Welcoming a rescue dog into your home
December 8, 2021
First off, we’d like to say a huge thank you for choosing to adopt: whether you’ve adopted from overseas or your local shelter, giving a rescue dog a second chance at happiness is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.
Now that you’ve decided to adopt – and might even have a dog reserved and waiting for you! – you’ll likely be wondering what the next few months have in store: How long will it take my dog to settle in? What can I do to support their transition from street > shelter > sofa?
Give them time
If we had to choose just one piece of advice for any new adopters, it would be to give your new arrival time and space.
Some dogs may take days to feel comfortable enough venturing into your garden, others might not be ready for a walk for several weeks; but all of them will appreciate the extra time and space you give them to decompress and start processing their new surroundings.
That said, all dogs are different so it can be tricky knowing what’s “normal” and what’s not (spoiler: there’s no such thing as normal!!) which is where the handy 3-3-3 rule comes in.
What is the 3-3-3 rule?
The 3-3-3 rule represents the phases or ‘milestones’ that your dog will go through during the first 3 days > 3 weeks > 3 months in their new home. Just like when we start a new job or move to a new school, things can be unfamiliar and daunting so it’s important to be mindful to these milestones and how you can help your dog overcome them with confidence.
So, let’s break them down:
- Likely to be feeling: Overwhelmed and unsure
- Likely to behave: Finding a safe space and sticking to it (this could be the crate they arrive in or under a table, wherever feels safe, secluded and quiet)
In the first few days, everything will be new to your dog. Even if they’re coming from a foster home or the most wonderful shelter (ahem, like our Farm – even if we say so ourselves) the people, surroundings and routine are likely to all be different, so don’t be alarmed if your new arrival hides, refuses food or avoids you altogether – and try not to take it personally!
So, what can you do?
During this time, it’s best to stick to a routine as much as possible: your dog will feel much safer, much quicker if he can successfully predict what’s coming next. That means no visitors or impromptu band rehearsal in your living room! Instead, maintain a calm household as much as possible and offer meals at regular intervals.
- Likely to be feeling: Familiar and comfortable with your routine
- Likely to behave: Letting their guard down might look like initiating play, accepting treats or venturing into your garden
Now that your new arrival is not so “new”, they’ll likely be feeling more comfortable and accustomed to the routine you established earlier on. In terms of behaviour, there’s a good chance they’ll be venturing out into the garden, enjoying mealtimes and initiating play.
Letting their guard down might also start to reveal some unsavoury behaviour issues, so now is the time to establish boundaries with regular, short intervals of training. It’s crucial that, at this stage, the whole family are on board with what is and isn’t expected of your dog – for example, are they allowed on the sofa?
While your dog might be starting to feel more comfortable, it’s a good idea to keep stimulation to a minimum where possible. This might look like sticking to the same, quiet route for walks; not introducing your dog to family and friends (and their dogs!) just yet; and keeping visitors to a minimum. After all, this is your time to bond with your new arrival!
- Likely to be feeling: Secure, bonded and comfortable in their new routine
- Likely to behave: Excited at the appropriate times – like at dinnertime! – and relaxed at the appropriate times – like in the evenings.
At 3 months, most dogs will know they are “home”. Providing your routine has been stable, they’ll be able to successfully predict daily events like mealtimes and walks, and actually start looking forward to those moments: a sure sign of a happy dog!
It’s unlikely their behaviour will be 100% perfect (show us a dog who is!) but that’s where managing expectations comes into play. If there are particular areas where your dog really struggles, now is a good time to reach out to a reputable, aversive-free behaviourist for support.
3 days: likely to be feeling overwhelmed and unsure
3 weeks: getting to grips with routine
3 months: well on their way to feeling secure and bonded
It’s important to note that the 3-3-3 rule is only a general guideline. In truth, there’s no way of guaranteeing how long your dog will need to adjust and settle in: for rescues especially, their life up until this point has been full of uncertainty and hardship, so expecting them to adhere to a strict timeline is unrealistic.
So, don’t be alarmed if your dog takes 6 months, 1 year or sometimes even longer to be totally at ease with all aspects of their new life. After all, having a dog is a lifelong commitment signposted by many different phases and challenges, all of which you’ll navigate together, side by side as a team: and it’s one of the most rewarding journeys you’ll ever go on!
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