Puppy Blues: What They Are and How to Fix Them
What exactly are the puppy blues? What causes them? And how can you get to the other side where you actually enjoy your dog?21 minute read
You got a puppy? That’s awesome! The dog-human bond is the stuff of legends. It’s inspired books, movies, music, statues, and more. Even ancient cave paintings pay tribute to our canine relationships.
But if life with man’s best friend is so great, why do you feel overwhelmed?
If you’re struggling with regret, disappointment, or even dismay when you think about your new family member, you’re not alone. This is called the puppy blues. Many new dog parents experience them shortly after bringing home a new dog.
Here’s everything you need to know about these emotions. What exactly are the puppy blues? What causes them? And how can you get to the other side where you actually enjoy your dog?
- The puppy blues are a period of negative emotions shortly after bringing a puppy home. Sometimes people call them post-puppy depression or even postpartum puppy depression. Symptoms include feelings of anxiety, grief, guilt, and regret.
- The puppy blues usually occur after the initial novelty of your new family member wears off. When the tiring reality of raising a puppy takes the place of idealistic excitement, dog parents find themselves wondering if they made the right decision.
- Having the puppy blues does not make you a bad dog parent! They’re a perfectly normal—and temporary—part of a major life transition.
- New dog parents often experience the puppy blues when reality doesn’t match their expectations. Raising a dog is rewarding. But it also tests the limits of your patience and time management.
- There are common reasons people get the puppy blues, like struggles with potty training, crate training, sleep deprivation, household destruction, and outside pressure to be “perfect”.
- Dogs don’t experience the world like humans do. Understanding your puppy’s canine senses and instinct—and remembering that she’s still growing up—will make it easier to set healthy expectations.
- A thoughtful puppy raising schedule can make the difference between “tired but motivated” and “completely overwhelmed.” Focus on long-term goals so you can trust the process.
- It’s important to take care of yourself the same way you take care of your puppy. Prioritize your own sleep, exercise, and nutrition. This gives you the energy your new dog needs.
- Remember that you don’t have to raise your puppy all alone. It takes a village. Don’t hesitate to enlist family, friends, and neighbors as a support network.
What are the puppy blues?
The puppy blues are a period of negative emotions—like depression, anxiety, and frustration—new dog parents might experience shortly after bringing a puppy home. Puppy blues are sometimes called post-puppy depression or even postpartum puppy depression owing to the similar symptoms.
Puppy blues typically happen after the initial novelty of having a new dog wears off. When the tiring reality of raising a living, breathing, teething creature takes the place of idealistic excitement, dog parents find themselves wondering if they made the right decision. Are you really cut out for this?
Thankfully, the puppy blues are both completely normal and temporary.
Symptoms of the puppy blues
Every dog parent might experience the puppy blues differently (some won’t experience them at all). Common symptoms of post-puppy depression include:
- Feelings of anxiety, extreme sadness, disappointment, guilt, grief, or regret
- Worrying that you’re “trapped” or made the wrong decision
- Emotional numbness
- Irritability and anger
- Concentration issues
- Trouble getting or staying asleep (some dog parents report nightmares about things that could go wrong, like their puppy getting injured or hurting someone else)
- Difficulty bonding with your new dog
Basically, the puppy blues are depressive symptoms centered around the responsibility of raising being a new dog parent.
When do the puppy blues happen?
Puppy blues typically show up within the first few days after bringing your dog home. At first many people experience an immediate high that they have a cute, wiggly puppy to adore. What’s not to love? She’s adorable!
But as that puppy starts to get into mischief, the reality of the time commitment to raise a happy, well-adjusted dog sets in. New dog parents start to feel (rightfully) overwhelmed.
Puppy blues usually go away within a few weeks or months. They might recur when your dog reaches new phases of development like:
- Fear periods in puppyhood and early adolescence
- Changes in sexual maturity
- House training regression
- Teething stages
Thankfully recurrences tend to be shorter—and easier to work through—than the initial period of post-puppy depression.
Puppy blues are a normal part of being a new dog parent
Having the puppy blues does not make you a bad dog parent! It’s normal to experience stress, worry, and doubt after you get a puppy. These are natural feelings that can come with any life transition.
- Many people experience the puppy blues. They don’t just happen to first-time adopters. Even seasoned dog trainers can struggle with feelings of regret and worry after getting a new dog. You’re in good company.
- The human mind favors familiarity. From an early age people develop patterns, habits, and routines. These allow our brains to conserve resources by “running on autopilot”. When something disrupts our day-to-day flow — like a career change, cross-country move, or new four-legged family member — we spend more mental energy just to make sense of the transition. This puts stress on our mental and physical systems.
- Humans have an uncertainty bias that leads us to imagine negative outcomes when we aren’t sure how something will play out. This can increase feelings of anxiety and depression during any major life change.
- And make no mistake: Puppies are a major life change. Some people claim “it’s just a dog”. But anyone who’s bonded with a canine will tell you it can be an intense experience (for better or worse).
Why do people get the puppy blues?
New dog parents often experience the puppy blues when reality doesn’t match their expectations. Puppies are a lot of work! Common causes of post-puppy depression include struggles with potty training, crate training, sleep deprivation, household destruction, and outside pressure to be “perfect”.
Sometimes the reality of a puppy doesn’t match your vision
Living with a dog is great. It can also be surprisingly difficult.
For one thing, it’s hard to have fully accurate expectations for your puppy before you bring them home. Every dog, family, and lifestyle is different! Sometimes no amount of research can prepare you for the real experience. Curveballs are inevitable.
There are also many dog ownership myths out there. The human-canine bond is an amazing thing, but it doesn’t come without serious commitment. Romanticized movies and overblown news stories can set you up for disappointment if you don’t instantly “click” with your new dog.
Ever heard that “happiness = reality – expectations”? When we imagine our puppies will act like Lassie or Air Bud from the moment we bring them home, we feel devastated when they actually turn out to be crying babies who constantly have to pee (and don’t care where they do it).
Puppies are a lot of (sometimes overwhelming) work
Raising a puppy can feel complicated. You have to keep track of mealtimes, potty breaks, basic training, and more—on top of existing work and family life. Even if you understand how dog parenthood might change your routine, it can still be hard to meet everyone’s needs.
Common puppy raising struggles include:
- Potty training woes
- Crate training, barking, and whining
- Sleep deprivation
- Outside pressure, especially when it comes to socialization
- Endless puppy energy with an inability to settle
- Teething and household destruction
- Communication between family members
It can take a while to potty train your puppy
Bathroom mishaps are one of the most frustrating parts of having a young dog. Pee puddles are smelly. Poop is gross. Accidents can happen in the single instant you look away from play time (seriously, you swear you were watching the whole time). Even the most focused dog parents inevitably find themselves mopping up a mess or two. When will the constant cleanup end? Can your carpet ever be the same?
Answers: The timeline depends. And with an enzymatic cleaner, your rugs will probably survive.
House training depends on two separate processes. It’s about both learned behavior and your puppy’s physical growth.
On average, most dogs are fully house trained within four to six months of age. Your puppy’s potty training will depend on context though. It might take a little longer if you’ve never owned a dog before or live with multiple people. Breed, size, and past experiences can also play a role.
Three keys to house training:
- Predict when your puppy needs to go so you start building good bathroom habits right away.
- Follow a consistent routine and watch your dog at all times so she doesn’t have the chance to practice peeing or pooping indoors.
- Use praise and rewards to communicate that you want your puppy to go to the bathroom outside.
Puppy cries are harsh on your ears
Dogs are social mammals who form deep bonds with humans. The younger they are, the harder it is for them to settle apart from you. Crate training can prepare your puppy to confidently spend time by herself. But in the meantime, odds are she’s going to cry.
No one likes listening to their dog bark and whine.
- Mammals have evolved cries with a specific impact on those who hear them. When you hear a high-pitched squeal that resembles a human baby, the noise activates brain regions for attention and empathy. It can be physically painful to listen to your puppy in distress.
- But is a puppy whine really that similar to a human infant’s? In short, yes. Since many distress calls occur before mothers have time to learn their offspring’s specific vocal signatures, it makes sense for caretakers to respond to any cry that vaguely resembles their child.
- Beyond the biological ways puppy cries affect our brain chemistry, new dog parents often worry what their human neighbors think of them. Owning a barking dog usually doesn’t make you popular at the local barbecue. So your puppy isn’t just bothering you. You’re afraid she might be ruining your neighbors' good graces.
Thankfully most puppies become more independent as they age. The right routine will have you on the road to peace and quiet in no time.
Sleep deprivation makes us more negative
Sleep is important for your growing puppy. Young dogs need between 18-20 hours a day! While your needs are a bit less intense—between 7-9 hours—rest is imperative for new dog parents, too.
- Lack of sleep predisposes us to negative thinking. When we’re overtired, we’re more likely to adversely interpret neutral or even positive stimuli. There’s a biological reason not getting enough sleep makes us cranky.
- Sleep deprivation makes us worry more. We’re especially likely to experience anxiety about the future (that’s one of the symptoms of puppy blues in the first place). If left unchecked, lack of sleep + worry that prevents us from sleeping can become a vicious cycle.
- We’re more emotionally reactive and impulsive when tired. This is not a good mix for a new dog owner dealing with puppy nipping, crying, and potty accidents. Patience has never been more important.
You might feel pressure to constantly socialize your puppy
Puppies are most open to forming connections with people and other animals early on in life. It’s easier to build appropriate social skills from the get-go than to try to fix undesirable behaviors down the line.
Because of this, new dog parents might experience intense pressure to take their puppy on frequent outings—even if you’re already overwhelmed just managing at-home behavior like house and crate training.
- Even though adult dogs don’t build new associations as quickly as eight-week-old puppies, you can still maintain and gradually improve their comfort with things after your puppy’s critical socialization period has ended.
- Socialization quality matters more than quantity. It’s better to have just a few positive experiences than to have dozens of good with a handful of bad. And if you go into an experience overtired out of a sense of obligation? Odds are the outing won’t go as hoped.
- Your long-term goals are important. You don’t have to socialize your puppy the exact same way your family members, friends, or neighbors do.
Young dogs have a lot of energy, but can’t exercise like adults
Your new puppy sprints around like she’s caffeinated. She hasn’t learned how to settle on her own yet. She constantly seeks stimulation from the world around her. You wish you just could tire her out…but her bones and joints aren’t fully developed. This means she can’t engage in frequent activity the way an adult dog could.
So what are you supposed to do?
- Remember that a tired dog isn’t necessarily a good dog. A fulfilled one is. While physical exercise is part of satisfying your puppy’s needs, it isn’t the whole picture.
- Revisit your puppy’s crate training. A comfortable den can teach your dog to settle in one physical location. This is especially helpful for pups who are always on the move.
None of your belongings are safe from a puppy
Speaking of all that puppy energy: You thought you had properly “puppy proofed” your home. You followed online guides and breeder recommendations. You stored small toys, electronic cords, and food items out of the way. You did your best to eliminate anything your new dog could get into.
Yet you still find yourself dealing with puppy destruction. Your rug’s torn up. The couch has bite marks. Your kid’s favorite stuffed toy is in tatters. Not to mention the scratches on your own arms and legs. Are you stuck with a baby alligator forever?
Thankfully, no. Your puppy will eventually stop teething. With proper guidance, she’ll grow out of her nipping behavior. In the meantime, though, canine chewing instincts take some getting used to.
- It’s normal to grieve a little when your favorite pair of shoes becomes another casualty. Give yourself and your new dog some grace.
- Remember that puppies like to learn about the world by putting things in their mouths. This is natural.
- Manage your puppy’s environment to keep everyone safe. Crates, baby gates, exercise pens, and leashes are your friends.
It’s hard to get your whole household on the same page
Extra sets of hands are great for taking care of puppy chores. The more people at home, the more complicated your puppy raising experience gets. Not only do you have to manage your new dog, you also have to manage everyone else’s expectations.
What does this mean? Sometimes the puppy blues are less about your new four-legged family member and more about getting your existing household on the same page. Miscommunication between the humans involved can exacerbate every common puppy problem listed above. Consistency is paramount to your dog’s success.
Thankfully, a solid schedule and open conversations will help everything fall into place.
How do I get through the puppy blues?
The good news is, puppy blues are temporary. You can make them easier by understanding who your dog is. Remember she’s still growing up. Create a solid puppy raising routine to keep your family on track even (and especially) when things feel overwhelming. All the while, take care of yourself, too! You don’t have to do this alone.
Understand who your dog is
Dogs aren’t fur-covered humans. Here are some things to keep in mind as a new puppy parent:
- Dogs don’t experience the world like humans do. A canine’s primary sense is smell, followed by hearing and sight.
- Dogs have larger social bubbles than we do. They can feel connected to their family from a greater physical distance. This is in part because they rely less on visual contact. It explains why they often want to explore ahead of us on walks.
- Dogs have an associative memory, rather than an episodic memory. This means they learn patterns and develop “pictures” of certain situations as opposed to recalling specific events the way we do.
- They also have poor short-term recollection. Yelling at your dog for something she did twenty minutes ago won’t do either of you any good.
- That said, canines can experience one-trial learning. This explains why some puppies become afraid of all other dogs after being attacked once. We should prioritize general associations while avoiding single-event trauma.
- Dogs aren’t wolves. It’s not just their appearance that has evolved. Their personalities have too! Domestic dogs are more social with members of other species. They also retain juvenile traits throughout adulthood, which is called neoteny.
- Dominance is largely based on control of resources. This means we’re automatically in charge of our dogs’ lives—even without following outdated “alpha” training protocols.
Realize your puppy is still growing up
The more you understand what’s going on with your dog at different stages of development, the easier it is to set fair expectations. If you ask a young dog to behave like an adult, you’re going to be disappointed. If you meet her where she is, you can enjoy the journey as a team.
Let’s take a look at what your puppy needs at different points while growing up.
2-3 months: She’s just a baby
- Most dogs leave their breeder at around eight weeks (two months) of age.
- This is the start of your puppy’s first fear period. She will likely be wary of new experiences for a few weeks. It’s normal for her to take some time to settle in.
- At about three months old, your puppy will really start teething.
- Your dog needs almost constant guidance at this age. Supervise her every time she’s not in a crate or pen.
- Make sure your puppy eats multiple times a day, uses the bathroom every two to four hours, and gets plenty of sleep.
- While young puppies can be unsure of novel situations, her brain is ready to soak everything in. Prioritize positive exposure to relevant sights, sounds, surfaces, and objects.
4-6 months: Your puppy is still developing
- Your puppy should be over her first fear period by four months of age.
- She might show more independence and start testing boundaries. Watch as her long-term personality traits begin to emerge.
- Your puppy might double in size and finally grow into her paws as she approaches six months.
- By this time she should have almost all of her adult teeth. Here’s to the end of the painful teething phase!
- She still needs to eat multiple times a day, use the bathroom frequently, and take regular naps.
6-18 months: Adolescence is here
- Your puppy is approaching maturity. She might reach her adult size! It’s important to remember she’s not fully developed yet, though. Teenage dogs are often easily distracted.
- Around six to eight months, your puppy’s bathroom and nutrition needs stabilize. You can move to twice daily feedings and take her outside less often.
- Your dog might go through another fear period in early adolescence. This is usually less pronounced than her first.
Create a solid routine and training plan for your puppy
The same way puppies thrive with consistency, so do dog parents. When you’re guided by a routine built on your priorities, everything falls into place. A thoughtful schedule can make the difference between “tired but motivated” and “completely overwhelmed.”
At a high level:
- During life changes, we often hear that we should “trust the process.” But we can’t trust a process we don’t fully buy into. An intentional puppy raising routine will help you stay grounded. You’ll know exactly what to do—even on your most overwhelming days as a new dog parent.
- A set routine makes sure nothing slips through the cracks and helps everyone build healthy habits from the get go. Over time, you can become more flexible.
- Center your schedule around long-term goals. Different lifestyles and priorities lend themselves to different routines.
- The most effective routines prioritize basic needs first like food, water, and sleep before working in extra activities. This makes sure your puppy has the energy she needs to thrive.
- Remember your puppy is growing physically and mentally. It’s important to manage your dog’s environment when she’s young. Practice patience, and know that your puppy should mellow out over time.
- Stacking activities can make good dog parenting feel more attainable. Instead of treating each responsibility like a separate to-do item, consider combining them into groups.
Take care of your own physical and mental health
This might seem contradictory. After all, you’re feeling run down precisely because your puppy requires so much of your energy! But one of the best things you can do for your new dog is take care of yourself first. Clichéd but true: You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Give your body what it needs
When we think about our puppies’ basic needs, we consider things like nutritious food, fresh water, adequate sleep, fulfilling physical and mental activities, and social interaction. We should follow the same process for ourselves.
While it might not be possible to become a staple of human health when you have a teething puppy monster running around, you can take steps to give your body what it needs. When you’re feeling physically stable? It’s easier for your mental health to follow.
- Consider meal prepping ahead of time so you have nutritious food that’s easy to grab and go.
- Keep a water bottle near you at all times. It’s easier to stay hydrated when water’s always within reach.
- Think about ways you can exercise with your puppy. This takes less time than meeting everyone’s needs separately. You might run around the yard together or go on a longer socialization walk where you carry her part of the way. You can even work basic bodyweight exercises into her impulse control training: Do a few squats while practicing her sit or down stay.
- If not, some gyms are notorious for being cool with dogs
- Make sure you get out of the house. Social interaction is a basic need! It’s inevitable that your puppy will take up the bulk of your time in these early weeks. But you don’t want to completely sacrifice your other relationships as a result.
- Plan time for yourself in your puppy’s daily schedule. Can you take a short nap while she’s in her crate? Maybe read a book while she enjoys a new chew. You might have to get creative — but the opportunities are there.
Allow yourself to feel the puppy blues
Remember that the puppy blues are normal. There’s no shame in experiencing them! Give yourself space to feel these emotions without judgment. You are not a bad dog parent. You are not going to fail. You just need to acknowledge your feelings and create a plan moving forward.
Stay centered on your long-term goals
When you align your current priorities with value-driven goals, you’ll feel more confident about your decisions. This makes it easier to stay motivated when things get tough.
Think about what you want, for both yourself and your dog, out of this new relationship. What drew you to a canine companion? What do you hope to experience together? What does your ideal lifestyle look like?
Reflecting on who you are, where you are, and what you want will help you build the best possible life with your dog. And be sure to think about what you want—not what your neighbor, family member, or friend might do in your place.
Looking ahead: Practice your mental resilience
Remember when we talked about our brains naturally resisting change? There are easy ways to build your mental resilience. This makes you less prone to puppy blues in the future (like when your dog becomes an adolescent or experiences some training regression).
- Consider cognitive exercises like Lumosity. Some professionals champion these sites as “going to the gym” for your brain. It might be uncomfortable at first—just like working a new muscle group—but can build strength over time.
- Get out of your daily routine. We know we just spent the bulk of this article talking about the importance of keeping your puppy on a schedule! Healthy habits are important, but it’s a good idea to change things up for yourself once in a while.
- Routine shifts don’t have to be dramatic. They can be as simple as brushing your teeth with your opposite hand or switching the order of your breakfast and shower. Small changes keep you on your toes.
What if my puppy blues really aren’t getting better?
Most post-puppy depression isn’t cause for concern. They’re temporary emotions that dissipate as you and your dog settle into a routine. But sometimes puppy blues don’t go away on their own. They might indicate deeper training issues or longer-lasting mental health problems.
Call in a professional to get you and your puppy back on track
If your dog’s problematic behavior isn’t improving as she ages, it’s a good idea to call in some help. Consider working with a step-by-step dog training app, online class, or in-person professional to overcome the prime sources of your stress.
Some common issues:
- Potty training regression
- Mouthing and biting that doesn’t improve once your puppy has finished teething
- Reactivity towards people or other dogs, especially on leash
- Separation anxiety
How do you know if your dog really needs training or if you’re just “overreacting” to normal puppy stuff? It’s better to be safe than sorry. If your dog’s behavior is decreasing your family’s quality of life—and hasn’t gotten better with a consistent schedule—it’s time to ask for help. You might start small (with an app or video course) before escalating to an in-person coach. Or you might decide it’s time for private lessons right away. Many trainers and behaviorists will let you briefly describe what you’re experiencing before committing to a program or package.
Don’t hesitate to seek outside help for your emotions
The same goes for you as a dog parent. If your negative emotions are drastically affecting daily life or haven’t gone away after a few weeks, reach out to a mental health professional. It’s important to be patient and trust the process when you’re experiencing the puppy blues. It’s also imperative that you get help if you need it.
Remember you don’t have to do it alone
Puppy raising being the sole responsibility of a single person or couple is a pretty modern idea. Much like caring for children, it “takes a village” to set your new family member up for success.
Your puppy raising schedule comes back into play here. If you have a clear system for your puppy’s routine, that makes it easier for a larger support network to get involved. No crossed wires or accidental confusion.
There are probably more people who are willing to help out than you realize. Enlist family, friends, and neighbors to make things more manageable (it's a bonus that this exposure is great for your puppy’s socialization). And explore professionals like dog walkers and trainers who can support you through trying times too.