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The 3 3 3 Rule: Setting Your Rescue Dog up for Success

Written by Howie with help from Dr Joanna Woodnutt, a UK-based veterinarian, who has read the article and approved its accuracy.

The 3-3-3- Rule will have your pet acclimate like they have always been a part of the family.

The 3-3-3- Rule will have your pet acclimate like they have always been a part of the family.

What Does the 3-3-3 Rule Mean?

Experts in animal behavior have tracked and analyzed how rescued dogs behave. These revelations help arm new pet owners with knowledge of what to expect so they may set reasonable expectations.

The rule informs you what is going through the mind of your pooch during the first 3-days, 3-weeks, and 3-months of adoption. It’s an excellent way to track your dog’s progress and to adjust your approach if necessary.

Before we dig deeper into what the rule says, you’ve got to prepare yourself and your home for the new pet.

Preparing to Adopt Your Dog

Adopting a pet could be one of the most rewarding things you could do for yourself. Pets are known to provide more than just company. They are therapeutic. So, before you go to pick up your new pooch, prepare your mind and home.

Learn How to Communicate With Your Dog

To prepare your mind, learn how dogs behave and how to speak to dogs. If it is your first time owning a dog, you may think that we are nuts, but we are not. Dogs have a particular way to communicate with each other and with humans.

Learn their body language, different postures, and different sounds. Your new pup will likely feel anxious about leaving the rescue centre and being in a new, strange place, so it will help to know the signs and how to make him feel comfortable and secure. Research, learning, and patience will go a long way to help you connect with your new friend.

Dog-Proof Your Home

Also, prepare your home. Dog-proof the house and buy a comfortable leash. Find out which foods are suitable and buy enough dog supplies, including a calming dog bed. Don’t forget to check the yard for anything that should be off-limits or spots where he could sneak out.

It may help hanging out with a friend who owns a dog for a couple of days before bringing in your pet. You will learn more through hands-on teaching than what a book (or an expert) could tell you.

The First Three Days

During the first three days, most rescued dogs are scared, timid, and shy. Few would immediately gel and feel comfortable. The priority at this stage is to make the dog feel comfortable.

Let him know the ins and outs of his new home, and don’t be harsh.

What you can do during these first few days:

  • Set up a cozy place for the dog. Keep it off-limits to kids and other pets. Let him know that this is his spot where he can retreat. Throw in a couple of his favorite toys. It will help him to feel comfortable in the crate.
  • Start him on a routine. Have a regular time for when to eat and when to take walks. Be consistent and take him around the home and yard while on a leash. Don’t let him take the lead. Be firm but be gentle and caring. The little fellow is still timid and shy.
  • Don’t pressure him to socialize or overreact when he misbehaves. Give your pooch a break. He is still new and needs a lot of care and understanding.

The First Three Weeks

The first three days could be the most trying, but it is during the first three weeks when the dog begins to reveal its true colors. Some behavior issues may emerge. The dog may start to test the boundaries. It’s time for you to up your game.

Be loving, but firm and consistent. Here is what you can do.

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  • Give clear instructions. Be consistent with simple orders like sit, come, wait, and down. Avoid being emotional in your tone when you give instructions. Try as much as possible to be calm and maintain composure.
  • Know when to reward and when not to. If the dog misbehaves, be firm in your rebuke and take note of behavior issues.
  • Reach out to a professional for help on correcting errant behavior and training him how to carry himself.

Keep up with the routine and training for as long as it is necessary.

These rules are sure to help the honeymoon fly by.

These rules are sure to help the honeymoon fly by.

The First Three Months

New pups stay close to their mums for 8 to 10 weeks. During this time, they establish a life-long bond. You can be a mother to a newly adopted pooch for around the same period.

After that, he should have formed a strong bond with you and adapted to the new home as his permanent residence. He should be comfortable with the routines and know what’s off-limits.

What should you do?

  • Keep loving. Affection is an asset. It grows the bond, and there is no such thing as too deep a bond.
  • Keep training. It does not matter if the dog was rescued with significant behavior issues or had an easy time learning; keep training. Old dogs also learn new tricks.
  • Socialize him. Let him meet your friends more often and other pets. How he behaves in a social environment is a great way to test what he has learned.

Personal Experience

When we brought our rescue dog home, the shelter gave us some information on the 3-3-3 approach, which turned out to be so helpful. Our furry little friend is a Golden Retriever and has a history of neglect. When we adopted her, she was only 18 months old and was quite skittish and shy. However, she seemed so gentle, and we just fell in love with her. We named her Poppy.

During the first three days, we noticed how quickly Poppy seemed to calm down as we followed the guidelines for setting a routine and being firm, but super gentle. She still hid behind furniture a lot for the first day, but once we arranged a safe space just for her, she seemed to grow in confidence as she realised that she was allowed to retreat back to it any time she liked.

The next three weeks were much the same, as she remained fairly cautious, but thankfully, no problematic behavioural issues arose. The main challenge was helping her to come out of her shell, although, she did seem to push some boundaries by ignoring simple instructions, and we found that focusing on calm consistency was key. Any time that we showed frustration with her, she withdrew, so the advice regarding maintaining a calm composure was definitely on point.

The first three months for Poppy we saw a big shift and ensuring that we kept up with training and focused on socializing her made a big difference, too. She wouldn’t go near other dogs initially, yet after following the 3-3-3 rule for a couple of months, her anxiety lowered so much. Now we have this beautiful, playful and curious dog who may always be a little cautious, but is mostly confident and really well-behaved!

Final Thoughts

To conclude, the 3-3-3 rule is tried and tested by pet rescuers and dog behavior specialists. It is an excellent way to know what to expect and set your rescue dog up for success.

Do not ease up on the behavior training as some pet owners would do after the first three months. Some dogs could lapse back to behavior issues. Instead, be consistent and always in charge. Your relationship stands a better chance of survival.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Lady Dazy from UK on June 18, 2021:

I know people who have taken in rescue dogs and both dogs and people have been very happy together. The staff at the rescue centres seem to know which dog will be right for the new owner.

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