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Dog Decompression: The What, Why & How

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is quite possibly the most common time of the year when people will gift a new puppy or dog to a loved one. It is also the busiest time of year: You are focussed on celebrations, visiting friends and family, and trying to keep-up with the cooking, cleaning, and gift-giving. Now, think about that new dog--is he or she going to get the time and attention it needs when everyone is preoccupied with holiday hoopla? If you decide to gift a new dog to someone, you need to know how to help that animal adjust to its new environment, also known as dog decompression.

Sadly, the weeks following the holiday season are a common time for pets, especially dogs--adopted, rescued, or purchased--to be returned or given to a shelter. Dog decompression is a most crucial aspect of the adjustment process for a new dog. Understanding what it is, why it is important, and how to go through decompression effectively can help your new dog become a wonderful family pet--and prevent the heartache of having to return a new pet.

Things to Consider Before a Bringing a New Dog Home

When you consider bringing a new pet into your home, you have control over several factors that can help that dog acclimate to its new surroundings. The following are just a few of the important things that you, as the gift giver, need to think about and prepare for well before you give that new puppy or dog to its recipient:

  • Where the dog will sleep and eat

  • What areas of the home will be off-limits and how you’ll manage this

  • How you will exercise the dog and how often

  • Who your vet will be in the event you have an emergency after the dog comes home

What is dog decompression?

Decompression is a process of removing pressure with the aim to return to a normal, more relaxed state after a period of intense physical or psychological stress, or urgent activity.

Dog decompression should never be overlooked.

Even if you think you have brought home the “perfect dog” from an ideal prior home situation, every dog entering a new environment needs time to decompress. Remember this: Dogs are masters at holding back their true personality until they have a sense that they can fully trust you.

Why do Dogs need to Decompress?

A dog needs an adjustment period every time it is moved. When entering a new home with several family members, and perhaps other pets, the new dog needs time to scope out its surroundings. It needs to sense that it is in a safe place. The dog uses all of its senses to gather information from the new home and the people in it. It needs to restore its energy, reduce anxiety, and figure out its place in the hierarchy of its new family--its pack.

How to Effectively Facilitate Dog Decompression

There are very specific things that go into decompression routines for dogs:

  • When you at first bring the dog home: Do absolutely nothing with your new dog.

  • Allow the dog to investigate the area you’ve created for it. Let it sniff people, objects, and rooms that it will be permitted to enter/use on a regular basis.

  • Show the dog their water dish and provide a little bit of kibble (but don’t expect them to eat right away).

  • Have a crate and mat available for them to go to. Let the dog rest. They will be observing you and listening to the activity around the house.

  • The ONLY activity your dog should be invited to do is eat and go out to potty. If the dog approaches you for play or attention, respond gently and lovingly.

Decompression for a new dog should continue for 48 hours. Yes, 2 full days.

Older or very young dogs may take more or less time depending upon their history, temperament, and how chaotic the environment is that you are bringing the animal into. If you notice the dog is in distress, is soiling its area or other areas of the home, or seems anxious, contact your local vet right away. You should also contact the breeder or rescue where you purchased the dog.

Helping a Young Child Understand Dog Decompression

It may be difficult to let your new dog alone, especially if you just brought the pet into your home. If you’ve gifted the dog to a young child, you will need to take them to explain the importance of decompression to them. You can say something like this:

“You know how sometimes you can be in a situation that makes you nervous or very tired, maybe even cranky? Do you remember when you first started _____ (school, a sport)l and didn’t really know anyone?” (or a similar situation)
“Well, you needed to go slowly and maybe even had to take time-out to rest or unwind. Your new dog needs to take time-outs, too. Coming into a new home is stressful. The dog doesn’t know anyone. There are hundreds of smells and sounds and things to look at, which are all strange to our new pet. We have to let our (pet's name) rest and come to us when s/he feels ready to play and get to know us better. This will help him/her feel safe and secure and will help them become a great pet for the family.”

The decision as to when to bring a new dog--or any pet that requires significant time and tasks to care for--is, ultimately up to you. When making that decision, consider the dog’s need for decompression and your ability to meet that need in the best way possible. If you do that, it’s much more likely that you’ll all have an easier time adjusting to the presence of your new, furry family member.

Pet Sitters can Help with Dog Decompression

If you’ve brought a new dog home during a busy time--when you’ll be running around, preparing for guests and entertaining, etc., one of our professional pet sitters can lend a helping hand. We can be present to provide attentive care, make sure your new pet goes out to do their business, and enjoys a walk or playtime as is appropriate. Contact Weather or Not Pet Sitters of Delaware to learn more about our pet sitting services.

Learn More about Dog Decompression

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Linda Sigmund
Linda Sigmund
Nov 24, 2021

Great article. Important to understand these ideas and suggestions prior to bringing home any new pet. Thank you.

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