Puppy Love!

Is Your Sweet Rescue Dog Suddenly A Nightmare? Here's Why You Shouldn't Worry

You may have heard the “three days, three weeks, three months” rule about adopting your dog. There’s more to the story than that.

A mom sitting on a couch with her baby in her lap rubs their pet dog's belly.
Ekaterina Vasileva-Bagler/Moment/Getty Images

Whether you’re considering adopting a dog, or just welcomed a new rescue into your family, it helps to understand that, no matter how excited you are, your new pup might be a little off-kilter for a while. Shelters and the situations that led up to your new dog being in the shelter can be huge sources of anxiety for pets. Whether your dog was a stray or from an abusive home or an owner surrender, chances are that they likely had a rough go of it before ending up on your sofa.

That rough start can be compounded by the stress of being in a shelter environment, so when you get your new friend home, you should expect their behavior to change over time as they settle into their new forever abode and start to reveal their personality. But while you have probably heard the age-old rule — vets and animal shelters alike have long been telling people for years to expect noticeable differences at the three-day, three-week, and three-month marks — new research finds that there may be more to that unstudied wisdom than you think.

Researchers from the Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences wanted to understand when and to what extent behavior changes took place after an adoption. Those behavior changes have never been thoroughly studied.

Dr. Bohland and his team analyzed data collected from close to 100 adopters from four Ohio-based shelters. Participants were asked to complete questions seven, 30, 90, and 180 days post-adoption. The 42-question survey gathered information regarding stranger aggression, aggression to owners and other dogs, sensitivity to touch, excitability, fear, separation anxiety, attention seeking, energy levels, and chasing behaviors.

Most owners reported at least some change over the study period — stranger aggression, training difficulty, and chasing behavior increased throughout the survey; excitability and touch sensitivity increased at the 90 and 180-day marks; separation and attachment or attention-seeking behaviors decreased by the 180-day mark.

Ninety-three percent of owners reported excellent or good behavior overall, and 100% said their new dog had adjusted well to the new household.

“The biggest thing that stuck out to me was that we’ve got a lot of aggression among dogs in our community. That definitely concerns me from a public health standpoint and from a human mental health standpoint because we’ve got a lot of dogs that are struggling – and that has human implications,” Bohland said in a statement.

“And the other big piece was that despite that, people were pretty darn happy with their dogs,” he said. “This combination of findings is a reminder that just about everybody has, on some level, dealt with unpredictable behavior problems, illnesses, and the quirks of animal aging – and we still love our dogs. Overall, this really speaks to the bond people have with their pets.”

It’s worth noting that close to 2 million dogs are adopted from shelters each year, and this study only examined a sliver of that — less than one hundred — so individual experiences may vary. And behaviors may be limited to certain circumstances, like touch sensitivity while at the vet’s office or stranger aggression when protecting their owner. You know how your dog has weird quirks, like that they absolutely hate skateboards or that they need to be fed away from other dogs? That’s like this. Knowing your dog's triggers is not just about keeping everyone in your family safe: it’s also about making sure your dog feels safe and knows what to expect in new environments, that they will be loved, protected, and given space if need be, and that you can set them up for success.

And remember: the dog you pick up at the shelter may not always be the dog you bring home. In other words, your dog is a whole being, with emotions, fears, and a personality that’s just waiting to bloom. Give your dog structure, training, love, and normalcy, and they will repay that to you in scores. A tired dog is a good dog. And at a time when dog shelters are bursting at the seams with adoptable dogs, always remember to consider adopting before shopping for your next family pet.