You did your homework. You researched extensively on the breed, you contacted breed clubs, went to shows, and met breeders. You put your deposit down, went, and picked up a gorgeous puppy. Everyone compliments your puppy, and you know they are incredible, so why do you feel so overwhelmed, anxious, regretful, or down?
It's likely something we call the “Puppy Blues."
There are lots of things that can cause Puppy Blues, including:
- Issues with housebreaking
- Destructive chewing and nipping
- Increased financial stress
- Relationships between older house pets and the puppy
- A perceived lack of bonding
- Routine changes and increased time spent at home
BUT! If you are experiencing the Puppy Blues, there is good news. The condition can be simply a result of a significant shift in lifestyle and tends to be temporary (usually lasting two to three weeks).
Let's face it. When we picture getting a puppy, we imagine the fun times: walking in the sun, going to a puppy kindergarten class, cuddles on the couch, and that puppy breath. We don’t always picture the other side of owning a puppy: sleepless nights, belongings ruined, urine on carpets.
I find that the Puppy Blues happen more often to new owners and to people who haven't had a puppy around in a long time. It grows out of a concern for the animal and understanding that it takes a lot of work to raise a canine who is a good family member and neighbor. I often wonder if dogs are "designed" to make us remember the good times, and by the time they pass away, so much time has gone by that the memories of a puppy are all blurry, cuddly, and cute. I have noticed that the more puppies I have, the less shocked I am by the work, as all the memories are pretty current.
The best way to avoid or minimize the Puppy Blues, or as I like to call it - Post Puppy Purchase Depression - is to be incredibly prepared. The first step is to choose a breed that is right for your lifestyle. This includes being particularly honest about the size of a grown dog you can handle and the exercise requirements you can commit to. While all puppies exhibit similar behaviours, eventually, breed personality characteristics will appear and hopefully mesh well with your tastes. It's also crucial to buy from a reputable breeder who will support you throughout your dog’s life. In times of doubt, they can also comfort you by reminding you that they had many people offering to buy their puppies but choose you because they knew you were capable of giving the puppy a wonderful life. Keeping in touch with your dog's breeder is also great when you need to hear that what your puppy is doing is "totally normal."
Financial preparations are essential. Puppies aren't cheap, and neither are the supplies and veterinary care it takes to keep one happy and healthy. Buying 95% of what you will need before the puppy arrives will help ease the shock. I feel that having the puppy's crate, ex-pen, and dishes out before the puppy comes home will help adjust your mind by establishing an area for the puppy (plus, it builds some good excitement).
If you are experiencing the Puppy Blues, it’s important to take action. First, you need to recognize that your expectations are likely unrealistic.
Housebreaking doesn't happen overnight. It takes weeks, and often, months. There will be days of success followed by a few steps back, but they will get there as long as you stay consistent, stick to a schedule, keep an eye on them and reward the wanted behaviour.
Puppies put everything in their mouths, so always have a toy on hand to show them what is a more appropriate item to chew. Included in that statement of “puppies putting everything in their mouths” are hands! Nips from those razor-like puppy teeth are awful. You can learn more about bite inhibition here: https://www.ckc.ca/en/The-Dish/September-2018/Puppy-Nipping
Always, always, always crate train! For the sake of your puppy, for the sake of your property, for the sake of your sanity. Puppies need a safe spot to call their own, to rest and restore. A crate provides precisely that. Learn more about crate training here:
Now get some sleep. Nobody makes great decisions on 2 hours of sleep. The first few nights with a puppy are the hardest. The pup is used to sleeping in a puppy pile with his littermates and now is all alone. If a puppy kept me up at night, I would bring the crate or exercise pen into my bedroom. The comfort of hearing humans nearby usually helps. If your plan is to have your dog eventually sleep elsewhere in the house, you can move the crate or pen a foot a day towards that destination.
It's essential to take note of small wins when training a puppy. Keep a little journal (use the note pad on your smartphone). Mark down how many accidents the puppy has per day and how many times he wakes up in the night, and then look back in a few weeks. Eventually, you will notice major improvements, be proud of how far the two of you have gone, and will be motivated to continue.
Don't forget to reach out to other puppy and dog owners. A fantastic place to meet other puppy owners is a puppy kindergarten class. A class like this will socialize your pup and teach them good manners that will make owning your dog way more enjoyable. You'll also get to hear stories of stress and success from others. Plus, you'll have a dog training expert there to advise you on any behavioural worries. Ask your dog's breeder and veterinarian, and even the employees at your local pet supply store for recommendations for a good puppy class.
Another great part about enrolling in a puppy class is that you might spark a friendship with another puppy owner and arrange backyard or park dates where you can "talk dog" and let the puppies burn off some energy while playing.
Owning a puppy gets easier day by day. As you adjust to having a puppy, they adjust to living with you. Puppy training requires many withdrawals from your patience bank. Have patience with both your new puppy and yourself. Keep consistent, keep on schedule, always praise good behaviour, and redirect not-so-good behaviour. Know that your feelings aren't unheard of, and many experience Puppy Blues. Reach out for support and know that soon your puppy will be a dog and a joy to share your life with.
Please note that I am not a mental health professional. This blog is simply written to help new dog owners who are feeling overwhelmed with their new responsibility. If feelings of despair, hopelessness, or panic consume you, please talk as soon as possible with a professional.