Lulled into a false sense of security, I was happily thinking, “I haven’t seen any mention of the 3-3-3 rule for a while,” when, lo and beyond, there it was again!
The 3-3-3 rule is one of those things which rears its ugly head on a regular basis, so I write about it whenever I see it gathering momentum again on social media, because it is something I feel strongly about. These set parameters applied to neither of my dogs, who both needed so much more time to feel safe and settled. There are so many scenarios in which dogs are re-homed, some of which may not have involved the experience of living in a home or having regular contact with humans before, so we need to be prepared to take things at their pace, be patient, and try not to feel disheartened if progress seems slow at times.
For those who may not have come across it before, the 3-3-3 rule pops up frequently on Facebook, particularly in groups for fearful dog guardians. In essence, the message is this: it takes three days for a dog in a new home to relax a little, three weeks to settle in, and three months to be fully comfortable, thus demonstrating that the process takes time.
But, how helpful is this?
HELP OR HINDRANCE?
Yes, it is good to forewarn new guardians that it’s going to take some time for their new furry friend to settle in, and offer them some kind of idea of the timeframe in which they might expect to see their best boy or girl feeling settled and safe in their new home. We do like to have a rough idea of what we might expect, don’t we?
Despite the caveat that is usually (but not always) included on the infographic, which states that the 3-3-3 rule is a guideline as every dog is different, the fact that it is called a "rule" in the first place is not terribly helpful. The statements made are pretty black and white, with the tendency being that it becomes a goal to aspire to, which could lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and perhaps even desperation, if we feel our dog is not progressing at the rate we believe he should. I spend a lot of time on fearful dog sites and forums, and there are a great number of guardians out there who feel as though they are letting their dogs down and that they would be better off in another home. This is so sad, and is often a result of them feeling pressured when their dog hasn’t settled in as quickly as they had hoped, or were led to believe was the norm.
Remember: progress is progress, no matter how small a step you feel that may be. Celebrate those successes with your dog, and marvel as they flourish, but also bear in mind that progress is rarely linear. Don't lose heart if it feels at times as though you are taking several steps back before you can take a step forward.
Try not to compare your dog's journey with that of others, and be kind to yourself also. It is all too easy to develop unfair and unrealistic expectations, while placing pressure on ourselves to conform to the 3-3-3 rule and, more importantly, placing pressure on our dogs.
We do need to remember that every dog is different, as per the caveat, so that we allow for varying confidence and resilience levels, but we should also not forget that other factors, such as genetic components and previous learning experiences, will contribute hugely towards how long a dog might take to feel truly settled. What about those dogs which have never lived in a home before? Or those which have experienced trauma, or suffer from anxiety? Or, are perhaps struggling with chronic health conditions on top of everything else?
We also need to take into account the knowledge and experience of the guardian. Are they well-versed in reading body language? Are they able to identify potential triggers and minimise stressors to help the dog to decompress fully? Have they been able to implement suitable management strategies inside and outside of the home environment to keep the dog feeling safe? Are they patient enough to take things as slowly as is necessary, and is everyone in the household on board so that there is consistency?
Or, perhaps the guardians resort to luring and coaxing their new, shy dog; the one who has no prior experience of human kindness. Do they try to hand-feed meals and make repeated attempts to touch him, in the belief that it will speed things up? Do they continually expose him to the things that he is frightened of, in the hope of him becoming used to them and overcoming his fear?
These are just a few of the factors at play and, as you can see, there are many variables which will impact on how long feeling safe can take. Yes, the rate of progress might pan out to be along the lines of the 3-3-3 rule parameters, or it may be quicker. But, for dogs who are sensitive and easily worried, it might be a whole lot longer, and that’s okay too!
The bottom line has to be: don’t be tempted to rush things or try to find shortcuts; TAKE THINGS SLOWLY. FEELING SAFE TAKES AS LONG AS IT TAKES!
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