You were so excited when you brought home your new rescue dog. You have fun playing and going on walks, but things aren’t as perfect as you’d hoped. Your pup has some bad habits, and you’d like to help fix them before they get worse.
In rescue, people often talk about the “3-3-3 rule,” which is how much time it takes a puppy or dog to decompress in a new home.
“The 3-3-3 is a tried and [mostly] true rule in rescue. 3-3-3 means it takes dogs 3 days to begin to adjust to a new environment, 3 weeks to start to feel comfortable and show their true selves, and 3 months to really feel like this is their home and build trust,” says Marissa Sunny, CPDT-KA, a canine behavior specialist at Best Friends Animal Society.
“While this is a good rule of thumb, it is important to take cues from your new dog and move at their pace.”
Even if your dog might have come from a bad situation, they still need time to settle in, says certified canine trainer and behaviorist Susie Aga, owner of Atlanta Dog Trainer.
“They’re going to a planet with a different language, and they’re expected to know how to speak it,” she says. “People sometimes expect too much too soon.”
There are some common behavior issues new dogs have. Here's how you can help fix them:
“Potty training can feel like the most overwhelming part of bringing home a new dog,” Sunny says. “It is important to create good habits before you need to break bad ones.”
Show your dog where you want them to go potty outside, and give them lots of praise and treats when they go there. Take them out often, especially after playing, napping, eating, and drinking.
She suggests crate training as an effective way to potty train your dog. When they’re sleeping or you can’t watch them, put them in a crate. Feed your dog meals in the crate so it’s a positive place, never leave them there too long, and don’t use the crate for punishment.
Sometimes, a dog that is supposed to be potty trained will have accidents in a new home. Stress can make them regress. They can also be marking their territory or trying to figure out where they’re supposed to go, Aga says. Be patient and take them out often to the same spot.
Dogs bark for many reasons, including fear, boredom, or as an alert. Early on, slowly expose your pet to lots of different sounds so they feel safe, Aga says. And limit what your dog can see. Don’t let them sit at an open window where they can bark at people, cars, and animals that walk by all day.
“They’ll think they barked, then people go away, so barking worked,” Aga explains.
To avoid boredom, give them plenty of stimulating toys, like peanut butter-filled toys that they have to work on to eat or treat-dispensing puzzle games to keep them occupied.
The best thing to do about destructive behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place, says Sunny. “Before you bring your new dog home, pick up all the shoes, [human] toys, and other things that would be easy for your dog to destroy,” she suggests.
Then, let your dog move around while you watch them. If they start chewing on something they shouldn’t, say “eh” and trade them for something they’re allowed to play with.
Again, make sure your pup isn’t bored.
“Bored dogs get destructive, while a decompressed dog does nothing wrong,” Aga says.
That’s why it’s important to make sure your dog gets plenty of mental and physical exercise. Take them for walks and runs, and play fetch (not when it’s too hot, of course, and with plenty of breaks for water), and do puzzle games.
Crate training can also help avoid destructive behavior, Sunny says.
“The crate will give them a safe place to relax while you are gone, away from anything they can destroy.”
When puppies bite, it’s often a combination of playing and teething. The key is to give them something much more fun to play with, Aga says. She suggests tying toys on a string that you can drag behind you or step on and squeak so your puppy can have the fun of chasing and pouncing. (But make sure you supervise their play. Swallowing strings can be dangerous for pups.)
Any time your puppy tries to nibble on you, divert their attention with something they’re allowed to chew on instead. If they bite you, stop playing with them. Stay still or walk away. They’ll realize that when they bite, they no longer have fun.
When your puppy nips you, you can also make a high-pitched yelping noise, as if you’re hurt. Your puppy should be surprised and stop. Then, praise them for being gentle.
If you know your puppy is teething, try wetting a washcloth, tying it in knots, and freezing it. Then, give it to your puppy to gnaw on, Aga suggests. Freezing low-fat, no-salt chicken broth in a container can also be something fun and soothing for puppies to chew on. Check with your vet if you have questions about any treats.
It’s natural for dogs to protect their possessions like food, toys, and other items. But playing "keep away" is different from growling or even snapping -- especially at a person. Some dogs guard food and bones, while others guard toys or things they’ve swiped from the trash.
If your dog doesn’t guard things, you can help prevent the behavior when they are young. Feed pieces of kibble out of your hand while praising them with a soothing voice.
And never take anything out of your dog’s mouth, Sunny says. “Rather, you should always trade them for something of equal or higher value,” she says. “This will help them understand that when they give something up, they get something back.”
True separation anxiety is fairly rare in dogs, Sunny says. “But anxiety about you leaving, especially when they don't know your routine yet, can be scary for any dog,” she says. Early on, leave them for just short bursts of 10-20 minutes to help them realize that you will always return.
And don’t make a big deal of leaving or coming home. Don’t have huge greetings or farewells, so that your dog thinks of it as just part of the routine.
Learning to stay happily in a crate with a frozen, food-stuffed toy can help with anxiety. But some dogs can be truly destructive when left alone. If that’s the case with your dog, you might need to check in with a trainer or your vet for advice
Some dogs are so excited to greet people that they’ll jump on them when they arrive. When your dog comes up to you excitedly, turn away from them. When they stop jumping and have all four feet on the floor, praise them. Have friends do the same thing when they come over. Offer them treats and lots of praise when they don’t jump and are calmly seated, says Aga.
Where to Get Help
There are lots of resources online, in books, and in videos to help you work on your dog’s behavior issues. Look for resources that use positive reinforcements (like treats and praise) and are based in science.
If you feel like you aren’t making enough progress or need more help, reach out to a pro.
“Bringing a new dog home can be completely overwhelming. Things do get better; it just takes time and patience,” Sunny says.