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After You Bring Your New Dog Home - The Adjustment Period

Adopters should expect that their new dog will need some time to adjust to its new family including resident pets, new schedule, new home environment and new communication style. Major life changes impose significant stress on dogs whether they are rescue dogs or not. This can include anytime the dogs routine is significantly changed, such as a change in home, addition of a new family member or pet, change in family dynamics, etc. During this adjustment period, the new dog may exhibit behavior that it will not otherwise exhibit after it adjusts to its new life. This may include having housetraining accidents, making serious efforts to escape including bolting out the door, jumping fences, digging under fences, attempting to avoid interactions with its new owners, and excessive barking among others. They may also have decreased appetite or an upset stomach or similar.

We are committed to our dogs and encourage new adopters to stay in contact with their adoption coordinator to work through the usual training issues that may arise during the adjustment period. Should the adoption not work out, we require, as per the signed Adoption Agreement and Release form, that the dog be returned to OLHAR. However, we do expect that anyone who adopts one of our dogs is willing to work through the usual issues that arise during the adjustment period. Our help and support is always available to you for the life of your dog.

The dog may be on its best behavior for a few days and may then show some negative behaviors, or it may be stressed enough to show some negative behaviors immediately, or it may not show any negative behaviors at all. Just remember that all dogs are individuals.

Your new dog does not know that you are its new home. All it knows is that once again it is in a different environment, with different smells, different noises, different people who treat it in different way, including giving it different commands and allowing different behaviors, feed it differently and maybe have other animals or children for it to adjust to. Your dog needs TIME to do just that, adjust to everything new in its live. All these new things and your expectations are going to cause your dog some initial stress until it adjusts to its new life.

This is one description of what your new dog recent background might have been like. "Imagine being air-dropped, alone, into a strange country where nothing is familiar, you do not know anyone, the rules of acceptable behavior have changed and you cannot speak the language. It would be confusing, if not downright scary and you would be bound to offend a few people before you got the hang of things. This is probably similar to how your new Rescue Dog is going to feel once they reach your home. As far as s/he knows, you are just another part of the parade of people who have passed through his life lately and your home is just another stopover.*

The rescue dog you are adopting has been through a difficult journey that started when his family gave him up or he became lost. He may have been under stress or neglected in his past life or frightened by being homeless. His first stop was likely at a loud and scary animal shelter. In the process of getting rescued, he was handled, bathed and petted by a sea of strangers. Once deemed healthy and ready for adoption, he was placed in one of our foster homes or a boarding kennel- another new environment with more happy strangers and another new routine. He has, now, at long last found a new person of his own although he does not know or understand it yet."*

Thus, it is best if you could give your new dog three or more days with very little demands, including not talking to her, petting her, or doing anything which adds more stress to her while she adjusts. It is best to keep her adequately and completely supervised by using a crate, dog kennel, or tying her to a piece of furniture in your vicinity, taking her on walks for an appropriate amount of exercise and taking her outside at appropriate times while otherwise ignoring her for several days until she starts getting used to her new life and schedule. Walks may be the best form of exercise at least initially because she may not want to play ball or other games until she adjusts to her new environment. The key here is NOT to over stimulate our new dog. They need time to decompress in their new environment. THEY NEED TO FEEL SAFE!

One of the best things you can do for your dog, yourself, and other pets if you have them, is carefully monitor her for the first weeks that you have her. She will not be able to develop bad habits such as digging, destroying your property, chasing your cats (if you have them), have housetraining accidents or similar, if she is appropriately monitored. You can use a combination of a crate, covered dog kennel, or tying her to a piece of furniture in your vicinity or tying her to your waist. When you think she is adjusting to her new life, you can start adding short free roam periods, perhaps letting her drag a leash to give you some control if needed (if she is completely supervised so the leash does not get caught in something and choke her) and see how she does with additional freedom. You can gradually extend her free times and include times she is unattended such as when you walk to get your mail. If all goes well you can extend the unsupervised time to the periods of time she will eventually be left alone.

Another thing you can do to speed up the adjustment process is to establish a consistent routine so your dog knows what to expect. This includes how many times a day you feed him, how many times a day you exercise him, when you put him to bed and when you let him outside. Part of the reason your dog experiences stress in the adjustment period is he does not know what to expect. A consistent routine can give him security and help him adjust quicker.

Keep in mind that most of us are dog lovers not dog trainers. Even having had dogs for years does not mean that we can solve all, or even many, behavior problems. In addition, a dog may display behaviors with a soft or inexperienced owner that it will not display with an owner more proficient at providing leadership. Also, there is a wide range of dog temperaments from easy, calm, social, to dominant, willful and confident. Some temperaments are much more difficult to handle than others. It is often helpful if the entire family can attend one or more obedience courses during which you will develop a bond with your dog and find out ways to manage any undesirable behaviors you may observe. The earlier you effectively correct undesirable behaviors the easier it is to stop them.

Common Symptoms of Stress You May See During the Adjustment Period

Attempts to Avoid You and/or Escape

Your new dog will need time to develop a bond with you and to realize that you are his new owner. During this time he may try to avoid you by running away from you in the house and trying not to let you touch him. Don't push him to be petted or to interact with you. If you let him come to you for attention when he is ready, it will help him be more trustful about building a bond with you. Don't forget you are interacting with him in a more neutral and less stressful way by taking him on walks, feeding him, and taking him out to go to the bathroom. Once he realizes you are his new family he will interact with you the way you saw him interact with his foster family. He just needs time to adjust to the new, temporarily stressful changes in his life and build a bond with you.

He may also try to bolt out doors, jump the backyard fence or dig under the fence if left alone, or may run away if you let him off leash in a public place, etc. To avoid having your dog escape you can put him on a leash when you bring him outside for the first few days. This can also help you train him to go to the bathroom in a specific area. You can leave him in a roofed kennel or a crate if you are gone for short periods of time. You should not let your dog off leash in a public area until he is over the adjust period AND unless you are certain he will return to you immediately whenever you call him no matter what the distraction (e.g. squirrels, cats, other dogs, children, etc.).

Nervous Behaviors

Your dog may whine, bark and pace or appear anxious and needy during the adjustment period. It usually helps if you can ignore any negative behavior while keeping her adequately and completely supervised by using a crate, dog kennel, or tying her to a piece of furniture in your vicinity or to your waist, taking her on walks for an appropriate amount of exercise and taking her outside at appropriate times until she starts getting used to her new life and schedule and settles down.

Refusal to Eat or Indigestion

Your dog may refuse to eat all, or most, of his food after you first bring him home. It may help if you add a few tablespoons of wet dog food, or a small amount of chicken broth or similar to encourage him to eat. If he doesn't eat for more than two days contact his prior fosterer or your vet.

He may also have indigestion or similar that manifests itself by him throwing up and/or having diarrhea. Contact your vet if this lasts longer than a day.

Housetraining Issues

Even if your dog is housetrained she may have one or more accidents during the adjustment period because neither of you are used to each others schedule and/ or her food changes require her to go out more frequently than you expected. In general you will not experience any problems if you keep her adequately and completely supervised by using a crate, dog kennel, or tie her to a piece of furniture in your vicinity or your waist, taking her outside at appropriate times until she starts getting used to her new life and schedule. Nature's Miracle or a solution of vinegar and water can be useful for cleaning up any accidents that may occur until you and your dog get used to each others schedules.

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