Just like children or adults in new environments or situations, dogs need time to adjust to new people and surroundings. This is often referred to as decompression. The rule for this time frame is the 3-3-3 rule. Three days for initial decompression, three weeks to learn the routines of your household, and three months to start to feel relaxed and at home. When you adopt, foster, or are a new pet parent, it’s especially important to consider.
Their life, from their perspective, has likely been turned upside down, and if they are coming from a shelter, this may not be the first time recently. Although your first instinct may be to smother them with love and affection, the best course of action is to give them some space and let them come to you. Although every dog and every situation is different, it may take more or less time than the information reflected here. Over the next few entries, let’s break this down to basics.
The First Three Days
The first three days at your home, the dog is probably nervous and uncomfortable. Use of a kennel will help with your success and will always be the best place to reduce overstimulation and give them a safe place to relax. The kennel should not be a punishment tool, but used to manage their time when you cannot be focused on them and what they are doing. Dogs sleep much of their day and although no dog should be confined indefinitely, they will appreciate short breaks away from it all.
Make sure you also allow for some supervised play. Supervision is key because the dog doesn’t know your rules and you aren’t sure just yet about the dog’s behavior.
Keep in mind during those first few days that your dog may have a reduced appetite, vomiting, or loose stools. While the two latter may be painful to deal with, it should be a short term issue. Reach out to your adoption coordinator for assistance if you are working with a rescue.
The First Three Weeks
Three weeks at your home, your dog will start to become more familiar with the routines of you and your household. During this time more of their personality will surface than you have seen before. Call the dog by their name often so they start to realize, “Hey they are calling me!” If you haven’t already, set up a feeding schedule that you try to maintain. This consistency helps you and the dog, especially if you are housetraining. Make frequent trips outside so your dog understands when and where to relieve themselves.
The dog will start to relax more and may test some boundaries. Use the kennel to assist you in these times and remain calm. This may be a good time to get in the habit of putting things like shoes away and redirecting them to toys they can chew. If your dog is fully vaccinated, has been on a leash, and you feel confident, a short walk where you allow them to stop and sniff until their heart is content will help them. You may want to start just walking your dog around in your yard or an approved area near where you live. It may just be a few minutes to start until you both are comfortable. Make the walk about the dog and not just a task to check off.
At this point, remember that “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing” as I was reminded a few months ago. This is where the kennel can be a benefit when you are too busy to have eyes on them. Work with the dog on a long line leash if you do not have a yard, calling them and treating them so they learn coming to you is a very good thing.
The First Three Months
Three months at your home, your dog should be relaxed and starting to trust you. Your work may not be done. Although many people do quite well at teaching their dogs the basics of obedience, there is a lot of value to checking in with the rescue or a licensed professional if there is something you are not sure about. They can make great recommendations to help you succeed.
There are all types of different techniques for training dogs. Be sure to find a method you are comfortable using. I have had various dogs through various training programs including city trainers, pet store trainers, at home trainers, and even a boarding training facility where my dogs were for two weeks. All of these methods can work, but unless your trainer is willing to train the pet parent, it may not be the success that you hope. The dog will learn, but your consistency is the key. For example, when I am working in the kitchen preparing food, I like for my dog to lay on a rug by the backdoor. In my mind, I decided that I was not preparing food, I was ok with her walking into the kitchen. Wrong answer. My trainer reminded me that dogs don’t have the ability to know the difference, in the kitchen is in the kitchen. Or jumping on Mom is ok, but not a guest. It’s a work in progress.
We hope that these tips help you during your first 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months and well beyond! Please feel free to comment with the ways you have helped your pet feel at home during their decompression period.