Giving your rescue dog time to settle in
Bringing home a four-legged friend is always exciting. One of the most exciting experiences there is, I would argue! Maybe you have been waiting years for the right time and it has finally arrived or maybe a rescue dog has suddenly captured your heart and become part of the family. However they made it to you, this is the start of life with your new companion...
Everyone has that childhood dog they remember; the friendly, playful, easy-going pet dog that loved walks and your company. Now your new companion has arrived home and you are probably hoping they settle in quickly so that you can enjoy games, cuddles, outings, and introducing them to your friends and family.
The time will come (sooner or later depending on your dog's past experiences and temperament), but this time is not yet. It is extremely rare that a dog can arrive in a new home and feel suitably comfortable and confident to enjoy experiences such as new people, lively games and outings to unknown places...
You may have been waiting years for your new dog, or have fallen in love with them when you met them at the rescue centre and decided they were the perfect new companion for you; but for your dog, everything is new. You are a stranger. Your home is an unknown place full of new sounds, smells and possibly other people. Their bed, routine, food and toys are different. And what you expect of them may never have been asked of them before. Just because your home is comfier, safer and more fun than a kennel, this does not necessarily mean your dog will feel at home in the beginning. They may have spent years in a different environment, or become accustomed to the routine of a rescue centre, or formed a bond with their previous carer. Please, please, be patient and give your dog time. They will learn that you are their new family and that this life is very exciting and full of wonderful things, just don't expect this too soon. It puts pressure on you, on your dog, and on your relationship.
Here are some tips to help your dog settle in their first few days.
Create a safe area where your new dog can retreat to for peace and quiet. If you have a quiet room this often works well or a covered crate can be made to feel like a den. Allow your dog to move to this space when they need some time out, to decompress without being disturbed.
Allow your dog to come to you. Forcing interaction in the first few days can put unnecessary pressure on your dog to be friendly, and this can lead to a breakdown in trust between you and your dog. I know this is hard when you are excited they are with you, but let your dog seek interaction and affection when they want it. A good way to gauge their interest in attention, is to offer them the chance to consent to the interaction. You can do this by applying the 5 second rule. If your dog approaches for attention, give this to them for no longer than 5 seconds, pause and move your hand away, and then see if they move towards you to ask for more. In the case of nervous or fearful dogs, this amount of time may need to be reduced. With dogs that become very excited, you may need to limit the time to lower their excitement levels. You can offer them a hand signal to show the interaction has ended.
Offer routine. Dogs like routine, particularly if they are getting used to new people and environments. For the first few days, especially if your dog is nervous of walking on a lead or outside noises, providing a known walking route can help give your dog a sense of security. Fixed feeding times can also help your dog feel comfortable, and can benefit any house-training you might be doing. If your dog knows and seems to enjoy offering behaviours such as 'sit' or 'paw', asking for and rewarding these may help your dog experience a sense of control over their environment.
Limit your guests. Limiting the number of people you have over can be hard, as people are usually excited to meet the new arrival. However, your dog will have enough new interaction in the first few days with you and any other family members, so try to keep visitors to a minimum while your dog gets used to their new environment. Once they seem settled and comfortable, start inviting people slowly and with gaps of time in between. Make sure they respect your dog's space and the level of interaction they want, offering treats and calm movement to build up positive associations.
Safety first. If your dog is nervous or prone to bolting, ensure you are implementing safety precautions to prevent accidents from happening. Ideas such as a second safety lead may be useful on walks, and always make sure your dog is securely in another room before opening the front door. Regarding resources, it is important your dog doesn't feel cornered or that you are going to remove something forcefully. Always exchange items instead of simply removing a resource such as a toy, making sure you offer another one of value to your dog.
Finally, take the time to try and read your dog's body language and enjoy the process of getting to know each other. Remember, your new dog is not necessarily the image you had in your head. They are an individual with their own temperament, past experiences and motivations and one of the most exciting and enjoyable parts of rehoming a dog is learning about what makes them tick. Each step you take together will form a part in growing the bond between you.
For more information on this please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep an eye out for a post coming soon on the Honeymoon Period and adapting to life with your new dog.