By Erin Shackelford
Pet adoption during the holidays can be a heartwarming experience that transforms the life of an animal in need and enriches your own. At the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, the holidays are a peak time for pet adoption and it’s important for new pet parents to know what to expect during those critical first days, weeks and months.
We advise our new canine and feline adopters to follow the 3-3-3 rule, which is a convenient way to remember important possible milestones in your adoption journey; however, we should emphasize each animal is unique, so this is a general guideline for new pet behavior and acclimation.
The first three days
During the first three days after bringing your new pet home, they may be overwhelmed, scared and shy. They may hide or sleep a lot and they may not eat or drink. Animals, especially those coming from an often overstimulating shelter environment, need time – sometimes longer than a few days – to decompress.
It’s crucial to allow new animals the time to acclimate to their environment. Keep things quiet and provide a calm, safe space for your pet to explore at their own pace. During this time, stay calm, start the pet’s daily routine and do not introduce the animal to new people or new places, such as the dog park.
After three weeks
After three weeks, the animal is likely starting to settle and feels more comfortable in their home and with family members. They are adjusting to their new environment and beginning to learn their daily routine. In this time period, behavior issues may arise.
These three weeks are about building trust and routine. Gradually introduce your pet to different aspects of your life, such as walks, playtime and some social interactions. Establishing a consistent daily routine can help your pet feel more secure. Setting clear boundaries, working on basic skills, using positive reinforcement and praising successes is important.
After three months
After three months, your pet should be settling fully into their new home and routine. Hopefully, you’ve built a trusting bond with your pet and they’ve gained a sense of security. With consistent work on basic training, they should also be responding well to cues and commands. You should be starting to see the complete picture of your pet’s personality at this stage.
At this point, you should have a better understanding of your pet’s needs, likes, dislikes and triggers, so you will hopefully feel more confident introducing your pet to new people and places. Continuing training is also important in maintaining a harmonious household. At this time, you may need to seek additional training or behavior support for unique issues if needed.
If behavior issues persist beyond this period, the AWLA offers behavior assistance as a community resource for all pet owners. Whether your pet was adopted from us or elsewhere, AWLA staff members are happy to help you understand animal behaviors and assist with potential pet-related challenges.
For animal behavior help, call 703-746-5654 or email behavior@Alexandria Animals.org.
The writer is the marketing and communications specialist with the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.