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Decompression and Integration

I understand how exciting it is to bring home a new family member and know you can’t wait to do all the fun activities you’ve been longing to do with a canine companion. You’ll get there!

However, taking it slow for the first few months will solidify your relationship and give you the best path to happiness and success.

What is decompression? Decompression is an important period after a transition (from shelter to foster, foster to home, transport to home, etc.) where a dog needs to relax in a calm environment and learn about their new situation and family members slowly and thoughtfully. The length of time this takes varies for each dog, so you will need to listen to what they are telling you by their behavior.

Closely following this decompression and integration guide and giving your dog plenty of time and space to adjust to their new life is an essential part of ensuring that your new pup is a perfect match for your family.

Before You Bring Home A New Dog

Prepare Your Home

Prepare Your Home

Before bringing home your new dog, it’s important that you mentally prepare for the first few weeks of transition, when your dog is getting used to a new environment and learning the rules of your home. You can start this by preparing your home to nurture your dog’s mental and physical well-being.


  • Inside safety: Make sure all electrical cords are safely tucked away and that there are no magazines, books, or small tempting knickknacks or children’s toys that are easily accessible to a curious canine.

  • A quiet space: Set up a quiet area or room with a cozy crate that isn’t accessible to other pets or children. This will be a safe space for your new pup to decompress. A bathroom, mudroom, spare bedroom, or even a cozy corner in an adult’s bedroom can all make for a fabulous decompression area.

  • Separation: Be prepared to keep interactions with other pets limited and supervised as you all get to know each other. Allow your new dog to get to know your house and other family members slowly, with you there for support. Aside from a crate, be prepared to provide separation within the house so no one gets overwhelmed. Separation techniques from other pets and children can include closed doors, baby gates, or x-pens depending on your space and needs.

  • Outside safety: If you have a fenced yard, check it over again with fresh eyes. Is there anything a dog can jump on top of to boost themselves over the fence? Are there any holes where a pooch could slip under? Are there any weak spots that could be exploited? Make sure you carefully and actively supervise all pets in your fenced yard until you are positive they cannot escape. If you are unsure how your new dog will do in a fenced yard or if you don’t have a fence, we strongly advise you to purchase a long line so that your dog can explore and run while still safely under control. (A long line is also an excellent tool for teaching recall!)


Get Supplies

Enrichment items will help your new dog (and other dogs in your household) relax. Consider stocking up on some of the following items before bringing your pup home:



High-quality dog foodI follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines to select my dog food.


Durable chew toys:



  • An appropriately sized crate (check out this link about how to use, where to place, what to put inside your dog’s crate.)

  • An ID tag with your home address and phone number.

  • A properly fitted nylon martingale collar. I love Max and Neo as well as Caninus Collars depending on your pooch’s size.

  • You might also consider a harness. We love Balance, Perfect Fit, Freedom, and Ruffwear harnesses.

  • A 4 and/or 6 ft leash for walks. I don’t advise using a retractable leash anywhere but on your property for quick potty walks.

  • Also consider a jogging leash to keep your new pup tethered to you, hands-free, for the first few days until they get their routine, boundaries, and potty schedule down.

  • Calming aids such as an Adaptil diffuser or collar.

Create a Plan

Create a Management Plan

Adapting to change is always stressful, but even more so for rescue dogs, who often come into their new homes having experienced loss and instability. Welcoming a new canine family member and building trust will take time for your existing pet/s too. Giving everyone the time and space they need to settle in will set all of you up for success and the loving relationships you are hoping for.


Creating a plan ahead of time will help everyone decompress and get to know each other safely and slowly so that you don’t experience setbacks. Your plan should include:


•       How to keep pets separated for the first three days (physically and visually)


•       How to handle introductions to kids


•       How to handle introductions to other household pets


•       Exercise, potty, and feeding schedules


All human members of your household should agree to the schedule as well as to how you will handle training your new dog. Remember, clear communication and consistency, especially in the beginning, will help all of you make a smooth transition into an integrated family.

The First 3 Days

After You Bring Your New Dog Home

The First 3 Days

Separation is Key

During your new pup’s first 3 days at home, it’s imperative to keep their world small and safe, while simultaneously allowing your current pets time to get used to smelling and hearing a new furry family member in their territory.


For these reasons, we do not advise allowing your new pup to meet your current pets inside the home for 3 full days. We understand that this seems counterintuitive as you want to make sure your new dog is a perfect fit for your family; however, allowing everyone to decompress and acclimate to one another will set you all up for long-term success.

For separating pets during these first 3 days, we like the crate and rotate method: when your new dog is out, your current pets are safely secured in another room, behind a gate, or in a crate and vice versa.


Ideally, your new dog should not see your current pets until you are ready to properly expose them. While total visual separation might not be possible, at a minimum pets should be kept physically separated during this initial acclimation period. This will help reduce the likelihood of frustration or reactivity.

Creating Calm

During this time you want your new dog’s world to be as safe, calm, and predictable as possible.


Following these guidelines, as well as the schedule you’ve designed, will help:

  • When you go out, unless it’s unavoidable, leave your new dog at home. If you leave your dog in their crate, always remove their collar.

  • Do not take car rides unless necessary

  • Do not take them to crowded places or gatherings

  • Do not take them to dog parks

  • Do not introduce them to strangers or anyone who doesn’t live in the household

  • Do not hug, hold, or even pet them unless they ask you to do so

Check out this video on how to tell if a dog wants to be petted.










Other things you can do to encourage calm include:

  • Playing an audiobook or calming music such as classical, soft rock, reggae, Relax My Dog, or Through A Dog’s Ear.

  • Using an Adaptil collar or diffuser.

  • Leaving a fan running for white noise.

Consent Test
Low Key is the Way to Go

Stick to low-key activities that will help your new dog acclimate while bonding with you. A consistent schedule with lots of rest will do more to help your new dog become a happy and content part of your family than anything else you can do right now.


  • Walk in your yard, around your apartment building, or in the neighborhood just the two of you (no other dogs yet). Ensure that your pup is safely secured with a well-fitted harness, martingale collar, or slip lead to prevent escapes. Allow them to guide the walk, sniff, and take them to their potty spot to eliminate before bringing them inside. Don’t let your dog into your backyard unsupervised (yet) — they may escape or they may get distracted and not fully potty which can result in accidents in the home or crate.

  • Once they have gone potty and done a lot of sniffing, bring them inside and place them in their cozy area or in their crate with fresh water and an enrichment item or their food depending on the time of day. You are free to sit in this area with them, feed them treats, read them a book. Just keep things calm.

  • Or allow your dog to sniff around in a room or two (remember no other pets at this time) and begin to get used to their new environment. For the first few days, they should be sequestered in one room or on leash with you at all times. Allow your dog to explore a new part of your house each day and reward for appropriate behavior.

  • Puppies under 6 months will need potty breaks about every 2 hours. Adults dogs can go 4–6 hours between potty breaks.

  • Building regular rest times into your dog's routine will help them process the stress of rehoming and will reduce unwanted behaviors such as mouthing and hyperactivity.

  • Puppies need up to 18 hours of sleep per day and adult dogs need 12–16.

  • Repeat this sequence of sleep, eat, potty, play/explore, potty, sleep, etc. for three days while observing your dog’s unique needs, challenges, and joyful activities.

  • Remember, this is not the time to introduce new people. After all, to your dog, you’re still a new person. If you plan to have visitors make sure your new dog is safely tucked away in their safe zone.

  • Similarly don’t allow strangers to pet your dog while you are on walks. Practice saying, “They can’t say hi. They’re training. Thank you!”

Setting Up for Success

These first few days paint the picture for your dog as to how you expect them to live under your roof. During this time they will start to learn what your rules are, so make sure you know what the rules are and apply them consistently. Management is imperative! The easiest way to teach your new dog not to potty in your home is to never allow it to happen in the first place. Similarly, the easiest way to teach your new dog not to chew up your pillows or have zoomies on your sofa is to never allow it to happen. Instead, set your dog up for success by setting the groundwork with patience and consistency.


  • Provide appropriate things to chew on

  • Reward calm indoor behavior

  • Be clear and consistent about your rules and make the consequences predictable

  • Never physically punish your dog by hitting, spanking, choking, or “bonking” them

  • Don’t allow your new dog to explore the house without supervision while expectations are being established

Dogs & Children
Introducing Dogs & Children

If you have children in your home you may allow them to hang out with your new dog during the exploration and play sessions. These interactions must be actively supervised by an adult. The following guidelines will aid in facilitating a positive and safe relationship between household children and the dog:


  • Show your dog what you want them to do around children, don’t allow them to jump on or knock children down. For example, the pup must have all four feet on the floor before getting attention.

  • Show your children what you want them to do around dogs. Children should be taught how to pet gently in safe places, not to hug or put their face in the dog’s face, and to stay calm. Check out these kid-friendly videos for tips on how to safely allow children to pet and interact with dogs.

  • Do not allow children to feed your dog treats right away, especially if your dog appears nervous or overly excited. Instead, toss treats behind the dog (away from children).

  • Do not allow your dog to approach children or children to approach your dog until your dog is calm and able to take cues from the adults.

  • If this doesn’t happen right away, it’s okay just to have your dog in the same room as the children. Reward your dog for being calm and checking in with adults. There’s no need for them to physically interact with children just yet.

  • Once you can get your dog to focus on the adults, you can allow them to say hi to the children

  • Only allow interactions if your dog is actively seeking the children's attention

  • Never, under any circumstance, leave children unsupervised around ANY dogs, especially young children.


For additional information check out this article on teaching children to interact with dogs.


Dogs & Dogs

After the first three days of stress vacation, you can slowly begin integrating your new dog into life with your other pets if they are ready. Some dogs take longer than others to decompress. If your new pup still seems jumpy, nervous, or extremely excited to see your other dog, they may need a bit more time to settle in before the introduction. If your incumbent pets seem nervous or growly at the new dog, also give them more time.

Introducing Dogs to Dogs
  • Do not let dogs rush up to one another and meet head-on with tight leashes. This is a recipe for a disastrous greeting and possibly a dog fight, which can permanently damage your dogs’ relationships.

  • Bring each dog out on a leash one at a time with their handler. Each handler should remain several feet apart. If the dogs are staring, growling, or straining to get to one another, keep your feet moving, toss treats away from the other dog, and reward any time the dog checks in with you. Once the dogs are far enough apart they aren't fixating on one another, each handler should ask the dogs to perform some cues they are familiar with to see if they can remain calm. If the dog is calmly taking treats and not fixated on the other dog, proceed.

  • The handlers can start walking in the same direction with the dogs on their dogs on opposite sides of one another. Walk for 15-30 minutes, encourage them to sniff and explore their sides. Take several of these parallel walks on neutral territory (such as a quiet park or field) where the dogs can begin to get used to seeing one another and building a positive association. If you need to drive there, either take separate cars or crate each dog and cover them for the trip.

  • After the dogs have been parallel walking successfully and are happy to see one another but not over-aroused (EG: are no longer straining to get to one another, can safely ignore one another at 5ft or so of distance, etc) you can allow them to greet nose to butt, loose leash, in an open neutral area for a brief and positive 3–5 seconds. Then call them back to you and reward them. If the dogs are interested in playing, allow them to play for 30 seconds or so and then call them back to you and reward them. Do not yank them back away from one another - that will almost always result in a negative reaction from one or both dogs.

  • Pay close attention to body language and play styles. Review the following videos outlining proper dog play and behavior. Playstyles differ, and it’s important to advocate for either dog if they appear overwhelmed or annoyed, or are being bullied. It is equally critical to interrupt and possibly time out a dog who is bullying other dogs. (A bully dog may not be suitable for playgroups.)

  • Repeat these 15-20 minute play sessions on neutral territory for 2 days and if the dogs are happy, loose, and wiggly, then bring the dogs into your back yard (new dog first, followed by the current dogs), and repeat the process outlined above. If you don’t have a backyard, somewhere close to your home is fine. Just keep the dogs on long lines.

  • After the dogs are comfortable outside, you can allow them to explore a room (with the other rooms blocked off by baby gates or exercise pens) of the house together. Allow the new dog to enter the house first, then the other dog to follow in. Let them drag the leashes (in case you need to redirect them) and encourage calm behavior. During this, you must be actively supervising (not looking at your phone, and paying close attention to body language.) Make sure there are NO resources in this room, including (but not limited to) toys, food bowls, or high-value treats.

  • Keep these intros in the home short, positive, and productive with frequent breaks.

  • Gradually increase the areas the dogs have access to and the duration of the interactions until the dogs are fully integrated.

  • Even after the dogs are fully integrated, do not leave toys or chews out in common areas.

  • Never leave dogs unsupervised in the yard or the home until you are completely certain they will not fight or guard resources. If you have any doubts, put one or both of them in crates when they cannot be supervised.

  • Remember to always feed separately. Never free feed.

  • If you give your dogs long-term consumable items such as pig ears, bully sticks, raw bones, or anything else they find high value, separate all of the dogs and allow them to chew in their own separate spaces.

  • Make sure there is access to multiple fresh water sources.

Introducing Dogs to Cats
Dogs & Cats
  • Living with a cat is often significantly different than meeting a cat once or even a few times. It is imperative to take things slow and allow your cat to get comfortable with the idea of a new dog in your home, as well as allowing your dog to slowly learn how to properly greet, interact with, and live with a feline friend.

  • Making sure your cat has multiple safe spaces in your home such as a very tall cat tree and a room (or several) with a baby gate where a dog can’t get in is essential for successful integration. These cat-safe rooms should include fresh water, food, and litter boxes. They must be secure so the cat does not worry that a dog could break in.

  • We highly recommend purchasing a Feliway diffuser as a way to calm your cat during the decompression period. Set this up in your cat’s safe zone.

  • Dog/cat integration can take a bit more time than dog/dog integration, so don’t get discouraged if it’s taking a while. Remember to let the cats set the pace. By not rushing the process, you will be much more likely to have a peaceful home in the future.

  •  When your new dog no longer seems fixated on trying to find the cat (or after the first 3 days of decompression if your dog is not showing interest), set up an intro training session.

  • Pick a day when you have some extra time. Secure all other dogs in your home in a separate space where they aren't causing a commotion. With your new dog on a leash in a room where they are comfortable, open your cat’s door and allow them to choose to come into the room with you and your dog. When the cat enters the room, immediately get your dog’s attention and practice the cues you’ve been working on. If your dog seems too excited, move them farther from the cat and try again. Keep these sessions short and positive.

  •  Once the dog is not fixated on trying to get to the cat when it’s in the same room, allow your new dog to approach your cat and sniff. Keep this interaction short and positive, then call your dog away and tell them what a great job they did

  • Continue facilitating short and sweet monitored interactions for several days to weeks depending on the dog, always allowing your cat to return to dog free safe zones as they choose.

  • Never leave dogs and cats together unsupervised in your home until you are completely certain your dog will not chase or mouth the cat. If you have any doubts, put the cat in its safe zone with the door shut and your dog in a crate in a separate room when they cannot be supervised.

  • Please note, if you have other dogs in your home ensure that they are separate during these training sessions. Once you are comfortable allowing your cats to come and go freely make sure that your dog's demeanor toward the cat doesn't change if the other dogs are around. If any of your current dogs have a habit of chasing your cat (even playfully) it can give your new dog the wrong message on appropriately interacting with cats.

Week 3 and beyond

After the First Three Weeks

  • After about the first 15–21 days, you can slowly start increasing the areas where you walk your new dog.

  • On these walks, allow them to greet friends and family who don’t live in your home if they choose to. My favorite way to teach a dog to say hi to new people is by giving them an option with the cue, “Go Say Hi.” Then let your dog choose to walk over and greet the person briefly and come back to you for a treat or praise. If they choose not to say hi, that’s ok too! Never force your dog to greet people. (See the video below.)

  • Make sure to offer lots of opportunities for sniff walks and enrichment!

Beyond First Month

Beyond the First Month

  • Now that you are entering the end of your first month with your new dog, you can continue to slowly expand their world and introduce them to new adventures.

  • Take care to ensure that each of these is positive by observing your pup’s body language. Don’t force them into situations where they are uncomfortable. Instead, work on confidence-building exercises and positive exposures. Below are some fun exercises you can use to help an under-confident canine.

  • If your dog likes socializing with non-family dogs (not all do—see graphic and video below), it is probably now safe to start slowly introducing them to non-family dogs and allowing group play.

dogsociabilityisaspectrum (1).png
  • Ideally, this play will be with dogs you know in large back yards or private rentable yards called SniffSpots, rather than with strange dogs in crowded places

  • As a general rule, I do not endorse dog parks and would advise avoiding them, but I understand each dog is unique, and each park is different.

  • Make sure you start building and proofing a solid recall for any off-leash excursions 

  • After your dog has decompressed and built a relationship with you, they will likely start feeling comfortable being themselves around you. This can manifest in behaviors you might find undesirable. Now is the time to start modifying those behaviors.

  • I believe every interaction you have with your dog is training, so be sure to capture every good behavior your dog exhibits with praise, play, or a treat (whichever they prefer!) and interrupt or redirect unwanted behaviors (see the video below).

  • I strongly recommend that you do not feed your dog out of a bowl, as dogs are biologically programmed to scavenge for food. Instead, use your dog’s meals for training as well as in a variety of enrichment activities/toys/puzzles throughout the day to keep them happy and mentally stimulated.

  • Always remember, any reputable breeder or rescue will be with you every step of the way so get in contact with them if needed

  • Finally, working with a good trainer/behavior consultant can make all the difference!

  • I'd love to work with you or refer you to another top-notch practitioner who can assist you in reaching your goals - reach out any time!



Ashley Alden, CCS

Bullishly Brilliant Behavior and Training

Olympia, WA

Stress Body Language
The Body Language of Stress
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