Understanding the process of an adult dog adjusting to their new home
Adopting an older dog can be an exciting and rewarding journey as you welcome a new loveable fluff ball into your life. Before you consider adopting an older dog, you should understand the process an adult dog goes through as they settle into their new home. Comprehending what they are going through will make the process easier for you and the dog, create realistic expectations, and help you meet your dog where they are in their journey.
Each dog is an individual character, and they each have their own journey. How much time they need to adjust to their new home will vary from dog to dog, but the 3-3-3 Rule can give you some normal expectations and guidelines when bringing home a new adult dog.
The 3-3-3 Rule refers to the general periods of time a dog needs to get settled in: the first three days, the first three weeks, and the first three months. When your dog first comes home, everything is brand spanking new and different, and they need some time to adjust and get settled in. You want to give your dog the patience and space they need to get comfortable so they can thrive in the long run.
Every home is different, people’s personalities vary, and dogs have unique experiences and temperaments. It takes an older dog some time to get adjusted and comfortable with their new home, family, and environment. You can expect the following:
Three days of the dog feeling nervous and anxious, acting overwhelmed, and being fearful
Three weeks of the dog settling in and getting used to their new people and home
Three months of developing a bond with you and learning to trust you to feel comfortable and safe
You must be patient with an older dog coming into a new home. Let them have however much time they need to smell their environment, learn it is safe, and start getting comfortable. It can be a process for an older dog to warm up to you and their new home, especially if they have lived in a few different homes in their lifetime. Here are some general guidelines on what you can expect in each phase the dog goes through.
IN THE FIRST 3 DAYS:
The first three days in their new home are the hardest for the dog. They will feel overwhelmed by all the change, uncomfortable with you and their surroundings, and unsure if they are safe. If a dog is naturally more timid, it can take longer to warm up. They don’t know or trust you yet, and they are used to being in their previous environment around different people and dogs. They don’t understand the change, so you must be patient with them as they settle in.
Some dogs lose their appetite because of nervousness, a common thing when a dog is stressed. They may show no interest in food or only eat small bites. Because they don’t trust you or their environment yet, they will likely act fearful of you and may hide under furniture or inside a crate. Dogs like tight spaces to feel safe, and putting them in a crate when they are nervous may help them calm down. We recommend you put a crate in a quiet room they can access easily if they want to go into the crate on their own. If a dog is particularly nervous, you can put a blanket over the crate, which can help them to calm down.
Your dog will want to explore their new surroundings. Let them sniff around, show them where food and water are, and let them examine the yard outside if you have one. We recommend that whenever you take the dog out to the bathroom, you use a leash, even if you bring the dog into a fenced yard. Sometimes if the dog is nervous and out in the yard, they may run from you and not come to you because they don’t trust you yet. Keeping them on a leash will help save you from chasing them around the yard, making them more nervous. You can also put the leash on them in the house and walk around with them as you do your thing. Leashing them in the house will allow them to have some distance from you while also staying near you, enabling them to warm up to you and learn you are safe. If your dog pulls on the leash out of fear, you can try a harness instead of leashing to its collar.
While some dogs may hide, other dogs may test their new boundaries to see what they can get away with. Be sure you doggie-proof your home so you don’t have to worry about the dog getting into things it shouldn’t. Some dogs may sleep a lot in the first few days because they feel overstimulated. Let them rest as much as they need while they settle in.
Some dogs may whine or bark due to their anxiety about the transition. Your dog may have accidents in the house simply from nerves. Don’t yell at them for it. Just give them time and patience to adjust. Take them outside (on a leash) to the bathroom often to establish habit and routine and for your dog to learn where to potty.
Some dogs may do submissive peeing, where they tinkle a bit when you come near or pet them. This is, again, a nervous response. If your dog is submissive peeing, just give them space and let them come to you. Crouch down or sit on the ground when they approach, and scratch them under the chin instead of petting them on top of the head, which makes them feel less nervous.
Do not take your dog out into busy public places, events, school outings, stores, or anything of the like during this period. This will only overstimulate the dog and cause them to act more nervous. They need time to learn to trust you before you can start introducing them to the outside world. If you rush a dog too quickly into more situations that make them anxious, it can delay their settling in.
If you decide to rename your dog after adoption, we recommend you call the dog by its previous name for the first few days. After that, you can start to call them by their old and new names each time you call them. Then eventually, you can phase out the old name when you see they are responding to their new name.
Tips to remember during this period: Be very patient. Stay calm, and speak to the dog in a comforting tone. When engaging with the dog, get down to their level by crouching or sitting on the ground, which is less intimidating to them. Scratch them under the chin instead of petting the top of their head, which feels safer to them. Show them loads of love, kindness, and care to help them learn you are safe. Establish regular routines immediately for feeding and bathroom breaks. Don’t force interaction. Instead, let the dog approach you at their own pace. Don’t bring them into busy public places or group gatherings. Keep a positive outlook, and know the more love and kindness you show the dog, the faster they will settle in and get comfortable.
AFTER 3 WEEKS:
During the first three weeks, your dog will start to settle into your home. They will get used to their new routine and how things work. They should fall into being mostly house-broken with regular walks and potty breaks. The dog will begin to understand that this is their new home and grasp the change is permanent. They will become more playful and outgoing, and you will start to see the anxious behavior fade as they feel safe and secure in their new environment.
Your dog should now be eating and drinking normally on a schedule. Your dog may test its boundaries, so you need to be consistent with training. They may try to see what they can get away with, such as jumping up on you, not listening, or getting into things they shouldn’t. Positive affirmation and treats are necessary whenever your dog listens, follows commands, or goes to the bathroom. If your dog misbehaves, you can speak to them sternly and teach them proper behavior. You should educate yourself on how to train a dog so you can feel confident in your actions.
Make sure you continue with lots of love, playtime, and kindness. Give the dog at least 30 minutes of exercise daily through walks, fetch, or running around the yard. Also, allow your dog to get adequate rest. Follow a good routine, be consistent, and continue to teach them limits and boundaries. Your dog’s personality should start to shine, and you will see them begin to relax around you and the home.
After a few weeks, you can begin working with basic commands such as sit, stay, and come. Always give them clear direction and use the same command words each time. When your dog listens, give them a treat and lots of praise.
You can put their crate in the most trafficked area of the house, so they can still see everyone and hear everything going on while feeling like they have a safe spot to be in. See if your dog likes this or prefers the crate in a quiet spot.
You can introduce your dog to new people or other dogs in small groups. Invite over some friends and family to meet your new dog. The dog may be nervous, so be patient and work with them at their own pace. Even after meeting someone a few times, a dog may still act like it’s the first time they are meeting someone. They will warm up with time.
Tips to remember during this period: Ensure you are educated on how to train a dog well and be consistent with your training and routine. Correct bad behavior and reward good behavior. Continue to show them lots of love, patience, kindness, and verbal and physical affection.
AFTER 3 MONTHS:
Your pooch now knows you are their forever family! In these first three months, they have become comfortable in their new home and found trust in you. They should settle in and fall in love with you and other household members and animals.
Don’t take any breaks with training as you continue to reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior. You can attend training classes, online training schools, or have a private trainer visit your home. You can move into more advanced commands.
You should now train your dog to walk on a leash in public. You can introduce them to other dogs, visit dog parks, and meet up with friends for doggie play dates. Your dog should love time to play with a furry friend.
After three months, your dog should feel settled in, fall in love with you, and enjoy the best doggie life!
Tips to remember during this period: Training is an everyday task, and consistency is king. You’ve shown your pup much love and patience in three months. Enjoy the bond that will last for a lifetime!
If you want to learn more about any older dogs Grace Wood Farm may have available for adoption, text us at (803) 888-4149 today.
About the Author
Hadassah Stasi is the oldest of six children in the Stasi Tribe and has spent most of her life around the dogs of Grace Wood Farm. She has attended countless births, raised more puppies than she can count, and done more than her fair share of farm chores. She has naturally developed an understanding of the nature of dogs, their needs, and the best training practices. She enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience through writing and teaching others. Already a world traveler, Hadassah has lived in Kenya and has built her expertise in training African rescue dogs