Bringing home an adopted dog is a wonderful time. Many dogs are tentative at first, but quickly come to love their new environment and family.
Those first few weeks can be stressful for your pet though. He must adapt to a new house, routine, and people, often after the sadness of being given up by previous owners. The kennel environment can also cause high levels of stress that takes time to resolve.
For these reasons, it’s important to make the transition as relaxed as possible for your dog. Here are five tips for reducing stress in adopted dogs.
1. Create a Quiet Den for Your Dog
As soon as he arrives, your dog should have a quiet area of the house to call his own. This should contain a soft bed and several toys, so he can relax in comfort. Orthopedic dog beds are often the most comfortable, as they contain supportive foam, but the most important thing is to choose a bed that’s suitable for your dog’s weight and size.
Your new dog’s den should be in a quiet location where he can retreat when overwhelmed. Try to find somewhere without much foot traffic and ensure the dog is always left alone on his bed. Over time, he’ll learn the bed is a sanctuary from activity, play, and noise.
It’s also a good idea to place your dog’s food and water bowls near his den. Ask the shelter which food he has been eating and avoid changing his diet until he’s settled in, as this can lead to stomach upsets. If you decide to switch foods in the future, do this gradually to minimize discomfort.
2. Keep Visitors to a Minimum
A common mistake is to invite friends and family over during the first few days.
While it’s natural to want everyone to meet your new dog, having a stream of people coming into the home can be overwhelming and stressful. Remember, your dog is trying to learn about his new environment and family, so consistency can help him relax.
It’s best to avoid all visitors for the first week or two. After this time, invite people round in small groups. Make sure they are calm – especially if the group contains children. Ask all visitors to wait for the dog to say hello in his own time, rather than forcing him to interact.
The same is true for walks. It’s not a good idea to take your dog to a busy park during the initial period, as meeting lots of new dogs and people can be stressful. Try to find a quiet location where he can burn energy without lots of greetings.
3. Pay Close Attention to the Shelter’s Recommendations
Many shelters and rescues test for behavioral issues, such as resource guarding, off-leash behavior, and how the animal reacts to other dogs.
It’s vital to take any recommendations made by the shelter seriously. Sadly, many dogs are returned to shelters because the new owner ignored advice, which can lead to unnecessary problems.
For example, I was recently told about a shelter dog who had resource guarding issues. It was a lovely dog, but became defensive when it had a toy, especially if it thought someone was going to take it away. The new owners were warned to avoid taking toys from his mouth – at least until the dog had settled in and they could consult a positive reinforcement trainer.
Unfortunately, on the first night (when the dog’s stress and anxiety was high) the owners decided to test the dog by grabbing a toy from its mouth. It growled and gave a warning snap, which was enough for the owners to return him. Aside from needing another home, the shelter now had to disclose that a previous owner claimed the dog was aggressive, which made rehoming even more difficult.
4. Build Up Alone Time
A newly adopted dog is likely to feel unsettled and anxious. This can make it difficult for the dog to be left alone, even if the shelter hasn’t mentioned issues with separation anxiety.
To avoid stress and prevent the dog developing separation anxiety, don’t plan to go out for long periods during the first few days. It’s important that your dog builds trust and confidence in his new family, which is much harder when alone.
Instead, gradually build up the time the dog is left alone, starting with just a few minutes. Give a tasty stuffed Kong or chew to distract him from you leaving. When you return, keep calm and avoid overhyping your dog.
This teaches your dog that you always come back and that he doesn’t need to anticipate your return.
Tip: You should always contact a qualified trainer if your dog suffers from separation anxiety. This is a solvable problem, but requires a gradual training program that can be difficult to manage without experience.
5. Don’t Rush into the Settling In Period
Patience is key when adopting a rescue dog. It can take a week or more for the dog to start relaxing in his new environment, and months to be completely adjusted. Be prepared to spend lots of quiet, relaxed and calm time with him.
You may also find that the dog “forgets” his house training during the settling in period. These accidents are normal and often due to the stress of a new home.
Never punish your dog for accidents, as this will cause him to feel more anxious and unsure. Try to take him outside more often and give plenty of praise when he gets it right.
There are also various tools and products that may reduce anxiety. earthbath Stress Relief Shampoo, for example, contains soothing oils that may make baths less worrying for the dog. Thundershirts and earthbath Stress Relief Spritz may also help.
Adopted dogs make brilliant pets, but they need time, love and patience to adapt to their new environment. By minimizing stress, you can make the initial period easier for your new companion.
The best way to reduce stress is to help your dog settle into a routine as quickly as possible. That means creating a den for him where he feels safe, minimizing visitors, avoiding leaving him alone for long periods, and never scolding the dog. It’s also important to heed any advice given by the shelter about potential behavior issues.