Too often the news headlines involve children getting mauled by newly adopted/purchased/acquired dogs. Just today, Detroit news outlet WDIV-TV showed video of a Gordon Setter being led out of a home after it had "attacked" a 14 month old boy 10 days after its adoption. The boy was reaching to pull a toy out of the dogs mouth at the time of the attack.
This is a horrific accident for everyone involved. Adopting a new dog can and should be a very exciting time. From the time you first made the decision to adopt, to the time you walk your new dog through your door weeks or months have probably gone by. Time, money, energy and a lot of planning went into this moment, but too often, a critical step in the adoption phase is forgotten: Decompression.
You don't know this dog and the dog doesn't know you. The background of your new dog could be unknown, or perhaps it came with a detailed history from the original owner, but in either case, everything that is happening to the dog at this point is stressful, unknown and inconsistent.
Imagine you have been up-heaved from your life, to find yourself in a temporary housing situation without your prior knowledge or consent, and without knowing how long you'll be there. At some point, possibly soon or possibly after a long time, you meet someone new for a few minutes and find yourself going home with them. This is stressful! The thought is terrifying and yet this happens to dogs all the time! Dogs end up in rescue groups and shelters and this exact scenario plays out every single day all across the world for the "lucky" ones. The unlucky ones don't ever make it out of the shelter they came to.
When a new dog comes into your home it is not only important, but necessary to introduce your pet to you, your home and your life carefully. Your dog needs time with minimal exposure to stimulus, to unwind from the stress that they've just lived through and to give you and your home/family a fair shake. To skip the decompression stage of adoption is to rob your dog of the second chance it so desperately needs.
All dogs respond to stress differently, just as people do. Some dogs can decompress in a week or two, and other dogs could take a month or more to really start to settle and adjust. There are no magical timeline that will tell you how long you should allow your new dog time to decompress but experts state anywhere from 2-4 weeks is the minimum.
Decompression or lack thereof can't be the blame for every incident involving a new dog, but doing it properly helps eliminate that risk. Children should never be trying to take things from a dog, or be in the dog's space. Babies and kids shouldn't be allowed to lay on the dog, pull on it, climb it, pull tails or any of those other things that kids just love to do to dogs. Many parents believe these are cute interactions, but the dog may not be as enthusiastic and the child and the dog will be the ones to pay the price.
The take-away is this: new dogs must be introduced carefully, slowly, and with supervision. Children should never be left alone with a dog (new or otherwise!), and a dog needs time to destress after it comes home to a new household before any of the exciting "getting to know you" activities are planned.
Below are three examples of new adoptions that turned to tragedy. I intentionally left out any Pit Bull examples because it's easy to forgot that ANY DOG can bite and attack.
Links to some non-Pit Bull examples:
Links about decompressing new dogs: