April 19, 2023

First Time Dog Owners, Do You Know The Rule of 3s With Shelter Dogs?

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Helping Your Rescue Adjust To Life In Your Home

After a long search, interviews, tons of internet research, and asking friends and dog professionals for advice, you’ve finally found the rescue dog of your dreams! All you have left to do is sign the adoption papers and bring them home.

But you may be wondering, now what? What happens now that you’re a proud adoptive dog parent?

When shelter dogs are adjusting to life in a new home, we like to observe what’s known as the Rule of 3’s to track how they’re doing with the transition.

The 3’s are the first 3 days, the first 3 weeks, and the first 3 months.

The first 3 days are considered the “detox period.” This is a major transition for your rescue. The home environment is entirely different than their life in the shelter. It’s going to be much more welcoming, warm, and exciting for them.

At 3 weeks, your dog’s true personality starts to emerge. This may be when you first begin to notice behavioral issues. Many of these can be resolved with regular dog training, but if there are signs of deeper issues, it’s best to begin working with a professional trainer around this time to address them.

After 3 months, you and your dog are on the path to being lifelong besties. They should be fully comfortable in your home, their new routines, and leaving shelter life behind as a distant memory.

We’ll breakdown what to expect at each stage and make sure your dog’s adjustment period goes as smoothly as possible.

But before you welcome your new friend into your life, there are a few things you need to make sure you’ve taken care of, like dog/-puppy proofing, buying supplies, and planning out your dog’s daily routines.

We’ll walk you through all of that too, so you can ensure your dog has a great experience coming into your life and home.

Checklist: Is Your Home Puppy-Proof?

Before you bring your new dog home, make sure you’ve done a thorough job dog/puppy-proofing your space.

If you have young children and have already baby-proofed your space, you’re ahead of the game. You might find it’s a very similar process for our favorite companions. Even for older dogs who’ve lived in homes before, it isn’t easy to know how they will adapt to a new environment or if they have had adequate training beforehand.

Overall it’s best to be 100% sure you’re ready for business, so go through each room in your home and run through this checklist:

Pick up any small objects that could become the targets of opportunity for a dog to chew on or swallow. This means shoes, children’s toys, books, etc. Veterinarians report that their most frequent surgery is removing objects from a dog’s insides, so if you have things small enough to swallow on the ground or low standing tables, it’s best to tidy them up.

Hide any electrical wires hanging out in the open that a dog might get tangled in or be enticed to nibble.

Some houseplants are poisonous to dogs, so it’s a good idea to keep any hanging stems out of harm’s way.

If you have any outside space you’re planning to let your dog exercise in, then make sure it’s fully enclosed, there are no holes in your fencing, no areas they can easily dig under and that all gates are sturdy and secure.

Other To-Dos

Set up your dog’s crate in a quiet space like a spare room or your bedroom. Some new owners don't like the idea of keeping their dog in a kennel, but a modern crate helps to create an environment that provides your dog with a safe place to retreat when necessary. Locking the crate at night works to give your dog structure and discipline, which they need to balance out their new freedom.

There is a right way and wrong way to use the crate, and we get into more in-depth detail in the next blog in this series. To get started, look into the recommendations for your specific breed and determine what size crate would be appropriate. Many models can be adjusted in size as your dog grows too.

Remember, a crate is a positive place for your dog and you never want for your dog to view the crate as anything but their own little safe space.

Be ready with other necessary pet supplies like food and water bowls, leashes, poop bags, and of course, plenty of toys to play with and chew on.

The First 3 Days

Ok, so now you’re all set up, and it’s finally time to bring your dog home!

As mentioned above, these initial days are a “detox period.” Shelter life is tough for dogs. They don’t get the level of care and attention they do when placed with a family. It’s a big transition for them, and they’re going to need your support.

They’ll have tons more freedom to explore and new people to form relationships with. Compared to shelter life, they’ll be able to play and romp around as much as they want!

It’s an incredible time of joy for you and your first real chance to bond with your dog as a member of your family.

However, this time can also be overwhelming for your dog. The introduction of new people, stimuli, and routines can be too much for them, especially if your dog had an extended stay at the shelter and became used to that way of living.

It’s not uncommon for a dog to have irregular sleep habits during the first few days in your home. Some dogs may take frequent naps, and others might be balls of energy and unable to settle down. Others might have issues with their appetite and will be hesitant to eat or drink at mealtimes. They may get skittish and hide in their crate or under furniture. Some will have anxiety-related diarrhea or vomiting.

These behaviors are all completely normal and not necessarily a sign of deeper behavioral problems. For digestion-related issues, a probiotic may be helpful but consult your veterinarian for recommendations. We also recommend feeding pureed pumpkin or slippery elm as these can help soothe the majority of digestive related issues.

This is a time to be patient and understanding with your dog. There’s so much for them to learn and adapt to as they become comfortable in their new home. Each new sight and smell will be unfamiliar and can cause them to feel overwhelmed. It takes a long time for your dog to decompress from their shelter experience and come to feel safe with you.

Having a crate set up in a quiet area can give them that safe space to retreat to if needed. Some owners like to place a blanket on top of the crate to block some light and make it feel more like a den. Cozy blankets inside a crate also provide additional comfort, as do chew toys and stuffed friends. Allow your dog to access this area during the day by leaving the crate door open for them to come and go as they please.

Don’t worry if your dog is spending a lot of time alone during these first few days, don’t push them to socialize with you if they’re not ready. If your dog is hesitant, take a slower approach to introducing more elements of your home and family. Keep them from entering certain rooms and introduce them to new locations one at a time. You can also do the same with family members, so they have time to get to know each person individually.

Being prepared with a daily routine for your dog will go a long way to establishing a structure for them to adapt to.

Have a daily plan for you and your dog covering wake-up times, meals, and scheduled walks. Of course, additional potty breaks may be required, but as you learn each other’s internal clocks creating some scheduled times to relieve themselves begins to set a rhythm for your dog’s life.

You don’t want to fall into the habit of them being able to interrupt your schedule for theirs.

Create a daily time that you’ll set out meals for your dog. In the first few days and even weeks, they may not eat as soon as the food is offered, but given time to adjust, many dogs will become less food-shy. However, if your dog is disinterested in their food, that is okay! Dogs will never actively try to starve themselves and will choose to eat when they are hungry. If your dog chooses not to eat within the first ten minutes or so, pick the food bowl up and try again at another meal time. They will come around soon enough! Free-feeding or letting a dog graze takes a lot of our ability to engage and connect with them, not to mention; it is the leading cause of resource guarding issues & canine obesity.

Also, set aside some time for training on basic commands with their meals, as opposed to treats. This only needs to be 5 minutes or so to work on “sit” or “come” commands.

Additionally, be sure to give yourself and others in your family some time off from doggie care. This is for your benefit as well as your dog’s. Dogs need time to learn how to be alone in your space and to entertain themselves as well. It’s good for your dog’s sense of independence and is an integral part of their transition.

If you have to leave for work, do not make a big deal of saying goodbye or hello when you return. You want your dog to experience your comings and goings as no big deal and just a fact of life. Dogs prone to separation anxiety get nervous when their owners leave their presence, and we want to avoid triggering any in your pet.

If your dog gets hyper-excited when you return home, you don’t want to return their energy at that moment! It can be hard when they’re extra adorable, but you don’t want to reinforce this behavior as it can lead to issues down the line with separation anxiety.

Be ready to reward them frequently for properly following any aspect of your home routine. After training sessions and walks are great times to reward your dog with affections and some play time.

The first 3 days are a critical time for you and your pet, but follow this advice, and you should be off to a smooth start.

Introducing Your Dog To Children And Your Other Pets


If you have children, they’re going to be over the moon with excitement about the new family pet. If you grew up with a dog of your own, you could probably relate. Kids and dogs can form some of the closest bonds as they get to grow up together and explore the world.

However, children need to understand boundaries for their new friends and how to be safe when interacting with them. Most dogs won’t bite without giving several warnings, so be sure your children know what to do if they encounter a situation where your dog gets too aggressive for them.

Make sure they understand that a dog is a living being and not a toy. They should never hit, pinch, or try to ride your dog, no matter the size difference between dogs and children.

Always supervise your children when they’re playing with your dog until they’re mature enough to be responsible. Dog’s are an excellent way to teach kids how to be responsible for themselves and others, but you should take care of your dog’s needs and make sure you advocate for them in the beginning.

It’s a good practice to introduce your children to the dog before you bring them home, so they’ve already made a first impression. When you bring the dog into the house, they’ll be seeing a familiar face again.

A few other pointers for child-dog harmony:

  • If your dog is anxious, give them a break from playtime with the kids until they’re at ease again.
  • Let your children know not to bother your dog while they’re in their crate. That’s the equivalent of being in their bedroom with the door shut.
  • Don’t let your children take your dog’s toys, and be sure to teach your dog that your children’s toys are off-limits too.

Other Pets

When introducing an additional pet into your home, it is a bit of a different process than when you had an emptier nest.

It’s a good practice to introduce your dogs to one another outside of your home first, preferably while walking together. When dogs can meet and interact side-by-side, it’s less likely to trigger anxiety or territorial behavior. Walking together also emphasizes their relationship as members of the same pack.

Allow them time to get to know each other and perform the ceremonial sniffing of the rear ends. This will go a long way to them acclimating to one another as housemates.

A slower introduction is best, and it’s ok to crate your new pup while your long-time dog is allowed to roam free like they usually do. Don’t change your older pet’s routine because of your new one. You may just have to pull double duty for a while until both pet’s schedules have synced up.

They may not necessarily become best friends, but you want them to at least get along without any issues.

If your other pet isn’t a dog, a lot of these same rules will still apply. If it’s an animal that remains in a cage or enclosed space, make sure your dog cannot harm them or interfere with their business.

The First 3 Weeks

At the 3- week mark, your dog is hopefully getting used to the routines you’ve set up for them for eating, sleeping, training, and potty time.

Now is when more of their real personality should start emerging.

This is also the time when behavioral problems will start making themselves known. Many minor behavior problems can be sorted out with some basic balanced obedience training. Still, if they’re showing signs of deeper issues, it’s best to consult with a professional for some more one on one assistance.

You should begin a more formal training process here and be clear on what boundaries you’ve set out for them. Do you want to allow them on the furniture? Will they keep sleeping in their crate or a doggie bed? Will you allow them unsupervised outdoors time? These are a few suggestions of home rules for you to think about.

The First 3 Months

After 3 months, this is when dogs have a real sense that they’re at “home” and not just on a fun adventure with a cool and caring human. You may still be dealing with some behavior issues, but you should have a training plan and support from a professional at this point. If not, be sure to correct that immediately.

What’s next?

Keep getting to know your dog and share your life with them. Make sure you take the time to make special memories and take pictures too.

If you have any questions or concerns about how your dog is doing during any part of this transition period, feel free to send us a message using the bubble below. You can also reach out and schedule a training evaluation with our team.

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