What is Decompression Time?
Updated: Sep 16
Point of view: you adopted a new pup and it is their first day home, what do you do?
Your first instinct might be to take them for a walk or introduce them to your friends at the local café. You got a new pup and you are excited, but your dog may not be feeling the same way. This is completely normal for your new pup to be nervous and not so ready to hop in the car or explore the great outdoors. What they may need the most is to decompress before taking on fun adventures.
What is decompression time? Why is it important?
Decompression time is a brief period, typically three days, where a dog transitions from one home to another. After moving from their perceived home and family, a dog exhibits coping behaviors associated with stress, anxiety, and panic. That is completely understandable, given that there is no easy way to explain to a dog what is going on and why they are being given up. Decompression time is essential to easing a dog’s transition into an unfamiliar environment and teaching them their new “normal.”
What does a stressed dog look like?
A stressed, overstimulated dog will exhibit anxious behaviors, such as cowering, excessively licking their paws, hiding, pacing, or barking / howling. A dog may even try to find ways to escape or seem like they are “looking” for someone by running towards doors in the home or gates in the backyard. A dog may be very needy and remain glued to who they perceive as their source of comfort.
Each dog experiences a unique form of stress that they are working through while they transition into their new environment. When a dog is given up, they may go through more than one decompression period as they move from their original living situation to a shelter, to a foster home, and to their forever home. A dog may travel hundreds of miles, or they may travel only a few. Either way, these dogs cling to what they think is familiar and comforting.
How can I help my new dog or foster dog decompress?
Set up a special space for them with a crate, bed, bowl of water, and toys to help them get better acquainted and settled in. I like using an exercise pen in my front room, away from the kitchen and television. Ensure that all escape paths and any potential safety hazards are removed or blocked.
Simulate your day-to-day life as much as you can when first welcoming a dog into the home, so the new dog can get used to the routine immediately. When you leave for work, feed the dogs, take a walk, or run errands, and continue to do these things so that the new dog can get into the new rhythm and find comfort in hitting daily milestones. Routine is going to be one of the first things that the new dog will learn before showing their personality and exhibiting trust.
Don’t forget that you are also transitioning into a life with a new companion. Adding a new member also means making space in your life and routine that includes them.
Can a dog decompress if I already have a dog?
Yes, a dog can go through a comforting decompression time even if you already have dogs. If you currently have dogs, set up a space away from your current dogs for a couple of days to ease their transition into a new social atmosphere. I like setting my foster dogs in an exercise pen for the first few days with their essentials while the new dog gets used to the sounds and smells of my home and dogs. Around the second or third day, depending on how the new dog is doing, I slowly introduce them to my dogs by having them come out of the exercise pen and meet each other. This may include mighty *sniffs* in the direction of the other dogs from a distance or they may make a beeline towards the main part of the house to capture scents that way.
Some dogs may be more inclined to socialize with the other dogs and others may take longer to get comfortable with the pack. To encourage bonding between the dogs, give all the dogs equal pets and treats to encourage positive associations with each other. "Pack walks", or taking both dogs on walks together, are another way to encourage bonding and shared outdoor exploration. It takes time for the dogs to get comfortable with each other, but shared experiences and routine help a ton.
How do I know if my dog is comfortable and done decompressing?
Your pup is showing more of their personality! After a few days, they will begin to sleep more throughout the night, they’ll finish their meals, and they’ll drink a healthy amount of water. Some dogs may begin to play with toys, while others may still be apprehensive. Some dogs that are more prone to anxious behaviors may take a bit longer to fully get comfortable in your home, but they are still improving. As a general rule, it takes 3 days for a dog to adjust in the home, 3 weeks for them to fully get down their new routine, and 3 months for a dog to realize they are not going anywhere else and this is their forever home.
Potty training is typically down by the 3-week mark, but this can develop quicker with consistent routine and correction. Excitement for mealtimes and being able to predict their walking route also comes with that 3-week mark. All that anxiety, the crazy energy, and even the inevitable potty accidents are completely normal. The first three-day mark is the first milestone in introducing your newly adopted dog into the home, so spend quality time together and get that routine going for an easy transition going forward!