking from experience with some European rescues such as Romanian rescue dogs you may find that they are not fine in the first two weeks; instead they can be emotionally shut down and are most likely to be terrified, just going with the flow and hoping for the best and suppressing their fears. Some are very good at appearing totally fine as they're not displaying 'classic' shut down symptoms of shaking and cowering etc but equally they're just sort of not engaging with anything either - they might go on the walk or take the treats but they're kind of behaving like compliant captives, just doing what they're told to do in the hope they don't get hurt and hoping this terrifying ordeal will end soon.
It's common for some behaviour problems to kick in around the three-week mark, when some of that extreme trauma/cortisol from the journey has lessened slightly and they basically reach a point when they feel a little more able to express their concerns.
I would liken this to the reality TV show Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity get me out of here etc - when everyone first meets they are generally all very polite and pleasant, then as the days pass and everyone relaxes a little, the tensions and arguments come out - generally no one goes in kicking off from the get-go.
Some trainers/behaviourists/vets like the 3 days - 3 weeks - 3 months methodology:
3 DAYS - Put yourself in your new rescues shoes. Everything you have known has changed, and you are in a completely new environment that you haven’t quite learned yet. Those first 3 days can be incredibly overwhelming, and the dog won’t always “act themselves” during this time frame. Adrenaline is generally boosted for the new dog during this time, making behaviour more reactive and less predictable. Many are too stressed or shut down to show their “true colours” just yet. Some are manic, testing and pushing buttons to see what they can get away with. The first 3 days could be very telling, as well as very testing.
3 WEEKS - Your dog has been with you for a whole 3 weeks now, and they are starting to realise this new home is safe. They are bonding with you as their human, someone who has shown them nothing but love, and they are beginning to trust you. They are mastering the environment, and beginning to recognize patterns, such as when the humans leave and arrive home from work. Feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine begin to increase and combat the negative adrenaline surges. This is often the time a new dog starts to feel comfortable, and let their guard down a little. Enter behavioural changes, stage left.
This is the most common time for potential altercations amongst other family dogs as the hierarchy develops with time. 3 weeks is also the most popular time to hear about aggression and anxiety starting to crop up. With that said, the 3-week marker is often the “make or break” moment for many human rescuers.
This happened to me, round about this time as the daily disagreements between my existing 4-year-old dog and my new rehomed one started to become really upsetting. I stood and cried and thank God my husband told me to ‘man up’ and call in a behaviourist - enter Jane Taylor from Taylor made training. A matter of months later with help from Jane they were best friends and inseparable.
Hang in there, and see what you’ll discover at…
3 MONTHS - This is the estimated time is takes for a new dog to start to settle down into a routine of a household. Trust and love has been built, and your new dog has a sense of security. Predictability is comforting, and it may take several months of repetition for your new dog to feel this way.
With my personal experience it took around 9 months.
Teaching a relaxation protocol is often the first step for any behaviour modification. The ability to relax is a core skill that every dog needs. These dogs have experienced stress, frustration and fear. Often at really severe degrees. By helping your dog relax you are helping your dog regulate their emotions. I can help teach this.
Every dog is different. Every client is different. Every home life is different.
Now would be a good time to call in a trainer to help build on this beautiful friendship and connection, to take it to the next level.
On top of this there are also many other factors that contribute to dogs behaviour, dogs are stoic in how they cover up pain, and don’t even get me started on the subject of nutritional links to behaviour 😊. I have great contacts for that too!
Remember, you are never alone.
Paying for a trainers advice is an invaluable investment.
Call / Message me - Jill - 07715 923095