The 3-3-3 Rule When Adopting a Dog or Cat

Smiling brown and black dog with human hand cupping the chin, MAC logo on the bottom center of the image

Just like it takes all of us some time to adapt to new situations and environments, adopted dogs and cats have a period of decompression commonly referred to as the 3-3-3 Rule. For most rescue pets, it takes on average 3 months to fully become comfortable and acclimated to their new home. This period of decompression can be unique to each pet and individual family, but knowing what to expect can help to make the transition that much easier. Read along as we break down the first 3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months with your new four-legged friend.

In the first 3 days…

When you first bring your new family member home, it’s crucial to keep in mind that they will likely feel very overwhelmed and may even be scared and unsure of what is going on around them. They have been taken from their familiar surroundings and placed into a completely new environment with completely new people. Because of this unfamiliarity, they may not be fully comfortable enough to be themself. Each dog and cat will adapt differently during these first few days, but sometimes their personalities may not truly shine until after this period of time.

Your new pet may want to hide around the house or try to keep a low profile while they start the process of decompression. Don’t be surprised if you see them spending a lot of time in their crate or hiding under furniture. This is a completely normal response and it is best to let them have this time to do so. Shooing them away from furniture or pulling them from the comfort of their crate will likely prolong the time it will take them to decompress.

They will also typically use this time to test the boundaries of their new home. They don’t know the rules of their new home yet, so you may start to see behaviors from them that indicate they are trying to figure them out. If they have not previously been potty trained, you may notice accidents around the home. They may jump on furniture, follow you around, and start to explore their new home. While shelters and rescues can sometimes offer insight into your dog’s previous experiences, many times there is simply no way to know for sure. If your dog came from a home that allowed them unlimited access to jump on furniture, being in a home where they now can’t, can be an adjustment. If your dog has not had previous crate training or potty training, this can now be a new learning curve for them to navigate. Be patient with them as you all figure out these things together.

After 3 weeks…

After a few weeks in their new home, your pet has now had the chance to decompress and may start to show signs that they now feel more comfortable in their new environment. By this point, most dogs and cats typically start to realize that this could possibly be their new forever home. They have spent enough time in this new home that they have it fully figured out, or at the very least, are much more acclimated than they were the day that you brought them home.

It is also around the 3 week mark that your dog or cat is now starting to figure out your routine. They’re paying attention to when you wake up for the day, when their feeding times are, when you leave and come home from work, etc. As they start to learn your routine, they are also starting to figure out their own. Each pet will adapt to their new routines differently, and it’s important to keep this in mind during this time of the transition.

Now that they are more comfortable and confident in their new home, they will start to really let their guard down and show you their true personality. Things they may not have shown interest in before may peak their interest now such as treats, toys and enrichment items. They may become more playful, more talkative, and even more affectionate as time goes on.

With this new level of comfort may come behavioral problems, if there are any. This may be a good time to start positive-reinforcement training based on behaviors that you are starting to see from your dog. MAC has recently partnered with GoodPup to offer discounted rates to all new MAC adopters. If you’ve recently adopted from MAC, this is a very valuable resource should you start to notice any behavioral issues at this stage in your adoption journey.

After 3 months…

At and around the 3 month mark is when most dogs and cats finally feel completely comfortable in their new home. They are now starting to really gain full trust in you and their new family and this is the point when bonds really start to form with other people and pets in the household. They feel confident with the routine in their new home and have gained a complete sense of security with their new family.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because you and your dog/cat has now hit the 3 month mark that everything may not be smooth-sailing from here on out. The 3-3-3 rule is just a general guideline as you navigate bringing your new pet home. Every shelter pet comes with their own unique background and personality, and they may adjust to their new environments differently.

By following these steps, you give your dog and/or cat the greatest chance to succeed and decompress in their new environment. This process takes time, but by following this advice you can mitigate a lot of the issues that can arise when adopting a shelter pet to be your new furry friend. If issues persist or you feel as though your pet is having issues adjusting to its new home, MAC is always here to answer your questions and offer a helping hand.

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