3rd date rule

The 3rd date rule-yes it applies to dogs too!

Whether from personal experience, or education via Hollywood, we are all familiar with the 3rd date rule.  For those who may not know, the gist of the 3rd date rule is this: there is a minimum of 3 dates that must take place before a new relationship can and should become physically intimate.  The reason behind this rule is to encourage an appropriate amount of “get to know you” time before the pressure of taking the next step is expected.  While this rule’s application to human dating rituals is an entire discussion in itself, we are here to discuss how and why it should apply to dogs.

But wait, humans don’t date dogs; that would be weird, and well, illegal, right?  Right!  So how does the rule apply?  When it comes to bringing home a new dog, think of the 3rd date as being your 3rd week together.  Take the first 2 weeks to really get to know each other before placing any sort of expectations on your dog.  Bringing home a new dog is an incredibly exciting experience, whether it’s a brand new puppy or an adult dog.  Did you get it from a breeder, a shelter, a rescue?  It doesn’t matter where you got your new friend from, they all deserve an adjustment period.

Our initial instinct when bringing our new friend home is to show them off and take them everywhere that dog people go.  There are 2 reasons why you shouldn’t rush this part of the relationship: distress and eustress- bad stress and good stress.  Both types of stress raise cortisol levels in the body.  Cortisol is needed for the body to function properly but high levels over extended periods of time can have long-lasting negative effects on the body.  We have no idea what kind of stress your new pal may have experienced before you brought them home or for how long they may have experienced it.  So let’s give them a break and allow them to adjust and absorb their new environment.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything fun or potentially not fun with your new dog.  I am only asking that you take it slow, for at least 2 weeks, that’s it.  Ease them into this new lifestyle; after all, the chances of them knowing you would arrive and whisk them away from their previous lifestyle are pretty slim.  Follow these tips to have the best first 2 weeks with your new dog:

  • Management: Take the first few days and work on management within the home, set up a puppy proof area for your dog (yes even for adults). This is an area where they can hang out while you are not home, or unable to be attentive to them.  This space should have access to water, a bed/sleeping area, potty area (for puppies), and plenty of chew and interactive food toys.  This type of management system lets your dog know where their space is and teaches them to seek out appropriate things to chew and interact with while preventing them from access to the whole house full of inappropriate things.
  • Meeting new people: If people want to come over and meet your dog, fantastic! Let’s set them and your dog up for success.  First, have your dog in their space before answering the door and wait until your dog is calm before bringing them out to say hello, you can even prep them with a treat.  Ask your guest to sit down and allow the dog to approach them, if the dog approaches they may say hello and offer the treat down low to help discourage any jumping.  This greeting keeps the dog from becoming overwhelmed by an overly friendly human.
  • Heading out for a walk: When you go out for walks, stick close to home and focus on the duration of the walk rather than distance. We have no idea what kind of leash skills you or your new dog have, so I suggest planning for a specific amount of time (with some float time) to spend out of the house with your dog.  If it’s 1 hour, set a timer for 30 minutes and use that as your “turn back” mark.  If possible, walk at your dog’s pace and allow them to sniff as much as they want.  When they “check in” by looking at you praise them and give them a treat, this will encourage them to check in with you more.  Don’t try and force it, remember: low expectations.
  • Vet visit: Sometimes when we get a new puppy or dog a visit to the vet is required as soon as possible. I suggest planning it for at least 1 week after getting your dog, by this time you will know a bit more about your dog and whether or not there is anything you want to discuss with your vet.  I also suggest arranging to have a few drop by visits before the actual appointment, just to walk in and have the front desk staff feed your furry friend a yummy treat.  Think: going to the vet=salmon, yum!  Some vets will also do home visits for an additional fee.
  • Training: Hiring a trainer to work with you and your dog is just as important as visiting the vet. Take some time to research trainers in your area, and find one who uses humane methods, based on behavioral science– often referred to as “reward based” or “positive reinforcement.”  Trainers that claim to be “balanced” or use a “pack leader” or “hands on” (physical or mental coercion) approach are outdated and a waste of time.  Having the trainer come out to your home, even before the dog comes home, can help with planning out the management system.  After the dog comes home I would suggest an in-home private lesson sometime in the second or third week.  Be sure to journal anything your dog does that you find concerning or are unsure of so that you may ask your trainer.  After this lesson your trainer should be able to recommend a group class suited to you and your dog; continuing private lessons is also okay.  *Puppies are an exception here, puppies have a sort of deadline on their socialization period, and it is important to get them into classes immediately.  Just make sure they get a rest day after class.  *CCPDT and APDT are great resources when looking for a trainer.

So remember, take it slow and make sure your dog gets down time in between stressful situations- the good and the bad.  Follow these tips to help you and your new dog bond before the clothes come off on the 3rd date.  Okay, maybe dogs don’t wear clothes– just get to know them before setting any expectations.  Bonus bonding tip: try hand feeding your dog its dinner while talking to it in calm happy tones; trust me it works!