Adopting a Rescue Dog: How to Help Them Adjust to the First 3 Days

When introducing a new member of the pack to your family, it is crucial to plan ahead and have the knowledge of how to navigate issues as they present themselves. A simple way to understand this process of getting your rescue dog adjusted and comfortable in its new home is called the 3–3–3 rule. This rule will help you understand the decompression process that your new furry friend will go through in the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months at a new home.

During the first 3 days, your newly adopted dog will be feeling extremely overwhelmed. It will be completely normal for them to act scared, rarely eat or drink, hide in a crate or under furniture, and test your boundaries with their behavior. Because of this, it’s important to prepare both your home and your mindset for your new friend. Let’s go over what you should do to prepare before rescuing your new furry friend and review a plan for the first 3 days of your furry friend’s new life in your home.

Preparing Your Home for Your Newly Adopted Dog

1. Dog-Proof Your House

Take a walk through your entire house (or apartment) to make sure there are no enticing items for your new dog to chew. This includes hanging wires, clothes, shoes, food, and other small items (If you have a child, it is the same as baby proofing!). By removing these objects, you avoid the temptation for your dog toy chew or eat something that It should not, and avoid having to correct him/her at an early stage!

2. Walk Your Property (if applicable)

Make a point to walk your property a few times before bringing your newly adopted dog to the home. Use this time to make sure there are no areas that your dog can escape from, including holes in or around the fence! Also take the time to ensure there are no unwanted debris in the yard, and that all gates are closed and latched properly.

3. Purchase a Crate or Designate a Quiet Space

When bringing a new dog into your home, a crate can be an excellent tool to allow your dog a quiet space to decompress. This tool can represent a safe place, and if trained correctly can help your dog feel more comfortable in an uncertain environment. It is important to note that a crate should be used as a TOOL. This means that once the dog is comfortable, you have the option to get rid of the crate and never use it again. However, it is an extremely useful tool in the beginning that will make the life easer for you and your dog. Midwest Homes For Pets has an excellent crate kit to get you started

If you are not comfortable using a crate, then designate an area or room in your house for your dog to have his/her “quiet place”. This means that when they are in this area, the idea is to keep them calm and let them have their own space. It is crucial to foster independence early on, so that separation anxiety does not manifest later down the line.

4. Purchase Necessities

This is the most fun part of the process! Now it is time to pick out a collar, leash, food/water bowl, and of course…. toys! To get an idea of some products we use on the job, check out our Trainer’s Picks Blog.

Another important necessity is dog food! The best way to make sure you are choosing the right food is to research some of the top brands and understand their ingredient list. Dogfoodadvsior is an online database of every dog food individually rated and reviewed! Here is an awesome list to get you started.

Preparing Your Mind

How to Build a Relationship with Your Rescue Dog

Whether you have been a previous dog owner or is this is your first time, it is crucial to understand to how to speak dog! That means understanding how to build a relationship and effectively communicate with your furry friend. This is going to pay huge dividends, as being able to mark, reward, reinforce, and correct your dog is crucial.

Luckily, we have got you covered! We have additional blogs to help you understand canine behavior, including how to properly correct your dog, and how to build a leader-follower relationship.

In addition, we have a full guide to help you become the leader of your dog and integrate them successfully into your pack.

The First 3 Days:

1. Pick Up Your Dog and REMAIN CALM

It is going to be extremely tempting to want to greet your newly adopted dog with excitement and love when you pick it up and transport it home (or when it is delivered). However, now is NOT the time for that… at least not yet! Since you are about to remove the animal from a familiar place and take them somewhere new, calmness and clear direction are essential to set the tone and establish the relationship on the right foot.

It is important to note that during this process, that same calm energy you portray in the initial meeting should be continued for the next 3 months and on. This does not mean there cannot be moments of excitement or affection, but overall that calm energy should be radiated at all other times!

2. Take a Walk

Once you arrive home, keep your dog on the leash and take it for a long walk around the neighborhood. The purpose of this walk is to:

- Drain surplus energy and help integrate them into the house without being hyper/too energetic

- Establish the initial boundaries of the relationship, including how to walk properly and how to listen

- Acclimate and adjust your rescue dog to their new environment, including smells, sights, and sounds for different dogs and their families in the neighborhood.

If you are having any issues with leash pulling or not being able to control your new furry friend, I highly recommend investing in a gentle leader as a training tool. This tool can be used initially to help fix bad habits and establish good ones. In addition, once this behavior is mitigated, the gentle leader can be phased out and they can resume walking again on a regular collar!

3. Take the Tour

Once you have concluded your walk and your dog is worn out, it is time to bring them into the house! At this time, do NOT take off the leash yet. We still want them to be following us, and we do not want to let them sniff or wander. If we give them free reign immediately, we are sending the wrong message as the leader of the pack. Use the leash to keep them close to you, and slowly bring them from room to room. Spend a few minutes in each room, and make sure YOU leave and enter first. Every new area is an opportunity to establish leadership and train them to follow your lead! Once the tour is finished in your home, feel free to repeat the same steps if you have a backyard, patio, or other outside area.

Continue the tour around your home while trying to ignore your dog. Petting, eye contact, and talking are not recommended, as your dog is already extremely overstimulated at this point. It is in a brand-new environment with brand new people, so the less stimulation you create, the better it will be for the integration process. By remaining quiet, calm, and slowly leading them into each room, you will establish your leadership and help the dog stay focused on you.

4. Establish Boundaries

Once the tour is complete, it is now time to establish some basic boundaries for your new dog! Continue to lead them on leash to their feeding area, where you can let them have some water and a few pieces of food (or treats). This will help create the boundaries of the feeding time and establish an area that your dog is familiar with.

Once the feeding area has been introduced, take your dog to its bedroom. If it has a crate, I would begin by introducing it and letting your dog investigate. This could mean smelling, walking around, or just being curious. Feel free to open the crate and throw some treats or a bone in the back. Your new dog may just want to waltz right in after them! If they settle into the crate, feel free to remove the leash and shut the door. This will give them some time to decompress. If they seem anxious you can always leave the door open and allow them in and out access. The best way to acclimate them to a crate if they have never seen one is to feed them in it, put something comfy in it, and load it with treats!

If you have chosen to not use a crate, now is the time to let your dog off the leash and let them investigate the area. By releasing them from the leash, you are clearly reinforcing that this area belongs to them! If they immediately lay down or ignore the family, do not worry! This means you did the process correctly and they are already comfortable in the pack!

At this point your dog should now be familiar with the layout of the house, as well as the boundaries. I encourage you to limit the amount of freedom you give the first few days by shutting doors and / or having some rooms off limits! In addition, continue to foster that calm environment for your dog by not overwhelming it with attention and affection. You can acknowledge them if they are craving interaction, but do not go overboard with love yet! While it may be tempting, remember that giving your dog too much affection at this time could later lead to separation anxiety when you’re gone.

In this critical time your rescued dog is still adjusting to the home, so you must remain calm to teach them that this is YOUR territory and YOU make the rules. By using your affection as a resource to reward them when they do something good, during the first 3 days you will send a strong message that will resonate with them in the language of dog!

Setting a Routine for Your Newly Adopted Dog

Over the first three days your dog may not eat or drink, may act funny, and will still be getting used to the environmental change. At this time, it is crucial to establish a daily routine so your dog can understand the expectations. If you keep your routine consistent, you allow your dog to understand what is coming next in the day, and therefore reduce anxiety and stress. Here is an example of the daily routine we follow at our facility! An easy routine to follow if you are just getting started is to repeat this process three times a day:

Daily Plan for Your Newly Adopted Dog:

repeat 3 times daily

Wake up / get ready to walk
on your terms, do not let them wake you or interrupt you from doing other things

Go for a walk
30 minutes to an hour — do not let them pull or lead the walk

Work on some basic commands
only has to be 5 minutes! Sit, wait, down, etc.

Feed (or treat if it is the afternoon)
make them sit and wait for their food if possible

after a walk, some training, and a meal is the BEST time to shower your dog with love

Ignore when entering / leaving
if you are off to work in the AM, or coming home in the PM, make sure to ignore your dog! If you get excited and say goodbye, you will get them evicted right before you leave. This can cause separation anxiety!

Additionally, if you come home from work and they are standing at the door, jumping, and/or super excited to see you- IGNORE THEM! If you acknowledge them and give affection at this point, you are positively reinforcing all the wrong behaviors, as well as creating an opportunity for separation anxiety to manifest later down the road.

By following these steps, you give your dog the greatest chance to succeed and decompress in its new environment. This process takes time, but by following this advice you mitigate a lot of the issues that can rise when adopting a rescue dog to be your new furry friend. If you are having any present issues acclimating your dog to the house or establishing the leader-follower relationship, sign up for a free behavior assessment!

Originally published at on April 26, 2020.

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