When dogs arrive after travel we see a varying array of reactions. Many are full of life and energy, relishing their new environment and desperate to explore the new home and surroundings. Unfortunately, it is hard to predict how your dog will cope with the transport and arrival, and some dogs take longer to adjust as they may have been through a traumatic journey and been previously exposed to many stressful experiences.
Frequently, when they first arrive in a new home, their true nature and unique set of behaviours are muted or suppressed, while they evaluate their new environment and the humans that live there. For many street dogs, simply being in an enclosed space with people can induce fear. It is important that you help the new arrival to have time and space to gain confidence. As a result of the anxiety, they may be reluctant to eat or drink and may not engage in any social behaviours. In some cases, they may actually try to repel interactions with cut off behaviours such as; turning away the head or body, walking away and or hiding.
It is absolutely crucial not to crowd the dog during this time and allow them the opportunity to get away from everything when they want to. This is NOT a time to invite the family / friends / neighbours around to meet the new arrival or take them all over the neighbourhood to show them off. It is essential to try to keep the next 24-48 hours quiet and calm! One of the most important factors when recovering from a stressful event is rest, so we advise minimal exercise in the first few days as during this period they may also be more susceptible to infections, from coughs and sneezes to tummy upsets.
It is only after a couple of days that you start to see your dog’s personality emerge. Many sources say that it may take up to 72 hours for cortisol [stress hormone] to dissipate from the body after a stressful event and allow the true nature of the dog to emerge. It is important to focus on establishing a routine as this helps dogs to feel secure. Knowing they can predict what happens next creates security. They will quickly start to feel safe if you can help them to predict their environment. Help your anxious dog by establishing clear routines and by directing their behaviour through training, using rewards to reinforce. Never begin to use force as this will damage your relationship with your dog.
You can let sociable, relaxed dogs meet visitors without any concern but this may not be the case with an anxious dog. They might feel more at ease if you carefully teach them that the doorbell is a cue to lie on their bed or go to their crate and stay there, instead of trying to make doggy small talk with people he may be fearful of.
Dogs with anxious dispositions like to know how to do it right and don’t like anomalies, so always provide consistent clear boundaries expressed in a calm way to help confidence develop.
When your new dog is eating, don’t disturb them or approach them. Leave them in peace to enjoy their food and learn that, in this new environment, there is no need to be anxious, no need to worry about losing their meal. With rescue dogs, most of the time their background is unknown and it may be possible that they have had to learn to protect their food at all costs. Teach them that you are no threat by simply leaving them in peace when they are eating, in the early days. Once they have started to relax, you can approach your feeding dog during his meal, but only to deliver more dinner, or yummy sausages etc. This will ensure he looks forward to your visits during dinner and will hopefully prevent him guarding his food.
If there are existing dogs in the home, the first 48 hours is not the time to insist that they are all settled and sleeping together like lifetime buddies. Depending on the mix of dogs, it may take months before everything is settled. Creating a balanced dog group can be a complex process that may need the assistance of people experienced in the job, who will be able to spot potential problems early on. We advise inviting in a trainer/behaviourist if you are having problems with integration.