Updated: Mar 11
WHAT IS DECOMPRESSION?
This is a term that you will have likely heard used by trainers and animal rescuers, but what is it?
Decompression is a vital phase which dogs go through following high levels of stress. For example, a rescue dog arriving in kennels or at the new foster/adopters home, A new puppy being taken home by his or hers new family or a dog who has suffered a traumatic experience.
There is no time scale for this phase, every dog as an individual with their own individual needs, emotions and responses, will take his or her own time to complete this important phase. As their guardians, carers and families it is our responsibility to guide them through it.
During decompression, the dog will not display his true behaviours or temperament. It is often referred to as the 'honey moon period' where many usual, characteristic behaviours previously displayed, are suppressed by the dog. You wont see his 'true colours' during this time. This phase is where the dog de-stresses and susses out his new environment and all the things in it. You cannot rush decompression. Put yourself in the position of the dog and imagine how you would be feeling, where your emotions would be? All these things take time to settle.
Decompression is where the dog 'chills out' . Where all the natural chemicals which have flooded the body rebalance themselves.
Its a delicate and vital time!
TIPS FOR DECOMPRESSING YOUR DOG
PLAN AHEAD - Preparation is always key. Ensure that you are fully prepared, if the dog is a new arrival then make sure that you have all the essentials you need. Including stimulating activities such as kongs, chews etc ( Have a look online for some fantastic DIY canine enrichment ideas).
Create bed areas and make sure that they are in quiet, low traffic areas of the home. Many dogs enjoy a den like space so crates and areas under tables can work well. These areas should be designated 'safe zones' where your dog can retreat to and have his own space. Never invade these areas and keep children and visitors away from them. If the dog retreats to his 'safe zone' then he should not be followed and their choice should be respected.
Always be prepared for the worst case scenario and be prepared should separation be required, this is especially important in a multi dog home or in the case of young children. Should the unexpected occur, it is important to have a safe and secure area where the dogs can be contained until further assistance can be sought.
LEAVE THEM BE - Could you imagine being taken away from your familiar environment and suddenly placed somewhere else? Where you have never been before, everything smells different and you are surrounded by strangers speaking a different language. Scary right!?
The dogs nose is his most powerful tool and he needs time to use it. Through scent, dogs gather all the information about the world and all the things in it. Allow your dog the space, and the time to discover this new world.
Its vital that you give the dog some distance and grant them the space which they need right now. As much as you want to hug them and tell them that everything is ok, to the dog this will only increase stress and anxiety by invading their personal space. Consider a complete stranger rubbing your back or stroking your face.... FREAK OUT!!
First comes trust... then comes your cuddles. (but only if your dog is a willing participant)
You should refrain from interaction with your dog unless initiated by him, and even then hands off! You will have plenty of time throughout the dogs life for physical contact but now is not the time. Right now you are still a stranger. Relationships are not built in a day!
Avoid direct eye contact, keep your body posture soft and turned away from the dog to communicate that you mean no harm. Always ensure that the dog has a clear escape route from any situation or experience and never invade the dogs space (this means leaning in over the dog or his bed areas too) .
MAKE THINGS EASY - Your dog is already coming to you under a whole blanket of stress. Some will be hyper aroused and some completely shut down. Don't add to their stress. Your dog is going through a hard time and needs your understanding.
Keep the environment as calm as possible. Keep children at a distance and keep their play calm, quiet and still while your dog is going through the decompression phase. A stressed dog is hyper aware and can easily encounter negative experiences which could manifest into future problems.
Allow your dog to tackle one thing at a time. First his environment, then everything else.
The most important thing is to give them time. Time to unwind and time to adjust. As humans we want the perfect family dog, the perfect life and we want it now! Our expectations are held high, too high for a dog whos whole world has just been turned upside down.
Your only aim in these first few days or weeks is to alleviate the stress, fears and uncertainties being felt by your dog, and to build a mutual relationship of trust and friendship.
If you'd like to find out more about building trust with your dog, and get a little morein depth about stress, how to identify it and how to reduce it, then check out my online self-paced course by following this link :
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