Dog decompression is important! I will never forget the first several times I told a foster that the dog needs to decompress when coming into their home. They looked at me as if I was being unfair to the dog. Most humans, if they are not properly educated about crates, consider crates a source of punishment. Crates aren’t cruel, they are safe places dogs enjoy. However, if you use them as punishment, that is how the dog will look at it. Think of it this way, would you go on a cruise if the boat didn’t have cabins, go to a resort and there would be no individual rooms?
Also, sometimes foster dogs will be in several homes, and keeping the crate the same everywhere the dog goes is a source of comfort for them. The crate also encourages the strengthening of the bladder. Sometimes when fosters come into a new home, they are extra nervous. Leaving them alone to adjust will make the transition more positive, while coddling will not.
Decompression Benefits of Crates
Decompression for most dogs means being in a crate in a room that doesn’t have a lot of activity. You leave it like that for a couple of days to allow the dog to get used to everything. Feed them in the crate, give them water in there, then just leave things very simple. We want dogs to look to humans to be their guide/teacher. Throwing a dog into the mix of your home within hours does not benefit the dog. If the dog has medical issues or they are nervous, contact the rescue to get additional decompression guidance. Every dog is different and some medical dogs need more time, and that is ok.
Give the Dog Time
It is so important to have a mutual relationship with the dogs so please do not immediately introduce them to your personal dogs or other fosters. If the dog is in a nervous state of mind and they are with your dogs, you don’t know the dog yet, and you are setting them up to fail. When dogs are nervous or fearful, they can overreact which in turn can create a fight. Safety is very important. Please understand that if a dog was fine in a different house with other kids/dogs/people etc., it does not mean they are good with kids/dogs/people in your house unless you are bringing the same kids/dogs/people from the other house to replace yours! Dogs are individuals just like people, be polite to them and let them get used to your home environment in a slow, regulated manner.
Decompression is imperative because each home has different smells, different sounds, different everything, so the dog needs time to adjust. Keeping the crate as a positive is a must, never use the crate for punishment. If you are wanting to correct the dog, please think first, “will the dog understand what they are being corrected for?” This is where timing comes in. Unless you catch the dog in the act, the correction holds no value for most dogs. In all honesty, to the dog, you coming home and flipping out over something done even 30 minutes prior just makes you look unstable to the dog. We, as humans can say to the other human, “Why did you do this?”, and get an answer. It doesn’t work the same for dogs.
Don’t Get Manipulated
If a dog is crying in the crate it can be for several reasons, but timing is important here as well. If the dog is crying and you immediately open the door, you are teaching the dog that if they cry, the door will open. People panic and think that the dog has to potty and that is why they are crying. If one person opened the door because of crying, this has given dogs an opportunity to understand that crying = freedom. Instead, wait for the dog to quiet down for 15 seconds, then open the door. This will associate quiet with freedom. This is Classical Conditioning aka Pavlovian theory.
Dog Decompression Success Factors
Here are several ways to set the dog up for success when it comes to the crate:
- Always give your dog an opportunity to potty before going in the crate, especially when they are younger. Have them go potty as soon as they leave the crate.
- Give them something special to chew on only in the crate.
- Teach a few different crate games.
- Keep the crate as positive as possible.
The Decompression Process
The proper way I like to decompress a short-term foster is to decompress the dog at a minimum of 48 hours per week you are planning to have them. After decompression, this does not mean that they are free to mingle, there still needs to be structure. Still encourage crate time and allow short increments of play. Each play session needs to start and end on a positive note, so it may only be 5 minutes in the beginning, but with each session, it can be increased.
The age of the dog helps to speed the process of decompression, the younger the dog, the shorter the decompression. Just because you are home, this doesn’t mean the dog gets freedom that whole time. They need to earn more freedom by the choices they make. While there is not an exact rule guide for decompression because each dog is different, there is a range. As humans, we try to humanize a dog, but dogs are not humans. Dogs are man’s best friend, but please don’t get that confused and think dogs have the same wants and needs as humans.
The Benefits of Dog Decompression
Decompression and allowing for an adjustment period are by far the most underestimated aspects when adopting or fostering a new dog. Many people are confused as to why decompression is different from your everyday crating. Decompression means to lessen pressure and that is exactly what you are doing for the dog. There are a lot of pressures put on dogs when they go from one home to the next or from a shelter to a home. The dog is going into a different environment and each place has different rules, different dogs, different sounds, etc. It is scary. So the decompression is allowing the dog to acclimate without the pressures of watching its own back. Throwing a dog into an environment is not fair without giving it some information via decompression.
Dog Decompression in Detail
- Crates are a containment system that people should use daily for a number of reasons. I like to do at least 48 hours of decompression per week that you are going to have them. Halfway in, start watching for body language changes. If you are going to have a long-term foster, like 3 weeks or longer, you want to do a minimum of 6 days.
- Transport, change in human energy, stress, and nervousness are hard on the dogs, so evaluate after 3 days. The standard was 10-14 days a few years ago, but now that is considered excessive in my experience and not practical. Halfway in, watch for breathing patterns, the way they are looking around if they are eating while others are around (while they are in the crate), tightness of lips if they are sleeping while the others are active around them, and calmness. You want them to relax so they aren’t holding their breath, have loose lips, sleep while others are around, and are active. The same goes with eating. You want them to be able to eat without concern (in their crate).
- Start to ease them into social activities. 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there. Start interactions positively and end them positively.
- If a puppy is under 6 months, they are usually in decompression an average of 2-3 days. Dogs that are older have gained preferences for things and don’t acclimate as quickly. I’ve worked with dogs with abuse in their past so they take a little longer. The big thing is to watch for those things I have listed regarding napping, eating, eyes, breathing, lips, overall stiffness, etc, and go from there.
If you are questioning the completion of decompression, take a video and rewatch it. It’s a great way to check progress. When a dog comes out of decompression, this does not mean to throw them in with the rest of the crew. That is a recipe for disaster. Go slow. If you have specific questions, you can always reach out too. If you don’t decompress, you are setting the dog up for failure. Does every single dog need it? No. But if you don’t do it, I hope you are a dog professional. If you need help finding a trainer in your area, please leave a comment below or contact us here. For any other dog-related questions also check our pet business site.