When you imagine getting a new puppy, you might think of TV shows, movies, or online videos that emphasize how much happiness that life-changing decision brings. While getting a new puppy is indeed life-changing, happiness is not always included (at least, not initially). If you have gotten a new puppy and are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, regretful, or depressed, that might be due to a case of the puppy blues.
Even though the puppy blues may not be highlighted often in mass media, it is not unusual for pet owners to experience these difficult feelings and emotions. If you have the puppy blues, know that it is not anything to be ashamed about—your feelings are valid, and there are others out there who have shared your experience.
What Is “the Puppy Blues”?
The puppy blues—also known as puppy depression, post-puppy depression, or postpartum puppy depression—is a condition that can affect anyone adopting a new dog or puppy. Like postpartum depression, it can involve feelings of regret, extreme sadness, anxiety, or overload centered around your new family member.
Puppy blues is not a medically recognized condition, but it features many symptoms that are similar to but distinctive from other conditions like anxiety and depression. Part of what makes it unique is that it does not typically last long-term: generally, the puppy blues last for a few days to a few months after adopting a dog or puppy.
The puppy blues do not last long-term in part because the condition can be triggered by frustrating parts of a puppy’s development, including bathroom accidents, biting issues, and extended periods of crying or whining. Some of these issues will be grown out of while others will require training to curb.
Puppy blues may show up within the first few days to weeks after adoption, although it can also recur when new issues crop up. Typically, though, these recurrences are not as difficult or lengthy as the initial puppy blues experienced.
It is important to consider that both the puppy and the family need time to get to know each other and will not immediately be best friends. Like newborn babies, puppies are developing their personalities and still learning how to express their needs appropriately. Understandably, this can sometimes lead to frustration for the new owner.
While the name suggests exclusivity to puppies, puppy blues can be experienced by new owners of older dogs, too. For both owners of new puppies and owners of “new” older dogs, a key element in healing from the puppy blues is time. Additionally, the puppy blues are not unique to new puppy owners; seasoned dog owners may also experience the puppy blues upon adopting a new dog.
Symptoms of the Puppy Blues
In addition to anxiety, depression, and regret, additional symptoms of puppy blues include feeling numb, guilty, resentful, or trapped. These largely relate to the lifestyle change of getting a new dog, especially the new demands on the owner’s attention and time. The lifestyle changes associated with a new puppy may also exacerbate the owner’s preexisting mental health conditions.
Disruptions to the new owner’s life and schedule may also result in exhaustion, increased irritability, weight gain or loss, or concentration issues, some of which may be linked to sleep deprivation or continued disruptions and overall exhaustion stemming from having a new puppy who needs to be let in and out and who may verbalize throughout the night.
Causes of the Puppy Blues
The puppy blues may occur due to unmet expectations, feeling overwhelmed, or lifestyle changes. In the first case, the experience of getting a new puppy may not live up to what the owner expected (or was led to expect). This may result in disappointment or even anger at the dog.
Getting a new puppy is an exciting experience for many people, and it is quite likely that eventually a strong bond will be forged between the dog and its owner, but some media may lead a new owner to believe this bond will be instantaneous upon adoption. The time it takes to bond will differ from dog to dog, but the fact remains that it will take time whether the new dog is a puppy or an adult.
Overexposure to information—even helpful resources—may overwhelm a new owner and amplify the puppy blues. New owners should do research in order to have some idea of what to expect with their new puppies, but too much information may end up confusing the owner or causing discouragement if the dog does not behave as expected.
In general, lifestyle changes can be very stressful and may bring about anxiety, depression, or disconnection. Adopting a new puppy is one of the more extreme lifestyle changes in that it involves, at a minimum, two individuals: the owner and the dog.
Taking care of another living creature is a huge responsibility. Feeling incapable of living up to that responsibility or feeling unable to meet the animal’s needs (or your own!) can be extremely emotionally taxing.
How to Minimize the Puppy Blues
If you are experiencing the puppy blues or are concerned that you might in the future, there are certain steps you can take to try to decrease that emotional discomfort.
While it has the potential to cause additional stress if overdone, it is important to do some research about puppy ownership before getting a new puppy. If you’ve gotten a new puppy already or have been seriously considering getting one, it is likely that you have already done a lot of research and are informed about the demands and responsibilities of puppy ownership.
It is important to keep in mind, though, that while there are developmental milestones that each healthy puppy will hit, different breeds have different needs and every dog has its own unique personality. Thus, while you may be intellectually prepared for a new dog, the experience itself may be quite different from your expectations and could lead to discouragement. Also, it may take some time for your puppy to develop their personality, which can lead to frustration.
Before You Have the Puppy
Learn What to Expect
If you have not yet gotten the puppy but are concerned about having the puppy blues, some ways to prepare include learning more about puppies’ developmental milestones, preparing a schedule and a way to track progress, and talking to a pet professional or therapist about the upcoming life change.
If you understand what is “normal” for your puppy, you may find it easier to cope. For instance, knowing that puppies are typically adoptable at or after eight weeks of age and that between eight- to twelve-weeks old is the “fear period” may be helpful for understanding why your puppy may be having some trouble adjusting.
Additionally, puppies grow their puppy teeth when they are about four weeks old, then lose them and grow in their adult teeth sometime around four to six months of age. This can lead to discomfort as the new teeth grow in and exploratory biting while they have their puppy teeth, which in turn can lead to frustration with the puppy. However, expecting this behavior and change may help you feel more empowered.
Prepare a Schedule for Your Puppy
In addition to creating structure for your puppy, a schedule can help you make time for yourself. When you find yourself caring for a puppy without breaks, it is easy to find yourself experiencing the puppy blues. If you have a plan (especially one you’ve made based on research), you may find that both you and your new dog manage the milestones more easily.
Tracking the puppy’s progress—and your own progress throughout the experience—is another way to preemptively combat the puppy blues, which may be expressed as hopelessness or a feeling of being overwhelmed. If you keep a record of what has gone right and what you expect in the future, you may find it easier to work through the tough parts of puppy growth.
Speak With a Therapist and/or Dog Professional
Finally, it may be a good idea to make an appointment with a therapist to discuss ways of coping with your upcoming lifestyle change. While it is important to try to have compassion for the puppy and understand what they will be going through, it is just as important for you to have compassion for yourself and to not judge yourself too harshly as you go through this life change. A therapist can help address any emotional concerns you have and can provide advice on how you can handle those upcoming stressors.
Discussing your new addition with a dog behaviorist or trainer is also a good idea. They can give you realistic expectations for what you will be encountering, and also let you know what is “normal” for this period of your new dog’s life. Having a good sense of what you are getting into can make many of the stresses of new dog parenthood much easier.
After You Have the Puppy
If you already have the puppy, some actions that might mitigate the puppy blues include finding time for yourself, seeking out support, and getting sleep.
While it may be difficult to avoid feeling guilty for making time for yourself, if you can manage to get occasional breaks from the puppy, you will likely be in a better place to handle the rough stuff when it comes up. This is part of why it is important to crate train your puppy early: If your puppy is comfortable in their crate, you can leave them there for a little while. Alternatively, if you are comfortable leaving your puppy in a separate room in your house, that could also give you a short break.
A Support System
It can also be helpful to have friends or family you can rely on. Even if nobody is able to help you shoulder the responsibility of caring for your puppy or relieving you for short breaks, having someone to talk to about what you are going through may help alleviate the puppy blues. In lieu of family or friends, a therapist might also be a helpful option for support and discussion; alternatively, there are many online communities and groups based around puppy care, and even some specifically made for puppy blues.
Support can also take the form of puppy training classes or one-on-one help with a trainer. Online resources and books can provide a ton of guidance, but some issues may be better handled in a setting in which another person can directly provide help or answer questions.
Get Enough Sleep
Finally, one simple way to decrease the hopelessness that can come with puppy blues is to get more sleep. This may feel—and, in some cases, may be—impossible, but if you are able to crate your puppy or keep them in another room during the night, you may find it easier to get some sleep. While puppies do not have the same bathroom control adult dogs have, it may be easier (and healthier) for you to set alarms to let the puppy out, rather than being woken up randomly throughout the night.
Rehoming a Puppy or Dog
Some people who experience the puppy blues feel so overwhelmed that they cannot imagine a way out except to rehome the puppy. It is important to weigh your options very carefully if you are feeling like this would be best. If you end up deciding that that is the healthiest choice for you and the puppy, though, you should not feel ashamed about your decision.
Your Mental Health
If you are dealing with extreme puppy blues and are experiencing suicidal ideation or have experienced symptoms that have not decreased over a few weeks, you should reach out to a therapist or mental health professional. Do not feel ashamed about your struggle—others have gone through it, too, and you are not a failure for having those feelings.
Although coping with the puppy blues while still providing adequate care for your new pup may feel impossible, know that many others have also experienced what you are going through and you are not alone. You may be able to minimize the negative effects of the puppy blues through expectation adjustment and practical changes, but the causes may continue.
In many cases, the puppy blues will be alleviated through time and patience; the wait may be frustrating, but recognizing the different phases of puppy development and looking forward to the puppy moving into the next phase may decrease feelings of hopelessness.
Your new puppy is going through a lot and is growing up right in front of you. They do not want to cause you anger or frustration, even though it may be hard not to feel that way sometimes. You may be in a rough spot now, but it is likely that in a few months (even in a few weeks) your puppy will be in a different developmental phase and things will improve. The puppy blues won’t last forever, and your bond will strengthen over time, even if it feels impossible now.