The 3-3-3 Rule: Set Your New Rescue Dog Up For Success


Bringing home a new dog is exciting, joyful, and often overwhelming. You worry about choosing the right food, how long potty training will take, and whether or not they will fit in with your lifestyle. If you are stressed, just imagine the anxiety your pup must feel!

Many rescue dogs have lost a family member or been abandoned by the people who promised to love and protect them. Some have spent years in an institutional shelter setting, while others are used to running free.

No matter your pup’s history, one thing is for sure: There will be an adjustment period.

Rescuers call it the 3-3-3 Rule or the Rule of Threes, and it’s designed to help adopters understand what their new pooch is going through. The hope is that they’ll overlook the awkward behavior, forgive the small mistakes, and allow enough time for bonding to occur.

Rescuing a shelter dog is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do if you can get through this initial phase.

How Long Does it take a Rescue Dog to Adjust?

Every dog is different. Some make themselves at home within days, while others need months to fully decompress. It depends on their individual demeanor and what they have been through in their past. Puppies tend to adjust quickly because they are still within their vital socialization period, but older, more timid dogs will need your patience to thrive.

Think of it as starting a new job or changing schools. Every single sight, smell, and sound is brand new. You don’t know the people, so you have no idea who you can trust, and you have yet to learn the rules. Everything is unfamiliar and potentially threatening.

The situation is even more stressful for rescue dogs because they don’t understand what is happening to them is for their own good. They go from a loud, frightening shelter to an unfamiliar home. They don’t know what is happening. It’s all out of their control.

The First 3 Days

What to expect:

Everything is new and completely overwhelming. Your dog is uncomfortable in their surroundings. They don’t know where to go potty, when to eat, or what they’re allowed to touch.

Expect your pooch to be timid and shy. Their body language will likely convey stress, with flat ears and tucked tail. Some may seek comfort from you, while others may avoid contact all together.

Do not be surprised if your new pooch refuses to eat for the first day or two. They may also suffer from stress-related diarrhea or vomiting. Veterinarians often recommend a probiotic to help rescue dogs make the transition into their new home.

How to make your dog comfortable:

Create a safe area in a spare bedroom, laundry room, etc. Set up a crate with the door open and cozy blankets inside. Your dog’s food and water should be right next to the crate for easy access. If there is a favorite toy or familiar item, keep it close by. This area should be off-limits to children and other pets.

Allow your dog to do what makes them feel safe. If they want to stay in their crate or hide under the table, that’s ok. Just let them know that you’re there and ready to socialize when they are. Speak softly and let them decide when they’re ready to greet new people and pets.

You should also begin creating a feeding and walking schedule your dog can look forward to and depend on.

The First 3 Weeks

What to expect:

Your dog is settling into their new routine and beginning to feel more comfortable. Barring any serious behavioral issues or emotional trauma, they should be socializing well with family members and other pets.

Best of all, your pooch should start showing their true personality – playing with toys, seeking affection, and finding their favorite spots around the house.

How to make your dog comfortable:

Now that your dog is beginning to come into their own, it’s time to start training. Be clear about what is acceptable and what’s not. Are they allowed on the furniture? Will they sleep with you or in their crate?

This is also when behavior issues may start to show, so be a strong leader and seek help from a professional trainer if you are overwhelmed.

After 3 Months

Your dog should now feel comfortable and secure in their new home. You’ve built a bond of love and trust, as well as a routine you can both rely on. Your pooch not only feels safe with you, but also with your family, friends, neighbors, and other pets.

If any emotional or behavioral problems still exist, you should continue working on them with a professional trainer.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Having a dog is a lifelong commitment marked by different phases and challenges. Remember to be kind, gentle, and above all else, patient. No matter what comes your way, iHeartDogs will be here with answers to hundreds of health and behavior questions as well as advice on making your pup as happy as can be.

Do you want a healthier & happier dog? Join our email list & we’ll donate 1 meal to a shelter dog in need!

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