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Decompression Time in New Dogs


It’s so important to lower your expectations for foster dogs, or even when you bring home a potential foster to adopt. They come to us with high levels of stress and literally zero relationship with you whatsoever, so theres going to be mistakes made my both of you. Take it really slow, lots of crate time and enrichment. We want to do therapy first before training, in my opinion J I give a lotttt of breaks in the crate at the beginning- remember these dogs are used to only getting a few minutes out at a time, so they become overwhelmed or overtired and just need a nap and to sit and process what they’re learning.

There’s a great moto in the dog training community on shelter dogs- its 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months. Basically, dogs take about 3 days to even understand who we are and understand that we are going to provide them with stability and safety and access to good opportunities for reward. We really can’t demand or expect anything from our new foster dogs at this point. Resident dogs and the foster should just be going on leash walks with each other and just getting to know each other. Don’t bring them to the dog park, don’t introduce them to new people, just get to know the dog and make him/her feel safe.

Gradually, in the first few weeks, you begin to add more freedom but make sure we’re setting them up for success. Don’t shower them in resources, just give bones and enrichment toys in the cage so there is no opportunity for the new dog to think he has to fight for resources (food, attention, toys) that it probably didn’t have free access to in it’s life. Let the dog start to settle in, create positive interactions, and use management and structure.

At 3 weeks, the dog will know the routine and know they live with you- you start to build practices, the dog can be trusted a bit more, and at 3 months you can really expect the dog to be comfortable and ready for life.

A lot of people see new behaviors pop up every day as the dogs get more comfortable. It’s really important in these stages to be positively reinforcing the behaviors we like so that those behaviors become more likely. Remember, reinforcement drives behavior. AND AGAIN, remember it has to be what the dog finds reinforcing. I find it easiest, and least stressful, to just give the dog a treat (bring the treat to them) when they’re lying down or when they decide to offer a good behavior. I use a lot of tether training at the beginning with new fosters. They are almost always on a drag leash if not attached to my treat bag by a caribener so they can really understand what I want from them. I treat every new dog I bring him like a brand new puppy- they don’t get much freedom or alone time (except in crate) until I am sure they can be trusted.

Crates are super important for a new dog- if you can teach the dog that the Crate training should be done to make a great association with the crate. Leave them in the crate with something fun to do so it’s a safe spot, not just somewhere the dog goes when you leave. I make sure all my cages are reinforced with a carbiner where the crate opens and also zip tie on the side of the crate. Dogs can seriously hurt themselves in the crate if they figure out theres a way out! As a general rule, if a dog does something that works once, they’re going to keep doing it. So if theres a little room for the nose to get through and they see the crate move a little, they’ll keep trying and they will hurt themselves escaping or could fight with another dog because the panic and stress would be high after escaping the crate.

The crate isn’t for punishment or for time outs, it’s a good place where the dog is safe. I feed all the fosters in crates so there are no opportunities to compete over resources. Crate training is also amazing for house training. A lot of dogs in shelters seem to forget the house training that they may have had in the past because they lose access to relief walks and just end up relieving themselves wherever they are. Every dog can get back to being house trained, but it’s important to make sure they go right outside after the crate. Additionally, crating is a great management option for giving your resident dog a break from your foster dog. Bonus- a crate keeps your house safe and creates boundaries as well! Just use a few treats to lure your dog into the crate before you’re even locking him in there. Just make it a fun thing to go into the crate at first! There are also lots of great water bowls that clip into the crate you can use instead of leaving a water bowl on the floor that they will turn over and get everything all wet. Crate and rotate is also great if you have two dogs to get them used to each other. I practice a ton of relaxation protocols In the first few weeks of a new dog being here as well and I make sure all play time is outside (especially rowdy dog play!) instead of inside, because honestly, dogs playing over me on the couch drives me crazy!

Another important quick note here is that I DO NOT free feed my dogs. I want them to have a desire to eat and use food in training. I put the food down (IN THE CRATE) for 10-15 minutes and if they don’t eat it, I take it out.

Training during the decompression time (and always) should be as least invasive as possible. Set the dogs up for success and do not fight with them. I try to tether all of my fosters or just have a leash dragging so I can prevent them from getting into unwanted trouble and can give them food and pets when they are doing things I like, like sitting politely or laying down. Foster dogs are usually super interested in checking out their whole new environment- which can mean some marking (especially from older male dogs) so the drag leash is really good for keeping those situations from happening to. All of my older male fosters spend at least the first day out in a belly band (basically a male diaper) because of this as well. The tether leash is also great in case the dog happens to have an issue getting off the couch or bed. Instead of getting into a fight and grabbing the collar and getting bit by a dog that doesn't trust you at all, you can just grab the leash and a treat, lure the dog off and use a little leash pressure if necessary and then reward the dog when he's off the couch. Trust me, learn from my mistakes ;)

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