Yes, The 'Puppy Blues' Are A Real Thing. Here's How To Cope.
Not everyone experiences the puppy blues after getting a new dog, but it’s certainly common, especially among first-time dog owners.
It’s hard to imagine anything more delightful than bringing an adorable puppy home. Yet many new dog owners find themselves feeling anything but delighted during those early weeks and months. It turns out there’s a name for this phenomenon: the puppy blues.
“The term ‘puppy blues’ refers to a range of emotions including feeling overwhelmed, sad, helpless, guilty, trapped, anxious and sometimes regretful after bringing a new puppy home,” Becky Stuempfig, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Encinitas, California, told HuffPost. “These feelings can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.”
Not everyone experiences the puppy blues after getting a new dog, but it’s certainly common, especially in first-time dog owners whose expectations for life with a pup don’t match the reality.
“Prior to bringing a dog home, many people have a scenario playing out in their mind that involves lots of puppy cuddling and play time,” Stuempfig explained. “They may be expecting to form an immediate bond with the puppy, especially if they had a very close bond with a previous pet.”
Raising a puppy can be fun and magical, but it’s also filled with challenges and frustration. Don’t underestimate the toll this new responsibility can take on your physical and mental health. But don’t despair, either.
“I have been a practicing veterinarian for over 40 years and have been a pet parent literally every day of my 67 years on this earth,” said Dr. Danny Cox, chief veterinary medical officer at Petzey. “I have experienced the sensation of ‘second guessing’ the decision to add a new puppy to the household multiple times for myself, my family and my clients.”
“It is not unusual for people to wonder if they made the correct decision,” Cox added. “However, with a little preparation and enough time, the puppy blues and that time of frustration and fear will morph into happiness, compassion and love for a wonderful lifelong companion.”
HuffPost asked Cox, Stuempfig and other experts to share their advice for coping with and overcoming this emotional experience, and they offered seven helpful tips. As Cox exmphasized: “Rest assured, the puppy blues ― being a real feeling ― is survivable.”
Remember the puppy stage is temporary
“It is important to remember that many of the things that create the puppy blues are fleeting,” Stuempfig said. “For example, the sleep deprivation that comes with potty training a puppy is a temporary phase and there’s [an] end in sight. The biting and nipping that puppies tend to engage in can be quite painful, but also a temporary stage.”
If it seems like your puppy is more interested in tearing up pillows than interacting with the humans at home, don’t despair or assume that this stressful environment will be the long-term reality. And this frustration doesn’t mean you hate your dog or that your dog hates you.
“Many new puppies have no interest in cuddling and feel trapped when humans try to hug or cuddle with them,” Stuempfig said. “Puppies want to explore their environment. They are curious about everything and their natural curiosity can be interpreted as detachment. Puppies often take a while to warm up to everyone in the family, particularly if you have young children.”
Study up and prepare
“New dog parents, just like new human baby parents, often find themselves unprepared to be new parents,” Cox explained. “If they have never had a dog before, they simply don’t know what to expect, and with the actions and behavior quirks of a young puppy, their first response is ‘Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?’ ― much like postpartum depression experienced by new parents with a newborn child.”
She recommended taking the time to educate yourself about your dog’s breed so you know what to expect and can set ground rules for training your puppy and everyday life at home. Knowledge is power.
“A puppy is a feeling, thinking, loving, angry, confused, hungry, thirsty living being,” noted Dr. Alejandro Caos, a veterinarian with The Vets, a mobile veterinary service. “They require physical and emotional support, environmental enrichment and exercise, warmth and tender care mixed with rough-and-tumble fun. If you read this as being ‘needy,’ they are and deserve the best.”
He recommended reading the work of the late veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist Sophia Yin, who published many books to help families welcome a puppy into their lives.
Focus on the progress
The amount of training your puppy needs can sometimes feel overwhelming, but keep in mind that it’s a gradual process. Celebrate the small wins and milestones when they happen ― whether it’s the first time they communicated that they needed to use the bathroom, stopped chewing on cords or were OK with a leash.
“It’s very normal to feel these ‘puppy blues’ when we do not focus on the progress our furry buds are making,” Caos said. “Celebrate the good they do and try not to dwell on the not-so-good.”
Regressions can happen, and some days are better than others. But thinking about the overall positive momentum will reframe your day-to-day outlook.
Try to focus on the small milestones and the progress your dog makes.
Build a support network
“Ask for help!” Stuempfig urged. “Puppy owners can benefit from recruiting the help of others to minimize exhaustion. Similar to parents of infants, it often takes a village to raise a puppy. I encourage puppy parents to find their dog village and remember they are not alone in the transition. It can be helpful to talk about their ‘puppy blues’ feelings with other dog owners as a way of normalizing their emotions since they are quite common.”
If you don’t have many friends who own dogs, consider striking up a conversation with people at the dog park to get a sense of what’s normal and what to expect. Fellow dog owners can be a hugely helpful source of information and comfort.
Professionals like trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians are also a great resource, whether you can schedule in-person classes and consultations or just follow their helpful videos and posts on TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms. If it’s within your means, consider puppy classes as well.
“Visit your veterinarian regularly,” said Dr. Mondrian Contreras, a veterinarian at Carol Stream Animal Hospital in Illinois. “Make sure your puppy is healthy and not showing signs of overt medical issues that may need to be addressed properly and possibly immediately. Your veterinarian will also let you know if your pup is healthy enough to be socializing with others. These first few veterinary visits are essential to helping owners get started on the right ‘paw’ by helping them understand puppy needs as well as physical growth and social development.”
Acknowledge what you’re losing
“When we are talking about the puppy blues, what we are really talking about is a life transition, and with any life transition, grief and loss are central to the transition,” Stuempfig said. “When we bring a new puppy into our lives, we lose our old way of being in our home. We no longer have the same daily routine. There’s a sudden shift in focus and a dramatic increase in time, money and energy spent on a tiny little animal.”
With a new pet also comes a loss of independence, as you can no longer be away from home for long stretches. Stuempfig emphasized the importance of acknowledging these losses.
“By identifying and processing our losses, it allows people to understand what they are feeling in a nonjudgmental manner and then feel more present in our current situation,” she explained. “If we push these feelings down or judge ourselves for having them, they only grow larger.”
Resist the urge to compare your pup to a past pet
“Sometimes people bring past dog experiences into their new relationship with their dog and create very high standards for the new relationship with their dog, which takes time to build and does not always happen in the first few weeks or months,” Stuempfig explained. “People need to remind themselves that the relationship with their puppy will be different, and try not to place any expectations on the relationship. Rather, think of it as a new adventure that is yet to unfold.”
Remember that emotional bonds don’t form overnight, and that every dog has their own personality and special traits, which will emerge in due time and help you feel closer. Try to take it one day at a time and those positive memories will come.
“The puppy days can be exhausting and filled with stress,” Stuempfig said. “We are given strict guidelines to keep them healthy, tasked with obtaining well checks and immunizations, advised to facilitate puppy socialization, all while trying to maintain the other pre-existing life tasks. Oftentimes, the enjoyable memories come when the dog has grown past the puppy stage and the puppy tasks have been fulfilled.”
Make proper socialization a priority
Although medical issues can contribute to the puppy blues, Contreras believes a more common factor involves puppy behavioral issues, like potty training, excessive biting and barking, resource guarding, growling and separation anxiety.
“Lack of socialization is the most common reason for future behavioral problems. What’s more, the lack of proper socialization in addition to negative experiences at a young age can result in fear, aggression and generalized anxiety,” he said. “The good news is that most of the behavioral issues can be decreased with proper socialization and training, which will help owners feel less overwhelmed, anxious, and negative toward their new puppy.”
Getting your puppy vaccinated and following veterinary guidance will allow for safe social interactions with other dogs and positive development. Once your canine is old enough and you’ve taken the proper precautions, they can go out into the world and meet other pups.