What to Expect in the First 3 Days with Your New Rescue Dog

pictured two dogs in a kennel behind a fence. Both german shepherd types, one lies down behind the front dog that is sitting and looking through the fence.

When a dog loses his home and family he starts a journey as a rescue dog. For him nothing will ever be the same again. Here’s what to expect in the first 3 days with your new rescue dog.

Losing their home

Becoming a rescue dog starts with losing the family, home, and security. For most of us, it is hard to imagine what that could be like. But, for a creature that has no idea how to fend for themselves, losing so much, can be devastating. It’ll affect their confidence, their attitude, and it could even change their normal responses.

Having no idea where your next meal is coming from, whether the people you are with are friendly or not, or if you are in grave danger, is life changing. For the next three days, this dog is at his most vulnerable. His stress levels are through the roof and he is in a constant state of survival mode.

Imagine being taken away from your home by a stranger, dropped off in a strange place where you don’t know anyone, and then made to live there! I think you’d feel pretty overwhelmed by it all too!

pictured two dogs in a kennel behind a fence. Both german shepherd types, one lies down behind the front dog that is sitting and looking through the fence.
During the first three days your dog has no idea if he’s safe or not, or even where his next meal is coming from!

What is survival mode?

When in survival mode the rescue dogs body will react differently to normal. Every decision he makes will be based around keeping himself safe. This means his options are: fight, flight or freeze.

Almost everything is affected when he is in this mode; his heart, lungs, liver, eyes, ears, brain, bladder, and bowel, even the skin changes. Blood flow, heart rate, pain threshold, and blood circulation are also increased as resources are diverted away from non-essential processes, such as resting and eating. His decision making changes too. He’ll not be in his thinking brain, so he’ll make snap decisions instead of well thought out plans. All this is designed to make the dog a better fighter or faster runner. He’s definitely not in the frame of mind to get cosy on the sofa and make friends!

He’ll get very little respite from this feeling during these early days. No breaks means that he could be grumpy, scared, and reactive. He’ll certainly not be himself for a good while yet.

The process repeats

This cycle will re-occur every time the dog changes to a new environment or home. So he might be dropped off at a traditional rescue centre by his family. It’ll take around three days for him to realise he is safe enough to begin to adapt. At some point, he’ll be taken from there and placed somewhere else. This could be with his new family, or it could be a foster home. As soon as this happens, the clock starts again, and the process restarts.

If this happens a lot, or the dog already struggles with confidence, it will take its toll. Each time he moves it could get harder and harder to get past those early days without becoming traumatised.

a small dogs nose pokes out from a bundle of blankets in an open doored, dog crate
Create a safe space for your new rescue dog so they can feel safe, and recover faster!

They need a safe space

Without a safe space, a dog cannot begin to recover. He needs to relax as soon as possible so he can snap out of survival mode. Remember, as long as he is in this mode he will default to fight, flight or freeze behaviours.

We need to get him into rest and digest mode. In rest and digest mode his brain is less reactive, he will begin to realise he is safe, and he can begin the healing process.

A safe space provides for all his basic needs. The priority is safety, rest, and food, that’s all. As he spends more time out of fight or flight mode, he’ll come to you and his basic needs will start to change. But, at the start he just needs to be left alone to decompress.

Creating new behaviour problems

Many people tell me their dog was apparently “fine before, but now he does…” It might appear that the rescue misled you about the dogs behaviour. But, in reality, this three day period is the time many behaviour problems develop. A bad reaction to something in the first 3 days with your new rescue dog could quickly become the start of a new behaviour problem.

While he is in this state of overwhelm, he is particularly vulnerable to new experiences. Almost anything could tip him over the edge. And if it does, the new reaction could be remembered and repeated in similar situations. If this happens, this could well be the start of a new set of behaviours that weren’t there before.

Those early days are so influential, and you only get one shot at them. Please don’t underestimate how much can go wrong by rushing the process.

Are you considering adopting a rescue dog? Or maybe you have taken the plunge already!

My recue dog course talks you through how to choose and settle a rescue dog over the first few months. Check out this FREE sample video which takes you through every step of how to choose your next rescue dog. The rest of the course focusses on the phases that follow and how to meet his changing needs over the days, weeks and months that follow.

Or get in touch to see how I could help you on a 1-1 basis!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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