So you’re getting ready to welcome home a new dog … Congratulations!! This is a very exciting time for you and your new best friend! There are a couple of things you should prepare for that will help the whole family during this transition.
Giving your new dog a decompression period is a really important part of helping them transition to their new home. Decompression is a calming period that your dog needs when first coming home. It helps to first imagine the situation here at the rescue. We take great care of all of our dogs but the reality is a shelter environment is loud, very active and can be stressful. Before arriving here, many of these dogs were in different shelters and then took long transport trips to New York. Now, you are taking your dog home to new people, sights, smells, sounds - an entirely novel environment. Even though these changes are good, it can be a stressful transition for your dog.
This stress may manifest in different ways. Your dog may be fearful and shy at first or often they are extra excited and want to run around exploring everything and may seemingly be unable to settle down. They might hide, they might pee in the house, they might chew something they’re not supposed to. Remember, this is all new and they don’t know the rules of this place yet.
So why is giving your dog a decompression period important? By being patient and giving them time to settle in before asking too much of them - you are setting your pet up for success. You want your dog to learn that when they are with you and in their new home that they are safe and won’t be pushed past their point of comfort.
How do you do this? What should you prepare for? A framework that we love is the Rule of Three which refers to what you can expect in the first three days, three weeks and three months of having your dog.
This is the initial decompression period where your home is new and exciting and different. Your dog may be shy and scared or more likely they are going to be extra excited and will have trouble settling down and resting. This period can feel overwhelming for you and for your dog. You don’t know what to expect from each other. Your dog doesn’t yet know where they go to the bathroom, what they’re allowed to chew, where and when they get their food - and they may test boundaries to find out. Sometimes they won’t eat or drink for the first day or two which is normal.
The key here is to take things slow and be patient. Imagine if you had just moved into a new apartment or to a new neighborhood. You’d probably like a couple of days to settle in, get used to your surroundings, and make yourself feel comfortable. How would you feel if on your first night your new roommate invited all their friends over or your neighbors hosted a party on your front lawn? This type of excitement, though well intentioned, might feel stressful. Think about the same with your new dog.
We recommend keeping things calm and not introducing your dog to too many new people or places. In the first few days, don’t invite all your friends over to meet them, wait to take them to the groomer and take trips to the pet store by yourself. Spend time, just you and your family, bonding with your dog, taking walks to show them where to use the bathroom, and stay close to home. Be patient and gentle as your dog explores their new world.
By this point your dog is learning the lay of the land. Most dogs thrive on a routine, so if you feed them at the same times everyday you may start to see that a couple minutes before dinner they are standing near their bowl or giving you extra longing looks. By building a routine for your dog, they will learn when they can expect to be fed and when they are able to go outside during the day. This helps with house training and may help your dog relax.
This is also when you will likely start to see their personality come out. If you adopted a shyer dog, they will probably start opening up and maybe start playing. If you adopted a high energy dog that had trouble settling down, you may start to see how they behave when they feel safe and calm. Additionally, during this period you’ll get an idea of what behavior problems (if any) are going to require training moving forward. This could be a dog that is going to need more house training, more guidance on what they are and are not allowed to chew on or some consistency with leash training so they don’t pull. Training is an excellent way to bond with your dog and help them learn your expectations. You can work with a trainer or find great resources online to help you through this process (we’ve listed a couple resources below). Being patient and consistent with your dog through this stage is key.
After three months, most dogs understand that they are “home.” They are now able to show off their full personality and form a bond with you. Your dog will probably have settled into your routine and will understand most expectations. You may have completed some initial obedience work by this point but training is an important and lifelong process with your dog. Continuing to build a positive relationship through consistent work is an incredibly rewarding experience.
The Rest of Your Lives
The Rule of Three framework is a general rule of thumb. Each dog is an individual with different behavioral needs. Some may skip through these steps quickly and others might take longer than three months. Before adopting, it’s good to be prepared for all of these timelines and to remember that taking home a dog is a long term commitment.
Our final recommendation during this entire process and beyond - you might have guessed it - patience! Your dog will have undergone some huge changes in the last couple of months. Stay calm. Take a deep breath when they make a mistake. Keep doing the work to make them feel safe and confident with you. With patience and consistency, you’ll be able to experience one of the most rewarding parts of rescuing a dog - seeing how their personality flourishes as their bond with you grows.
Dog Training Resources
Zak George’s YouTube Channel provides great videos that will teach you everything from loose leash walking to teaching your dog to sit:
The Spruce Pets pulled together this comprehensive article about how to train your dog with links to different training guides: