The 3-3-3 Rule for Bringing Home A Rescue Dog

A small white short-haired dog with brown around it's eyes and ears is standing in a kennel with it's front feet up on the cage wall.

Are you considering welcoming a new rescue dog into your family? Congratulations! While this is an exciting time, the adoption process can be a challenging one. Be prepared to help your dog transition to its new life with the 3-3-3 Rule for bringing home a rescue dog!

The process of adopting a rescue dog starts long before bringing your new best friend through the front door.

It starts with the research involved with finding your perfect shelter dog including the right age, breed and temperament for you and your family. This includes searching for a reputable rescue organization to adopt from.

You dedicate your time to carefully puppy-proofing your house while carefully working your way through a checklist to ensure that you have everything, he/she will need.

However, what many new dog owners fail to recognize is that the ‘heavy lifting’ is what comes when you bring that adorable rescue dog into your home.

Rescuing a shelter dog is truly a rewarding experience, but you have to be prepared for the adjustment phase (and it’s not always easy).

Related: ‘Find the Best Shelter Dog for Your Family by Following This Advice!

Place yourself in the shoes of your potential rescue dog for a few moments, and it’s easy to see why you need to be prepared to approach this time with patience and understanding.

Many of these dogs have lost a family member in some way (including potentially having been abandoned by the one that they trusted most). Some have experienced unimaginable abuse or neglect, while others have run the streets fending for themselves for far too long.

It is going to take time for these dogs to adjust to life in a happy, loving home.

This process may not go as smoothly as you would like, but with time and patience, you can develop a bond with your new dog that is built on trust and love.

The 3-3-3 Rule is a general guideline that is used by many in the world of animal rescue to explain the adjustment process and create realistic expectations for those bringing home a rescue dog.  

NOTE: This guideline is NOT a guarantee. No two dogs are the same and no two dogs will react in exactly the same way. This is a solid starting point to prepare yourself for the first few months with a new rescue dog.

Stay open-minded and pay attention to the queues from your dog to determine how quickly they work through each of these stages.

The 3-3-3 Rule for Bringing Home A Rescue Dog

3 Days

The first three days are incredibly overwhelming for your new dog. Everything in their life is changing all at once which can create feelings of anxiety and fear.

It is NOT uncommon for a dog to shut down in the early days, retreating to safety in a create, under a table or behind a couch.

Try to be patient as your new dog learns to navigate your home, schedule, family, and surroundings. It is a lot to learn and take in all at once!

Remember, he/she doesn’t know yet where they are permitted to go to the bathroom or what they are allowed to touch. For this reason, they may break some of your ‘rules’ or have accidents in the first few days. They are still learning.

It is not uncommon for a dog to refuse to eat the first day or two in a new atmosphere.

The best thing that you can do for your dog at this stage is to provide a ‘safe space’ that they can retreat to when they feel that it is necessary.

This could be a crate (with the door kept open) or a quiet room that has little to no traffic. To create a feeling of comfort in this space, try to include something familiar in this space such as a blanket that they were sleeping with while in the care of the rescue or a favourite toy.

Related: ‘Adopting a Dog vs Buying From a Breeder: What’s Right for Me?

Fear and anxiety aren’t the only common responses at this stage. There are also many dogs that will be overwhelmed with excitement for their new life.

Your new rescue dog may simply be SO excited that he/she doesn’t know what to do with it. They are surrounded by new scents, sounds, sights and experiences.

This can cause unpredictability, bursts of high energy and even out-of-character destructive behaviour.

Take a deep breath! Whether you’re dealing with fearful behaviour or extreme excitement, this will get better. Bringing home a rescue dog can be a challenge, but you can do this!

Try to establish the start of a routine by feeding and walking your dog at specified times as well as creating a predictable bedtime.

This will give your dog the structure that they need to start getting used to life in their new environment.

3 Weeks

After you have worked through the initial shock and excitement, it’s time to start the process of adjusting your dog to his/her new life.

It is during this phase that you will start to see your dog’s true personality coming out.

If your dog has been hiding, they will start coming out and wanting to spend time around your and your family. On the other hand, if they have been overly excitable, they will start to calm slightly and settle into their routine.

This is the time when you really start to implement rules for your home and how their life is going to look moving forward.

Will your dog be allowed to get up on the couch with you? Will they be sleeping in your bed, in your room on their own bed or in a crate?

Not only do you need to have the answers to these questions, but you need to be clear about what is acceptable in your home and set some boundaries for your dog.  

Related: ‘Top 10 Reasons to Adopt A Senior Dog

Pay careful attention to any behavioural issues that remain consistent throughout these first few weeks.

While many personality quirks from the initial adjustment will start to fade away, those that remain will likely require training and even professional assistance to overcome.

If at any time you are feeling overwhelmed by this process, contact a professional dog trainer for assistance!

3 Months

By this stage in the adjustment process, your dog has likely accepted the fact that they are officially ‘home’.

They have an understanding of the basic routine in your home. This includes not only when they will be fed and what times they will be taken out to go to the bathroom, but also when you will be coming and going.

Throughout the first 3 months, you have built a bond with your dog and he/she knows that you can be trusted and relied upon.

In addition to feeling comfortable with you, they are also starting to be comfortable around others in your life including friends and family.

This level of comfort means that you should have a clear understanding of your dog’s personality.

If you are still dealing with any behavioural issues that have not been resolved in the first 3 months, it is time to consult a professional for assistance.

Already working with a professional? Continue following their advice and working towards a solution.

A small white short-haired dog with brown around its eyes and ears is standing in a kennel with its front feet up on the cage wall. Text reads understand the 3-3-3 rule for bringing home a rescue dog.

Have you ever heard of the 3-3-3 Rule for bringing home a rescue dog?

Rescue parents, what tips/tricks do you have for those that are looking at bringing home a rescue dog for the first time? Share your advice in the comments below!

About Author

Britt is a digital/social media marketer and the owner of The Social Alternative. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending her time with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. A proud pet mom, she shares all her pet-related tips, tricks and funny pet antics on Shed Happens.


  • Charity
    March 2, 2021 at 7:22 pm

    Thesis such great advice for bringing home a rescue dog! Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information!

  • Jenny in Neverland
    March 3, 2021 at 7:05 am

    I’ve never had a rescue dog but this is a great blueprint to keep on hand for if/when you do get one. I’d love to get a rescue at some point in my life x

    • Britt
      March 3, 2021 at 4:57 pm

      Rescue dogs have SO much love to give and they often get a bad reputation simply because people expect them to be settled and act ‘normal’ the moment that they enter their house. Having reasonable expectations and showing some patience and understanding can make a world of difference for these pups. I have had rescues all my life – some adjust quickly while others take time to fully accept that they are now in a happy, loving home for the rest of their lives.

  • Shyla
    March 3, 2021 at 10:05 am

    This is really informative and I am again going to bookmark your post. Some people don’t consider the amount of time it takes for an animal to adjust to its new home and surroundings. This makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing Britt!

    • Britt
      March 3, 2021 at 4:56 pm

      It’s so important to be patient and understanding during the transition. I just want people to realize that their rescue dog being nervous or ‘off’ at first isn’t a sign of trouble – it’s just a stage in their process of adjusting to their new home.

  • Rosie Ireland
    March 3, 2021 at 10:27 am

    Excellent post! I see so many people think that a dog will just come home and sit and be cute. There is SO much more to it!


    • Britt
      March 3, 2021 at 4:54 pm

      There really is, especially for those that may have had a troubled past. I had to work hard to gain the trust of some of my rescue dogs throughout my life. That being said, it was 110% worth it every time!

  • Helen
    March 3, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    I have not heard of this 3-3-3 rule before but it makes so much sense. The thought of people buying a puppy because rescue dogs are “too much trouble” breaks my heart. The first dogs I had were two rescued Jack Russells. One was just a dreamboat of a dog but the other was much harder work but totally worth it for all the doggy love.

    Tea in the Tub

    • Britt
      March 3, 2021 at 4:53 pm

      Going into the experience with reasonable expectations is SO important. If you consider what they may have been through, it should come as no surprise that they often take time to adjust to their new home.

  • Danelle St. Clair
    March 5, 2021 at 9:09 pm

    This!!! This needs to be printed and handed out with every adopted pet! It kills me when people give up on their newly rescued pets or don’t have the patience to put up with the adjustment. Rescued pets are (in most cases) the most grateful and loving pets. It’s a completely different bond. I advocate for pet rescue and my heart and passion is with senior rescues. Some rescues come so easy and adjust immediately, but most don’t and it needs to be understood that it can take months before they settle in.

    • Britt
      March 6, 2021 at 8:08 am

      Yes! I am pretty open through this blog and my associated social media that my girl Daviana is my ‘heart dog’, that one dog that you have a deeper bond and connection with than any other. That being said, our bond was built through working through the challenges in the beginning together. She still has some quirks from her past (and they are heartbreaking) but I have never had a more loyal dog in my life. She’s my best friend!

  • Marjorie at Dash Kitten
    March 5, 2021 at 11:43 pm

    If you get a rescue you need to know ‘stuff’ and be prepared (as the boy scouts say). Just bringing it home and expecting it to be a part of your family is not going to work and you need to put effort into making it a real and loved part of your family. Don’t expect all the pieces to fit – but have fun learning about each other 🙂

    • Britt
      March 6, 2021 at 8:04 am

      Exactly! Honestly, I am often drawn to the rescues that need a little extra work for a variety of reasons, simply because I know that we can provide that. It took some work to help my girl Daviana adjust, for example, but the incredible bond and relationship that we have was formed while working through that together.

  • Tiffany
    March 6, 2021 at 11:02 am

    Great information! We went through this with each of our rescues. We joke about them faking being perfect the first three months (they were all timid and scared) to trick us into falling in love with them before they started causing problems! It is important for people to know that it is a longer process than you think!

    • Britt
      March 8, 2021 at 8:23 am

      Definitely! Our boy struggled with a submissive urination issue which made it difficult for him to find a home that would last. However, by being patient with him and showing him that he was truly safe in our house, he was able to work through that. Today, we rarely have any issues (except for when he is WAY too excited lol)

  • Ruth Epstein
    March 6, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    Great Post as there is so much to think about when rescuing, I only rescue and tell people to really think about many things before rescuing a dot as it is long term not short term.

    • Britt
      March 8, 2021 at 8:20 am

      Exactly! When you commit to bringing that dog home, you are making them a promise that you will be there for them for the rest of their lives. It’s not a commitment that should be taken lightly.

  • Lori Bosworth
    March 6, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    These are great tips for people adopting rescue dogs. My brother adopted a rescue dog, Zeffie, and it took Zeffie a few months to get used to his new home and family. I think creating a safe space for your rescue dog is an excellent idea!

    • Britt
      March 8, 2021 at 8:17 am

      We definitely saw a significant shift in the behaviour of all of our rescues as they adapted to our home and realized that they were safe here. It does take a little extra time, however, it’s completely worth it!

  • Kamira G
    March 7, 2021 at 11:42 am

    I have never heard of the 3-3-3 rule however having fostered cats and kittens I can see how these rules apply. I’ve had the same experience. The first few days they do shut down and are scared and have anxiety however with a reassuring tone and safe space after a week they do start to let their guard down. It’s great advice to have people remember to put themselves in the shoes (paws) of the animals. They have oftentimes been through a traumatic experience so patience and understanding go a long way.

    • Britt
      March 8, 2021 at 8:15 am

      Exactly – You can’t force the adjustment to happen instantly. However, in time, you can reassure them and show them that they are safe in their new home. Safety and security are often huge factors in terms of what a rescue pet is looking for. They want to know that they are safe in their new home, allowing them to open up and bond. At the same time, they want to know that they are here to stay.

  • Jana Rade
    March 7, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    You broke that down so well. It seems to depend on the individual dog(s), though, I think. Even our latest, Cookie, needed all but 24 hours to make herself at home with us.

    • Britt
      March 8, 2021 at 8:13 am

      It is definitely dependent on the individual dog. This more of a framework for realistic expectations. Beyond that, you have to let your new rescue dog lead the speed at which you work through this. Some will adjust far quicker while others will need a little extra time to work through the adjustment process.

  • Cathy Armato
    March 7, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    I have not heard of the 3-3-3 rule specifically, but you are so right about this! I’m really glad you mentioned that a dog have likely lost a home, may have been neglected or mistreated, etc. So many people don’t realize this and wonder what is “wrong” with their new dog. It definitely takes time and patience, but it’s so worth it! Such a great post!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • Britt
      March 8, 2021 at 8:12 am

      I love both of our rescue dogs SO much, but they each carried some baggage from their former lives. We had to be understanding of the challenges that they were facing and support them as they adjusted to their new lives and realized that life here in our house is different from what they left behind.

  • Sophie Harriet
    March 8, 2021 at 6:21 am

    I had never heard of the 3-3-3 rule before but it’s such a good system to follow to help a rescue dog settle in! I imagine a similar timescale would work for a rescue cat too x

    • Britt
      March 8, 2021 at 8:11 am

      Yes, definitely. Obviously, every pet is different. Some rescue pets will work through this process much faster than the 3-3-3 Rule allows while others are going to need more time. However, it’s a great starting point!

  • Carol
    March 10, 2021 at 8:36 pm

    Rescuing can be so rewarding but can have its challenges. Working with a reputable rescue or shelter is important. Great info!

    • Britt
      March 11, 2021 at 12:49 pm

      Working with a reputable organization can definitely make a world of difference. Any good organization will be there to support you through this time of transition, offering advice and guidance where they can to improve your chances of success.

  • Doris Jean
    March 11, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    This rule is a great starting point because don’t always know what you are getting into when taking on a rescue dog. Like you mentioned, I would opt to go with a reputable organization.

    • Britt
      March 11, 2021 at 4:43 pm

      Trusting a reputable organization is SO important. For example, when we brought Indiana home, we had a really good idea of his overall personality and some of the ‘quirks’ that we were going to have to work through.

  • Stella
    March 11, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    This is such valuable, useful and realistic information, especially for those of us who haven’t had a pet in a long time. We assume it will all go smoothly and forget about the patience required to successfully adjust a new pet to a new home. There should be a course in bringing in a new cat or a new dog home and how to go through the adjustment period, which seems to be a deciding period of whether the pet will find a happy forever home or not.

    • Britt
      March 12, 2021 at 6:49 pm

      It’s definitely a process and can make or break the success of an adoption placement. If someone goes into it with the expectation that it will all go smoothly, they are likely going to bring the dog back soon thereafter.

  • Lyosha
    March 12, 2021 at 3:34 am

    very useful. Dogs need a lot of patience and I have to admit I only followed the 3-3 rule, allowing my dog to have 3 days to scared and out of place and waiting for 3 months to make the dog feel home and safe. never payed attention to 3 weeks stage actually, when I have a new dog I will make sure to follow it (however I do hope it will not be soon)

    • Britt
      March 12, 2021 at 6:45 pm

      Based on what I’ve seen, you did a great job in helping your dogs adjust to living in a happy, loving home 🙂

  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)
    March 12, 2021 at 6:24 am

    I had never heard about the 3-3-3 rule before, but it is such great information! Adjustments when bringing a pet home can be difficult during the transition phases, especially in the beginning. I love how you stress patience and understanding, as they are a huge requirement to helping a new pet, especially a rescue, make it through and become comfortable in their forever home.

    • Britt
      March 12, 2021 at 6:40 pm

      A happy, adjusted dog doesn’t come without a little time and effort, but it is worth it! Our pups both needed some time to feel comfortable enough to allow their true personalities to shine through.


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