September 9, 2021
How to Help Your Dog Adjust to a New Environment
When your dog first experiences a new location or environment, there’s no way of knowing how they’ll react.
New sights, sounds, and smells could make them fearful, aggressive, or over-excited, but with the proper training and introduction, most dogs will quickly adapt and start taking every new location in stride.
Some environments are more challenging than others. In a city for instance, there’s a lot of noise and commotion, whereas at a dog park there’s an abundance of exciting stimuli, like other dogs, humans, and toys. In this article, we’re going to look at what you can do to help your dog adapt to these two different locations.
Walking through the inner city can be overwhelming for humans, so imagine how your dog feels the first time they experience all the noise and commotion of the city streets.
Their senses are getting an endless barrage of new sights, smells, and sounds. Loud noises, like a garbage truck doing its rounds, could cause your dog to start barking or lunging at the lead, trying to escape the assault on their sensitive ears.
Of course, we regularly see dogs strolling around the city, looking completely at ease with the situation, so what’s the secret?
Don’t expect your dog to instantly adjust to a new environment. Give them time to acclimate without being overwhelmed. When you first take your dog into a city, choose a quieter time of day when there’s less traffic and fewer pedestrians. Sunday mornings, when most people are off work and the stores are closed, are a good option.
Introducing Your Dog to the Inner City
Start by taking your dog into the city for short periods of five to 15 minutes. Take plenty of treats along, so if they do become anxious or fearful, you can reward them and start to build a positive association with whatever is causing their concern.
For example, if someone zooms past on a skateboard, causing your dog to jump and bark, reach for a treat and get them to focus their attention on you instead.
Repeat this every time your dog reacts to something, be it a loud noise, an unusual object, or a fast-moving cyclist.
Even on a Sunday, you probably won’t be lucky enough to have the streets all to yourself, so you’ll need to teach your dog how to respond to other people calmly, even if they’re not particularly keen on strangers.
While some dogs love attention and don’t care where it comes from, others are more reserved. Keep a close eye on your dog and watch for signs of distress or anxiety. If they seem uncomfortable with a specific person, ask them not to approach.
Don't forget — you’re not only your dog’s best friend, but you’re also their number-one advocate.
You may also need to get your dog used to unfamiliar objects and surfaces.
They may find their first encounter with slippery paving terrifying or start barking the first time they see a person in a wheelchair. Be prepared for this reaction and use counter-conditioning training to change their emotional response to different triggers.
Keep your trips into the city center brief to start, bearing in mind that even if your dog hasn’t exerted themselves physically, the mental strain will wear them out.
Getting to Know the Dog Park
Although most dog parks are considerably quieter and less chaotic than the city streets, there are still lots of stimuli that may cause your dog to react.
Other dogs are the primary concern, although there will also be a fair number of people and children around, not to mention all the toys they brought along to entertain their dogs.
Before you head off to the dog park with your dog at your heel, make a solo evaluation first, finding the safest and quietest park in your neighborhood. Ideally, look for one with a separate off-leash area that you can avoid if your dog seems uncomfortable or overly anxious.
Choose an off-peak period, like early on a weekday morning, for your first visit to the dog park as this will give your dog the chance to get acquainted with the new location without the pressure of meeting lots of new dogs at the same time.
Once you’ve established the time and place, it’s time to prepare your dog for the experience. Some basic socialization and training will go a long way to helping your dog cope with his new experience. It will also give you more control over the situation.
When you arrive at the dog park, pause at the gate for a moment before you enter, giving your dog time to take in some of the sounds and smells coming his way. If you give them a small reward or treat at this point, it will help you keep their focus once inside.
Keep your dog on the leash as you enter, and pay attention to the behavior of other dogs around you and how your dog is reacting or interacting with them.
If they remain calm, reward them, and allow them a bit more time to soak up the atmosphere.
If your dog starts to become anxious or over-reactive, calmly leave the park, once again stopping at the gates to give them a treat. If they calm down, you can always go back inside, or you can leave and try again the next day.
Only when you’re confident that your dog is relaxed, well socialized, and capable of reliable recall should you let them off the leash. Don’t let them wander too far away however, and continue to pay careful attention to their body language and that of the dogs around them.
Introducing your dog to different locations can be a rewarding experience for both of you. It gives you the chance to bond with your dog and share new experiences with them.
Be aware that new environments can be frightening for some dogs or cause them to become overly excited, so make sure you have some basic training in place before heading out. If your dog is struggling with reactive behavior in public and needs a more in-depth approach to stop barking and lunging, check out Spirit Dog’s Tackling Reactivity Online Class.
Basic obedience, such as coming when they’re called, greeting strangers politely, and walking quietly on the leash, will all make introducing your dog to a new location more enjoyable for everyone involved — especially your dog!
For more information on the best training tips for your dog visit Spirit Dog Training.