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Bringing home a new dog is exciting. However, this massive life change can also be stressful, for both dog and human. So what should you do in order to help your new dog feel less nervous? While a bit of insecurity during the "getting to know you" stage is normal, there are plenty of ways to ease the transition. In fact, helping your dog calm down and feel more comfortable in her new digs is an important part of the welcoming process.
Here are several tips on how to ease the nervousness of a new dog who is transitioning to life in your home:
Give Your Dog New Space
Here's a common scenario: A new dog is brought home and everyone is excited. The dog's new humans fawn over her, lavishing her with attention and affection, while also posing and snapping photos. The dog may initially appear happy and energized, but by the next day, she's starting to act nervous around her new family.
While it's normal to want to touch and cuddle with your new dog, any smothering type of behavior may result in the dog becoming overwhelmed or even scared. Thus, instead of heaping attention and love onto a new dog, it's best to give the pup some space instead. Once inside your apartment or house, allow your dog to sniff and explore the area freely. If applicable to your living situation, block off any rooms or floors of your home that you don't want your new dog to have access to. By letting your pup wander around unencumbered by human attention, she'll have the space to become familiar with her new surroundings. She'll also be able to watch, study and smell her new family, thus becoming comfortable with you on her own time.
Establish A Daily Routine
Like most humans, dogs have a need for a daily routine, especially when placed in a new living situation. Without an expected schedule of events, dogs may feel insecure, confused, frustrated and—you guessed it—nervous. While no one expects you to execute your dog's regime in a militant fashion, having a standard way of doing things will help your dog feel more comfortable in their new life.
A routine, of course, must be made based on individual responsibilities and needs, but many dog owners start their day by walking or running with their dog. Getting a new dog out of the house for "work" first thing in the morning will help ease any anxiety they have. Considerations for when your dog gets fed and goes outside to use the bathroom also need to be made. An afternoon and/or evening walk or other outdoor physical activity will also help your dog shake off her nerves. Whatever routine you develop, your dog will be grateful for knowing that their needs will be met, day after day.
Limit And Monitor New Interactions
Socialization is vital in the life of any happy and balanced dog. That said, during the first couple of weeks when a new dog is still getting settled into your home, it may be best to keep the social engagements to a minimum. For the same reasons that you don't want to heap love and affection onto your dog on day one, too many new people in the house might overwhelm your dog. Instead, consider limiting your visitors while your dog is still in the adjustment period. When new people do stop by, consider asking them to ignore your new dog at first. By letting your dog sniff and be greeted calmly and quietly, these social interactions will get off to the right start.
Similar to meeting new people, also consider limiting social interactions with other dogs outside of those already in your home. It's great to have your new pup sniff and greet other dogs, but taking a new dog to a busy dog park on day one is a bit like throwing a child into the deep end of the pool. You'll want to first see how your dog gets along with others, as well as establish a trust and bond. That way, if she becomes overwhelmed, she knows who to turn to for help.
Introduce Your Dog To The Neighborhood
A great way to help a new dog feel more confident in her new surroundings is to take her out into the world. While some people may understandably think a nervous dog should be allowed to back into a corner or dart under the bed and hide, allowing this behavior to continue on long-term may be detrimental. Try taking your dog exploring instead. Give her the opportunity to feel acquainted with the place where she now lives. By leading a dog on a walk in a calm and confident way, they will start to dispel some of their nerves over time.
Just remember, if a nervous dog is allowed to lead (aka pull on the leash and walk far ahead of you), this may increase their anxiety. It's nerve-wracking to be in charge, especially when you don't know where you're going, or whether it's safe or not.
Connect With Your Dog Through Exercise
Letting your new dog sniff and get a feel of your home and neighborhood is wonderful. But it's also important to start establishing trust and a connection with your new dog. What's the best method for developing a new relationship with a dog? Exercise. As dogs are naturally athletic, forward-moving pack animals, exercising even the smallest or most senior of dogs is key. While your dog's safety and wellbeing should always be the top priority, taking a new dog on long walks or runs, if possible, will do wonders for building your relationship.
Not only will you be working together, side-by-side, but you'll also drain your dog's energy and frustration—two main contributors to nervousness. Remember that exercise can also include training, fetch or other play. While nothing replaces the mental focus and purposeful feeling of a walk, by engaging your dogs in other physical activities, you'll build a great new bond.
Note: If even after a short transition period your dog remains chronically nervous, or is highly nervous to the point of debilitating behavior, the situation may need to be addressed more seriously. Your new dog's fear or insecurity has likely been a longterm issue, and will require loving and confident rehabilitation. When in doubt, consider consulting with your vet or a dog behavioralist.
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