Fostering and adopting an adult dog from shelters has always been my thing. It’s why I became a dog trainer. I saw a big gap in treatment in shelters and rescues, as they tended to focus on the medically fragile dogs, but it was frequently a lack of training that landed adult dogs in shelters in the first place.

new dog, adult dog, bringing home, dog training, crate training, sleeping, socialization, vaccines, positive reinforcement, decompression, Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga County
Photo Credit: Jae Russell

Another reason adult dogs were returned was that new adopters weren’t quite prepared for what can happen the first few weeks of bringing home Fido.

There are many lists out there of the basic equipment you need. So, we won’t be going over those things here. We are however going to talk about how to make those first few weeks go a lot better for everyone.

Some shelters and rescues will send off new adopters with the advice to allow their newly adopted dog to “decompress” but no real explanation of what that is, or adopters are so excited about Fido the advice falls on deaf ears.

We leave the shelter with Fido on a flimsy slip lead and head directly to the pet supply store. We buy all the things on the necessities list. Then we head to get a bath. Then we head to grandma’s house to introduce her to our newest family member. And then we stop at a busy patio for dinner and drinks because we’re all tired and hungry.

And then Fido starts barking and lunging “out of the blue” and maybe he attacks our resident dog.

Our excitement got in the way of thinking that maybe as wonderful as Fido seems he might be stressed out from his time in the kennel, he doesn’t trust us yet, and now we’re carting him all over town. He finally snaps and back he goes to the shelter. Where the shelter staff is told he was aggressive for no reason and injured a dog. Because of the incident he now has a dog-dog aggression label making it harder for him to be adopted. 


According to to decompress means to release from pressure or compression. If you and I need to decompress from a stressful situation we call it self-care and take a hot bath, get a massage, or maybe take a road trip. For dogs, we obviously do some other things. 

First I recommend that after you sign the adoption papers you leave the dog at the shelter for another day or two. While you’re waiting to pick up your new dog get your shopping done and get everything set up.

Before you leave to pick up your new dog, put all your other animals away. Do not take them with you to pick up your new dog. Bring your new dog directly home.

Once home, allow them to explore the house. Show them outside, where their food and water is, and where their bed is. Do not expect too much from them. They may want to play, they may want to sleep, they may need more time to explore the house. Whatever you do, just don’t try to force them to do anything, especially meet your other pets.

There is no set time frame for a dog to decompress. Typically however we have found it to be between  1 to 4 weeks. We have to remember that dogs that are in shelters have gone through a lot of upheaval and stress recently. If they were picked up as a stray, being lost is scary for most dogs. The shelter is a stressful place, no matter how nice or not nice the shelter is. Then coming to a new home, with new people, and potentially new animals is stressful. So, we need to give them time to adjust and decompress.

Here are some tips and tricks for helping your new dog decompress. 

  • Stay at home. Dogs need a chance to just have some quiet time. Please keep your dog at home and do not have a lot of people over. They need the time to get to know your home, you, your routine, and your expectations.
  • Do not introduce your resident pets to your new dog. Allow your new adult dog and resident animals to just smell each other for at least two weeks. When that two week period is up, allow them to start seeing each other. I will write another blog in the near future about integration. For now, however, just take things very slowly with integration.
  • Allow your new dog to sleep. Many dogs do not get restful sleep while at the shelter and just like us, when we’re exhausted, we get cranky.
  • Engage your adult dog in de-stressing activities.
      1. Stuff Kongs and other hollow chew toys 
      2. Feed your dog out of a snuffle mat
      3. Take your dog on walks around your neighborhood, allowing them a lot of time to sniff their surroundings
      4. Toss treats out into your yard for them to sniff out 
      5. Roll treats into a tea towel
      6. Crumble up packing paper or put empty TP rolls in a box along with treats or kibble
      7. Give them massages – make long, slow, medium pressure strokes along each side of the spine. 
  • Schedule an appointment with a well-qualified positive reinforcement trainer. After your new adult dog has started to feel more comfortable and you both are settling into your new routine, I suggest scheduling an appointment with a trainer to ensure that you’re setting both yourself and your dog up for a successful and happy relationship. Establishing a relationship with a trainer will also be beneficial to you and Fido in the long run.


As you and Fido start to settle into your new relationship and routines your love and bond will begin to grow. And, as always, if you have questions or things aren’t going as well as hoped, contact us at Sits n Wiggles and we can help guide you through.