I Got the Post Puppy Blues

My majestic animal

Anybody who knows me at all, in any context, probably knows that I adopted a dog two weeks ago. It’s all I talk about all the time. Sources know that she might try to get in my lap during an interview. Friends know that they’re invited over any time to see her and teach her how to play nice. My family knows because I already brag about how much better behaved she is than their dogs.

What they probably don’t know is that for a few days in a row last week I came home from running errands and sat on my floor and cried.

A few days after we brought Moro home a friend of mine warned me: “Beware of post-puppy depression.” I didn’t really know what she meant. Dogs are great. I love dogs. I’ve been talking about getting a dog for over a year. And now I had found the perfect pup and she was ours. What could possibly go wrong?

But talking about getting a dog, and actually getting a dog, it turns out, are different. Duh, you are probably thinking. Well yeah, duh, but there are all sorts of things that you think you know, but you don’t really understand until you do them. (Fellow LWON’er and dog haver Cassie has learned this too.)

We knew she would need training and a routine and a lot of exercise. But there’s a difference between knowing all of that, and suddenly having a small monster in your house that pees on the floor and never seems to get tired and pulls your arm off if she sees another dog that she wants to play with.

But even then, all that I could deal with. Then she started barking. The pup hadn’t made a peep for over a week, and suddenly she was barking. At people, at dogs, at nothingness. And her bark is big. It’s scary. People jump away when they hear it, which is honestly an appropriate reaction. She’s incredibly friendly, but they don’t know that. They see a big black dog and hear a deep full bark. I would probably shy away too.

I could handle pee, I could handle a puller, I could handle her endless energy. But I couldn’t handle the barking. All the feelings of fear and inadequacy I had suppressed in the first week, all the doubts about our ability to have a dog, about the size of our apartment, our lack of yard, our schedules, our readiness to train a small beast, came up at once.

That afternoon I went to the store to get more dog treats for training, and on my way back, when I started thinking about taking her out of her crate and down the stairs for a walk, I started to panic. What if she barked at someone? What made us think we could handle this animal? Why didn’t we pick a calmer dog? What the hell are we doing? When I got home I avoided her gaze and sat on the floor in the kitchen and cried.

I don’t mean to diminish postpartum depression, which is a very real and very serious thing that I have never experienced and cannot truly understand. And I don’t mean to say that my puppy woes are that bad. But I do wish that someone had told me about post-puppy blues before I got a puppy. It wouldn’t have changed my decision to get one, but it might have helped me avoid crying on the floor of the kitchen and then feeling very dumb about it.

Sorry I peed in the house again.
Sorry I peed in the house again.

It turns out that there is little scientific literature out there on how humans adapt to the early post-adoption days. One study that looked at dogs returned to a shelter found that most of the reasons animals were given back were behavioral problems that the adopter didn’t know about until they got the pup home. But it didn’t address the kind of human anxiety that my friend described and that I’ve been feeling. Another study tried to gather “owner experiences of the first month post-adoption” but it focused on the dog’s behavioral problems and not the owner’s. So I decided to do what I normally do when I have a question, and ask people. I put out a call on Twitter for folks who had adopted a dog, to see if they had thoughts, and boy did they. It turns out I am not alone in the “crying alone on the floor” reaction to a new dog. All told over 20 people sent me their pup stories. Here’s an abridged version of some of the advice I got from dog owners via email and Twitter DM’s.

Jennifer Stone described our drive home with Moro pretty well: “On the way home from picking up the pup, I started thinking of all the downsides – the things that had made it hard to go for it again: the chewing, the getting into things, the eternal, infernal poop-picking-up. Honestly, by the time we got home, I was almost hyperventilating.”

“The day we got our dog, she was sitting on the floor barking at nothing and we had a very brief but fairly serious ‘we can’t give this back, right?’ conversation, and for a good 4-6 months or so afterward, I would have told you ‘I love Trudy, but we should not have a dog.’” said Seth Rosenthal.

When my dog’s foster family first dropped her off, the first thing I did was cry for like an hour while she sat next to me, bewildered. I just felt overwhelmed and scared to be responsible for this little creature’s life,” said Allegra Ringo. (Ringo is the cohost of a podcast about dogs called Can I Pet Your Dog which I highly recommend.)  “My dog (who wasn’t a puppy, I adopted her at about 3-4 years old) would have accidents in my apartment and I would just cry,” Stephanie said. 

For other people the anxiety didn’t hit until a little bit later. “It was maybe a week or so after we got Shadow that we had that “What did we do?” period,” Erin Palmer told me. “Super stressful for me and my partner, there were fights and tears.” 

The vast majority of the responses I got were just like these. A few people did say that they never experienced this kind of freak out, and to those people I say: more dogs for you. 

Finally tired after hours of chasing that ball.
Finally tired after hours of chasing that ball.

And for the rest of us, it’s all going to be okay. Though tales of crying were common, everybody who offered thoughts also said that it got better. Ringo said that a routine is what helped her get over the initial puppy-shock. “For me, it breaks dog ownership down into baby steps every day. Like you don’t have to think “today I am responsible for the life of this dog.” You just think “ok, it’s morning, that means we go outside for her to use the bathroom,” she said. Stephanie said it took her about five months to “adjust to her and let myself love her fully.” Rosenthal, whose pup Trudy wouldn’t stop barking, said his uncertainty faded with time. “Now I can’t imagine living without her.” 

We’re still learning how to handle Moro, and she’s still learning what we want from her. But she hasn’t barked at anybody in a week, and she’s learning how to run next to me on the leash to get some of her endless energy out. Soon I’m sure I’ll find something else to be anxious about. And if your dog wants to come over and play, Moro would love nothing more.

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22 thoughts on “I Got the Post Puppy Blues

  1. I ended up weeping a lot when our pup was about this same age. My husband found this bewildering: “But you wanted a puppy!?” All of a sudden, the dog started standing on our couch (allowed, but still) and barking at me while staying JUST out of arm’s reach. His “entertain me!” bark is incredibly loud and sharp. I really wondered if we’d ruined a decade of our lives. It turns out that, no, we semi-ruined about a year of it, by which I mean that puppies are very stressful but he’s a calm, pleasant guy to be around now and worth patience and training. I’m pregnant right now and often have to console myself that a newborn human will be challenging but at least the appropriate animal for me to be raising. I think we discount how hard it is to communicate with a needy baby creature who’s not even the same species.

  2. When we got our shiba inu ages ago, she was the cutest ball of fluff you can imagine, and mean as a snake. I mean, not really MEAN, exactly, but she’d kind of attack me hard when we played and she was so bad on the leash! And I cried. Oh, I cried. This was a puppy…they’re supposed to be sweet as can be! (She was never that, which is partly a breed thing, but things did get better.)

  3. This happened to me when I adopted my kitten a few months ago. She was great, she was wonderful and well behaved, and I was sure she was the right kitten for us, but she was completely not interested in day-time cuddling, and I freaked out that I had FINALLY convinced my partner to agree to get a kitten and I’d picked a dud who would never love us. We all got over that bit (me sobbing on the floor), even the kitten. We’re pretty well convinced she likes us now, haha.

  4. My wife and I adopted a 2 year old rescue lab and we went through the same thing. At first at night when he was sleeping, we’d try to be quiet so he wouldn’t wake up and maybe start barking. But it’s an adjustment for the human as well as the dog. Now, a year later, there is no way we could think about living without him.

  5. Sorry… But do any of you have children?? Having kids is 100x more… More anxiety, more expense, etc. And you can not simply return your child to where s/he came from. You,re basically stuck with the kid for 18 years, if not a lifetime.

  6. Wow, this exact thing happened to me. After a few days of the puppy whining and barking all night, I had to give her up because I was seriously considering killing us both. It was one of the darkest times of my life and the incident played a major role in my decision not to have children: I don’t handle neediness and sleeplessness well at all.

  7. Advice from a long time dog owner. If there is nobody at your house for 8-10 hrs a day or longer, Don’t get a dog. Dogs need attention, supervision and love. Leaving them alone so long just invites bad behavior. If you don’t have a yard don’t even consider a dog larger than 10 lbs. Large dogs come with their own set of very large troubles. Problems are magnified, poop, aggression, destructiveness, energy, noise, etc. I will say it again DO NOT lock up a large dog in an apartment all day. It’s cruel to the dog, they will be destructive and bark all the time. Your neighbors will hate you. Just don’t do it. And for heaven’s sake do not lock them in a crate all day long.

  8. My first week with my new puppy was hell. I was sleep deprived. Got the food amounts mixed up and couldn’t work out why he wasn’t eating all the food. Realized by house and decor were NOT puppy proof. And to cap it all off he seemed to like everyone else better than me…..so I started to think that my new dog didn’t like me. Can’t imagine what the little guy was thinking! Everything is awesome now, couldn’t imagine life without him. Other people tell me about their dogs issues and I just can’t believe how well behaved and friendly our dog is….after what was a very neurotic start(on my part).

  9. Exactly this is happening to me. We’ve had our Alaskan Malamute for about a month. He was a rescue, and is about 3 years old. I had a german shepherd before for ten years, who passed away aged 12, so I would say I’m quite an experienced owner of a large dog. However I am finding him really hard to cope with and my stress levels have risen dramatically. Although he has now settled into a sleep/walk routine, I am still very anxious about whether he will get on with other dogs, will I have to walk miles into the countryside to avoid meeting anyone, and can I really commit myself for the next ten years or so to another huge dog. Mainly it’s my guilt that now he’s here, I can’t possibly take him back to the rescue centre as my children will be absolutely devastated, as they adore him.
    I’m so pleased to know that other people, having experienced the same feelings, are now on the road to recovery – let’s hope I will soon feel better too.

  10. These stories are a comfort … I remember distinctly, after having our Bernese puppy just a couple of weeks, sobbing in my husband’s arms and telling him I “ruined our life” by getting this dog. Cute as a bug’s ear, the dog was being every inch a puppy – chewing, ramming around, not understanding commands (not understanding much of anything), having to go out every 10 minutes (or so it seemed), crying (oh, no, wait – that was me). But it does change, it does get better, and now our pup is a wonderful 4 year old dog who is beautiful, calm, happy and loving. I am a better person for having him in my life. But it brings into sharp focus how ill prepared I was about just what it takes to be a dog parent (even after reading 25 books on raising a puppy) – the time, the money, the commitment, the patience (!), the consistency. I didn’t look in the mirror hard enough or long enough … but he’s a wonderful dog and we love him very much. He’s changed our life for the better and I’m oh, so happy he’s ours.

  11. I’ve had my puppy for just over a month. Weeks 2 & 3 were the worst. I actually Googled “depression after getting puppy” to see if I was crazy. I did good taking him out every hour, getting 5 hours of sleep a night, running him around to tire him out, playing with him. The thing that set me over the edge was the constant gnawing on my body. He’s teething and it seems nothing feels good to chew on except human flesh. It isn’t mean or very painful, but the incessant endlessness really started to get to me. We’ve since found a few things he’ll chew on to relieve us for a bit.

  12. @Jay Melo – Poor advice. There are plenty of larger dogs very well suited to apartment life. Many of the big-uns are actually better suited to apartment life. Energy level is the most important factor when matching a dog to your home/lifestyle, but it’s more tied to the job the specific breed was bred for than the size of the dog.

  13. Also like to mention that… crating dogs is a very smart practice which I recommend to any and every dog owner. It’s their home, they enjoy having space of their own to retire to. If you’re going to crate train, please read up on proper crate training. It’s a place for them to relax and enjoy… not a punishment hole that you put the bad-dog in when you don’t want to deal with them.

  14. I went through the same thing last year February. I blamed myself for disturbing my own life/routine for having a dog. But those days are over, my dog and I both learned from each other. I love her so much, and I don’t treat her as a dog but family, silly but I actually claim her as my daughter. Yes, I treat her like how I treat myself. Yes, the few months were adjustments, pee/poo in the house but those were first few months. I was so neurotic that my hard wood floors/carpet are soiled. However, I realized to accept all those comes with owning a dog. I am way ok with that…life is too short and her life is too shorter than mine. I can’t imagine without her in my life.

  15. Thanks for everybody’s input and concern about our pup! For what it’s worth, she’s doing really well. I work from home, so we hang out and can play when she gets restless, and she’s going on nice long runs with me in the morning. That, plus one day a week of doggy daycare where she can cavort with other pups is keeping her quite happy. We’re also crate training her which she’s getting used to quite nicely.

  16. This is exactly why i recommend people go and adopt older dogs. If you do not have time to train one this makes perfect sense. Lets be honest some people have no idea how to train a canine and it takes time… Also there is a special bond if one can feel such to certain Dogs…. This is probably the most important aspect in owing a family pet… If you get an older dog in most cases they are already trained and chilled out…

  17. Good lord, what a bunch of wusses. God help you if you have to take care of another human. Pick up the poo, dry up the pee and teach the dog not to bark at everything. Move on.

  18. SO GLAD that I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. Last year I got a bulldog puppy (she has since very tragically passed) and I always joked with my friends that our first 6 weeks together were spent with me going back and forth between overwhelming love for her, and a scary depression that told me I’d made a horrible mistake. After we’d established a routine and I got used to this major life change the depression went away. I think the fear of feeling like that again is what keeps me from introducing another pup into my life.

  19. We adopted our bundle of furry energy in spring of 2014. While I won’t say we ever even remotely considered giving him back to the rescue, I will say that my relationship with my partner went through some pretty big changes. There were tears, there were fights, there was resentment- it took us a little while to figure out how to work as a team in “parenting” this furry terror who wanted nothing more than to run around, pee in the house, and chew on things. We didn’t sleep through the night for a month. Little by little though, we figured out how to communicate and how to trust each other (and the little furry demon got lots bigger and much less demon-like) and I can honestly say we all came out on the other end much more mature about a lot of things.

    To those of you scoffing at the pet parents with “just wait til you have kids”… well, I just read an article that specifically looked at couples who get a dog, and there are TONS of similarities in how couples adjust to a dog and how couples adjust to a baby. Turns out that couples who go through the rigors of getting a pet together are better prepared to deal with the much more intense rigors of having a baby. All those adjustments and weird resentments and frustrations and communication issues get worked out on a smaller scale with the puppy. If done successfully, the groundwork is laid for the same new connections when that first kid comes along.

  20. I have lived with my Yorkie for 16 wonderful years. My life would not have been what it is with him and will never be the same when he leaves me. The personality he developed over time, his ticks and tocks and how he is utterly devoted to me and how it’s a party every night when I get home for the last 16 years overshadows all the times he ate tissues socks or whatever else he found, chewed on my furniture or my shoes and the resulting very high vet bills. The first years are when you bond and it’s the best time to be with them. Just stick with them and be patient. Every time you get a lick on the cheek they let you know how much it’s worth it.

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