Bringing Your New Dog Home
Change is hard. It's hard for us to accept change in our own lives even when that change is small. When we bring our new dog home they are dealing with huge amounts of change and stress all at once. It's vital that we watch them for signs of anxiety and help them transition into our lives as smoothly as possible. For the sake of understanding what our dogs might be feeling when we "save" them and bring them home with us I propose this example: Imagine that we have just adopted a 5 or 6 year old child from another country. They don't speak our language and their entire life has just changed in dramatic ways. We have no way of knowing what they went through in their previous life before they walked through our door. They may have been abused, beaten, or starved. They may have never stepped on grass. They may have never seen a vacuum or a blow dryer. Everything in their new life is new to them and potentially threatening. It's so important that we think about this when we are bringing our new dog home.
So, we went to a rescue, we fell in love with an adorable face and a tail wag and eyes that just drew us in. We saved a life. We added a member to our family. Now what? First of all, THANK YOU for saving a life. Building happy families is why rescues work so hard without compensation. You're the reason they do what they do. To get back on track, we want to build an extremely trusting and healthy relationship with our new furry friend. If we want to do this we need to be conscious and aware of our dogs and their stress levels. It's best to introduce them to new stimuli in small doses while observing their stress level and backing off should they pass into an orange or red zone. This means that we never want to have our dog get to the point that we can't, or are having a really hard time, getting their attention back on us. It's going to be hard. I know, I know, you just want to LOVE on them. You want to hug them and give them kisses on their cute little nose. You want to rub their belly. Every time you reach out to pet them they roll over onto their backs so they must want you to rub their belly too, right? Unfortunately, no. Extreme submission is a sign of stress. When dogs are fearful they sometimes roll over to let you know that they aren't threatening. They are basically saying, "PLEASE DON'T HURT ME, PLEASE DON'T HURT ME, PLEASE".
Give your new dog space and time alone while they are making the transition into your family. Put up a kennel in a quiet room. When you bring your new dog home, take them to their designated potty spot, let them eliminate if needed, and then take them to their kennel and put them in it. Quietly walk away and leave them in peace to calm down and relax. This will give them a chance to listen to the sounds of your household and get used to the new smells in a way that won't be quite so overwhelming. Once your new dog has calmed down you can start introducing people and new spaces slowly. Always keep an eye on their stress level and should they get too overwhelmed place them back in their kennel and leave them to rest and calm down. Signs of stress can include panting, cowering, bowed head, avoiding looking at you, tongue flicking, yawning, drooling, excessive barking or pacing, and many other displays of discomfort. If we are monitoring these signs and listening to our new dog when they tell us that they have had enough and want to rest in a quiet, private place they will learn to trust us. We need to respect their wishes and leave them to calm down.
It is usually best to introduce your dog to one room at a time, building onto the space they have access to as they adjust and become comfortable. If we just let the dog into our house to free-roam immediately it won't take long for them to become completely overwhelmed and stressed out. If they have a poor introduction into our home it can take MONTHS to build back the trust that was shattered when our new dog became overwhelmed. Keep in mind that we communicate differently than our dogs. When you are looking at your new dog and telling them how much you love them and how good and cute they are, they are going to be looking back at you thinking, "Where am I? What is this smell? Why is this lady looking at me? Can you stop looking at me, you're making me uncomfortable? What was that sound? Who are all of these people? CAN YOU STOP LOOKING AT ME??" and so on.
At the end of the day, being peaceful and quiet with our dogs is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Invite them into your calm peace of mind. If they choose to join you wonderful, if not that's okay. Eventually they will. Soften your eyes, don't look directly at them, don't reach over their head or grab their collar. Try to imagine being them; a child from another world that doesn't understand who these strangers are and that they want to love you. Take your transition slowly and be patient. If you move at your dog's pace, you will eventually make progress much faster than if you had pushed them too far. If you're not sure what you need to do to help your dog transition smoothly into your home reach out for help. There will be plenty of people who are excited to help you get on the path to success!
As always, thank you for reading and reach out if you have any questions!