Bringing home a dog is usually an exciting time for the humans involved, one that we may continue to celebrate annually memorializing their “gotcha day”.
A novice pet parent may go to the internet for information so I searched on the big wide web to see what kinds of information pops up as tips. A few common ones include:
- Get supplies (e.g. dog bowls, leash, collar, bed/crate, toys);
- Suggestions on feeding, like try not to immediately switch their food; and,
- Take them out for frequent potty breaks.
While this may be a moment of celebration for pet parents, for the new dog it can be stressful and even a scary time of transition. Think about how you might feel if you were put, maybe for the first time, into a weird moving container and watched the world speed by you not knowing where you were going or what was happening. Upon arriving at your new home, you are bombarded by new smells and information overload. Maybe there are tiny humans at this new place who dash around erratically and make weird sounds. Depending on the individual dog, all this newness may be a lot to cope with, be a bit overwhelming, and even intimidating.
The common tips are certainly practical, however, we can do so much more to directly address a dog’s need for safety and security. Being more aware of these two needs and intentionally taking steps as you welcome your new dog may go a long way to support them during what can be a stressful time with lots of unknowns.
A prior Pet Harmony blog post explained 14 categories of dog enrichment; I’ll reiterate here how we define safety and security:
Safety means physically being out of harm’s way, regardless of how you feel about a situation.
Security means feeling like you are safe, regardless of whether or not you are.
When I searched on “Tips for bringing home a new dog”, some of the initial websites that came up identified tips that would fall under the safety category including safe transport of the dog to your home. Things like not taking a detour on the way home, e.g. to reduce the risk of your dog bolting from the car, dog proofing your home, e.g. removing poisonous house plants a dog might try to eat or blocking access to a storage area containing things you don’t want your dog getting into. Far fewer websites mention security which may be critical given the tremendous novelty of the situation for the dog.
It may be surprising to new pet parents especially those who have adopted a dog from a rescue or shelter that their new dog may not feel secure. It’s easy to assume since the dog now has a loving forever home where food is readily available, as well as toys, treats, and even a dog bed that you’ve covered the bases. But safety and security are different issues. Just because you think your dog is safe, e.g. you’ve dog-proofed the house and he can’t scale the backyard fence, it doesn’t mean you’ve addressed security.
In perusing the internet, one website didn’t use the word “security” but did mention that interpersonal relationships are an important element to help a new dog. I loved reading this. Security in an environment is often related to relationships. A dog may not feel secure because their relationship with you and the household is new.
Steps to Enhance Security
Let’s go back to the common tips mentioned earlier. Several mentioned getting a dog bed and putting it where you want them to sleep at night but here’s the rub, dogs are crepuscular (think twilight creatures who are more active at dawn and dusk) so besides getting a good night’s sleep, they like to have a siesta. We may identify a spot in our bedroom for the dog to sleep at night, but it’s also useful to consider at least one or two other spaces in the house to be their safe space, not only for siestas but a place to duck out to when the neighbor’s rambunctious kids come over or guests, in general, come over or to settle when you head out the door.
Let’s imagine you organized a dog bed in your bedroom plus put a mat in the kitchen off to one side and put another dog bed in your spare craft room. Your new dog probably didn’t get the memo that any of these locations could be a designated safe spot. We can help build positive feelings in these locations by giving your dog their stuffed kong, bully sticks, or favorite treats in this space. Generally, a safe space location should be a quiet spot, an area where they won’t be bothered if they want to be able to chill without disruption, for example, a space where scary guests won’t come in to greet them. Dogs are individuals and have preferences so as you get to know your dog you may find a preference for a location that you originally didn’t think to designate as a safe spot, or you may need to adjust the configuration of how to make it comfy (overstuffed bed vs cool feeling mat). One of our dogs likes the cozy feel of a den atmosphere so her safe spot is a kennel which is always kept open and an attractive cover that a friend made which keeps it dark; it sits in our walk-in closet where there isn’t traffic.
Creating a safe space doesn’t mean that you’ve also instantaneously instilled feelings of security even with the most cush setup. Like with relationships, it comes over time with predictability and consistency. Your dog needs to trust that they can be comfortable in that spot, good things happen there, not scary stuff. We want the dog to willingly choose to use the space because the location feels good to them.
Maybe your dog is not new but in reading this you realize that they don’t have a safe space. It’s never too late to help create one to support another category of need and continue to improve your dog’s overall welfare.
- Assess your dog’s current safe spaces, and make any adjustments that will help them feel comfortable and secure there!
- Check out Enrichment for the Real World Episode 5 – Creating a Restful Environment for Our Animals. Allie and Emily share even more tips to build up your pet’s safe space.
- And if you’d like some personalized help, we’re here for you!