Adopting a new pooch from the shelter is pretty exciting for most new owners. This is especially true if you have been planning and preparing for a while and now the day has arrived. You have probably researched some rescue groups or visited shelters to find a good match for your family. Part of your preparation most likely involved buying some equipment, and food, and preparing your yard and home for your new special friend. You are ready, but do you know how long it takes for your rescue dog to adjust to a new home?
Most dogs are thrilled to leave the shelter and be free again, even if they are fearful, shy, or tentative. Just know, however, that it takes most dogs an average of three months to truly adjust to their new home. This may vary a bit and some dogs who have had challenging pasts may take longer. Let’s take a look at the adjustment process that most dogs experience.
1. The First Few Days Are Critical for Your Rescue Dog’s Adjustment
As the saying goes, first impressions are everything! If you have had a chance to meet your dog at the shelter or at her foster family home, you are already ahead of the process. Some new owners visit the shelter for a few days prior to adopting to just sit with a dog and offer some reassurance and familiarity. This may include just talking in a gentle, upbeat voice, bringing treats, or reading a fun children’s book (see my post about the benefits of reading to a dog).
Dogs are very food-motivated and even shy dogs will eventually warm up to a friendly hand full of yummy treats. Some people find that bringing simple dog toys from homes like old shoes or stuffed, tied-up socks can be helpful. These homemade toys provide something fun to play with and chew on. They also offer scents from your home, that will become familiar to your new pup and comforting when she enters your house.
Shelter staff and dog trainers often talk about the 3-3-3 Rule regarding the adjustment period of a newly adopted dog. This refers to the first 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months of a dog’s introduction to his new home. On average most newly adopted dogs are fully adjusted to their new surroundings after 3-4 months, although some abused or neglected dogs may take a little longer.
Dogs rescued from extremely abusive situations like labs, puppy mills, or horrible owners, will also require what trainers refer to as a decompression period. Most traumatized dogs will need several days to begin to recover, heal, and calm down after exposure to repeated or extensive abuse and neglect. Be sure to see my extensive post on How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog for more information about how to help your newly adopted dog.
Help Your New Dog Feel Safe and Secure
Moving into a new place is stressful for any dog, but even more so for a shelter dog. Her past experiences may have been less positive and she is not sure what to expect. Your dog will have a lot of big adjustments to make when moving into your home. Think about the last time you moved!
Additionally, some mistreated dogs may just want to hide under a bed or hang out in a corner of the room. Let her do this as long as she needs to. Coax her out with high-value food and treats like small pieces of boiled chicken, cheese, or soft dog treats. Put them in front of her and back away. Repeat this several times, but get a little closer and let her inch over to you until she eventually will take the treats from your hand.
This can also work well with a fearful, aggressive dog who snaps, growls, or barks when you approach. Be cautious and keep your distance. Leave treats and then just sit quietly across the room and don’t approach. Eventually, she will feel safe and become comfortable getting closer to you.
Here are some tips to help reassure your new dog:
- Speak in gentle, positive tones
- Allow your new dog time to check out your yard and home
- Stay by her side and let her explore your home on a leash initially
- Let her know immediately where she can go potty
- Reward, redirect but don’t scold or speak harshly
- Keep everything calm, low key
- Let your new dog have plenty of time to sniff and check out her new surroundings
- Be patient – accidents will happen
- Do not invite friends and other family members over for a while
Dogs love to sniff and investigate. This is how they establish their territory and learn about their surroundings. Sniffing is also a very calming activity for dogs. So, let them check out your yard first and then walk them around your entire house, but keep them close to you on a leash.
I made the mistake of letting my new dogs explore on their own, and one of them thought the guest bedroom was an appropriate place to pee! But I quickly showed them the places they were allowed to hang out and where it was appropriate to potty in the backyard. They were housebroken. However, they lived in a kennel for 9 months before I adopted them. So, they had to relearn a few rules regarding inside/outside behavior.
Don’t invite all of your friends and neighbors over when your new dog arrives. This will overwhelm her. Instead, introduce her to each household member one at a time. If you already have pets, keep them separated initially and introduce them through a doggie gate. Coming to your home is a lot for a dog to take in, so keep it simple and easy, and positive.
Establish Routines on the First Day
Mealtime — Food is the most important resource for any dog, which stems from their ancient history as wild dogs who spent most of their days hunting to avoid starvation. Therefore, make sure you feed your new dog at the same times each morning and evening.
My newly adopted rescue dogs kept waking me up really early in the morning for the first week or two. They were really anxious about getting their breakfast. They wanted to make sure that I had not forgotten that they were hungry!
The kennel staff had fed them every morning at 8AM sharp. If I was a little slow to get up in the morning they would begin to fidget and jump on my bed to let me know it was time to eat. But after 3 months, they adjusted and knew they would get fed every morning and evening. So, now, if I sleep in on a Saturday, they just keep snoozing without any worry of not getting fed.
Bedtime — For the first few days, try to establish other routines at the same time of day if possible like bedtime and getting up time. This will help your new dog anticipate what her day will be like. Just like humans, dogs thrive on structure and routine to provide normalcy for their daily life.
Walks and Playtime — Take your dog outside in your yard or for a short walk near your house at the same time each day. Don’t take her too far away from your home for the first few days. You can extend your walks with them later. Carve out a little playtime with your new pup every evening after dinner. This will become your fun time together, which your dog can look forward to. Eating is probably the most exciting time of day for a dog, but playtime and walks outside are a close 2nd!
Stay Connected and Don’t Leave Your New Dog Alone
Stay home with your dog for a minimum of 3 days while she begins to adjust to her new home. This will help to reassure her and allow her to get to know you.
And, if possible, stay home with her for a full week without going anywhere. It is really important to understand that your new dog has no idea if you and this new place will be a good thing or a bad experience. Since your dog has just started to connect with you, she may become terrified when you leave. She has no idea if you will come back. Remember, we have lives, work, friends, family, and activities, but our dogs only have us!
All of this will help with separation anxiety, which is very common in puppies and newly adopted dogs. Keep in mind, that until they have more time with us, they don’t know if we will come back and take care of them. The unknown is very frightening not only to dogs but to people as well.
Some dogs are terrified of being left alone and may act out by chewing, howling, digging, or destroying furniture. So try not to leave them in the beginning and after several days, go out for short periods of time until your dog gets used to the idea that you will be back.
2. The Next 3 Weeks — Slowly Let Your Dog Adjust to New People and Experiences
Once your new dog has become adjusted to your home, learned a few rules, and has a daily routine, you can very slowly introduce her to new things and people. Start by taking her for longer walks around the neighborhood. This will allow her to check out her immediate surroundings and get used to everyday noises. She will also begin to get used to the coming and going of your neighbors. As you encounter neighbors, you can start to introduce her to them.
But be careful with other dogs when your dog is on a leash. It is not normal for dogs to meet head-on, and they may feel threatened. Dogs prefer to meet off-leash and move toward other dogs sideways, so they can sniff, check them out, and run away if necessary.
After several days, you can slowly begin to introduce your new pooch to friends and outside family members, but do it one at a time.
3. The 3-Month Point — Bonding will Begin
Once you have reached the 3-month mark, your dog’s true personality will begin to emerge. She will begin to let go of her coping mechanisms and behave in a more normal way. This is when the fun begins! Your dog will open up to you and you both will become each other’s BFF! Connecting together through various activities will be key to this bonding process. Be sure to see my post on How to Bond with your Rescue Dog for tips about deepening this connection.
Outings and Playtime
Spending time together doing fun activities is key to your bonding experience. Think about your other connections to certain friends. What makes them special? Most of us develop deep bonds with others by sharing experiences. The same is true regarding our bond with our pups.
Make sure you schedule time each day to take your dog on an outing or have some quality play time, such as fetch or tug of war. Your dog will have this to look forward to and will deepen her connection to you.
Your dog will grow to appreciate and connect more deeply with you through activities such as going to the beach, hiking, and exploring new places together. Be sure to see my post, 14 Fun Outings for Dogs and their Owner for ideas about things you can do with your dog.
Every dog needs training regardless of his past experience or age. Start with simple commands such as sit, stay, off, and come. You can add specific commands that fit your needs and home lifestyle.
After your dog has been with you for three months, you can take her to dog obedience classes for basic training. Not only does this deepen the bond between you, but it helps to socialize your dog with other dogs. Classes are an excellent way to give your dog a “job” and occupy her mind. Your daily homework to practice will stimulate your dog and give her an engaging activity to look forward to.
Dogs really want to please and connect with us. But first, they need to understand what it is that we want them to do. Formal training is the perfect way to effectively communicate with our dogs. Obedience classes train both us and our dogs!
Hanging out Together Will Help Your Rescue Dog Adjust to Her New Home
Finally, make sure that you carved out a little time each day to just hang out and be with your special furry friend. Dogs crave social interaction, and we are their most important connection. There is nothing worse than adopting a dog and then leaving her alone for several hours each day and ignoring her when you get home. It is a very lonely existence for a dog who just wants to be close to you.
If you are gone during the day due to your job, take your dog to doggie daycare, hire a dog walker, or arrange for other family members or friends to check in on your pooch for potty breaks and play activities. And make sure you schedule some time at the end of each day to play, connect, and bond with your new BFF!