Decompression: a crucial element when adopting a rescue dog

By January 28, 2022Rescue

Our mission at Pet Pardon is to empower animal advocates to adopt, foster or rescue and donate money to give at-risk shelter pets a second chance at life.

There are so many great animals in need, waiting for a second chance in local shelters. In an effort to help get them into foster care, adopted or rescued, we share them on social media and on the Pet Pardon app. The ultimate goal is adoption, but the next best case is attracting a rescue organization to give the animals more time to get adopted or find safety with a foster.

According to the ASPCA, every year more than 6.5 million animal companions end up in shelters – each one with a past. And while most animals are without health or behavioral issues, there is a stigma attached to shelter animals – that they are broken, dangerous and unadoptable. However, contrary this, data extracted from this study  found that human reasons were twice as likely to drive animals to be surrendered at shelters than issues related to the pets themselves.

The shelter environment is a very stressful place to be, with animals confined to a small run/kennel in a room with other barking or crying animals. If the shelter allows volunteers, dogs may be lucky enough to be taken out for a walk. The environment can lead to kennel stress, which can include excessive barking and whining, loss of appetite, pacing, depression, constant licking of the lips, diarrhea and vomiting.

In spite of these stressors, time and time again we have seen dramatic changes in a dog’s demeanor once they are out of the shelter environment – dogs know when they are safe. But just like people, every dog is different and we need to take cues from their individual behavior and earn their trust. And some will need more time to adjust to a new home than others. No matter what, a newly adopted shelter dog should be given the appropriate amount of time to get used to their surroundings – or ‘decompress’.

Decompression is critical. In the rescue world, we often talk about the ‘3-3-3 rule’, which stands for 3-days, 3 weeks, 3-months. Every dog is different. Some take less time, but some may need longer to decompress.

Check out this article that discusses 10 tips to help decompress a rescue dog.

Unfortunately, some adoptions end with the dogs being returned to the shelter. This tends to happen when a new adopter has given the dog the run of the house, let them sleep on their bed and otherwise created issues. The pet gets returned, which creates further confusion for the dog – through no fault of their own.

Just keep it simple and remember to:

  1. Keep Calm – animals are sentient and can pick up on smells, body language and noise.
  2. Give them space – they have just come from a loud, noisy environment. They will need a quiet, comfortable place to adjust.
  3. Keep a routine – dogs need structure and a steady routine will help them feel safe.
  4. Exercise – exercise is part of a regular routine and will help you both bond, and keep the dog physically and mentally healthy.

In our opinion, one of the most important aspects of decompression is crate training – something recommended by experienced fosters and trainers alike (as taken from the aforementioned article):

A crate is an easy and effective way to create a safe haven. Crate training is one of the quickest and least stressful ways to encourage desirable behaviors in dogs. Some new dog owners are not fans of using a crate; however, the author of the article recommends implementing crate training as soon as you bring a dog into your home. A crate satisfies a dog’s instinct to be in a den while alleviating many behavioral issues like resource guarding, separation anxiety, and house-training issues.

You may discover that you need help of a trainer and that’s okay – it’s better to get help than having to surrender the dog back to the shelter. The sad reality is that shelters are overcrowded and a returned dog jumps to the top of the ‘at-risk’ list.

When choosing a trainer, trust is a big factor. They’re going to ask you to do a lot of strange stuff that could make you feel uncomfortable, such as hand-feeding your dog or withholding affection. Even if it’s new to you, or counterintuitive, trainers know what they’re doing, their methods backed by experience. We are seeing an emergence of trainers that have experience with rescue and shelter dogs. We recognize the need and hope in the near future to help fund training for new adopters and rescue organizations.

If you’ve adopted a rescue dog, please share your experience with us and add any other resources or recommendations you might have.

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