Last updated February 7, 2021
You got a puppy – and it’s turning out to be a lot more challenging than you expected.
I mean, you knew getting a dog would be hard work, but holy crap, you were not prepared for THIS.
Sound about right?
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Thinking of Returning Your New Puppy to the Shelter/Breeder?”
It was about what to do when you’ve totally HAD IT with your new dog. It was part pep talk, part problem-solving guide. You should read that post before you read this one.
At the end of the original version of the post, I included my email address.
“Need some advice? Need to vent?” I said. “Email me. Use the subject line ‘puppy help’ so it’ll stand out in my inbox.”
I figured I’d get a few responses, from people looking for house training tips or something.
I was not quite prepared for the avalanche of emotion that followed.
Since I published that article in 2011, I received a steady stream of “Puppy Help” emails – more than I could keep up with – from people pouring out their hearts.
Turns out, a lot of people, even more than I thought, experience serious doubt and despair when they get a new dog.
What’s amazing about these emails is how similar they all are. From all over the world, from all kinds of backgrounds, everyone’s stories are pretty much the same. Everyone shares the same fears and frustrations.
And everyone thinks they’re alone.
In that first blog post, I described my experience raising my first puppy, and just how friggin’ hard it was. “I thought I ended up with the worst puppy in the world,” I said, exaggerating slightly for dramedic effect, but only VERY SLIGHTLY.
I got countless emails that go like this: “Oh thank God! I thought I adopted the worst puppy in the world, too. I’m so glad I’m not the only one to go through this.”
No, you are not the only one.
To show you just how not-alone you are, today I’d like to share some of the most common statements from the Puppy Help emails.
“I’ve had my dog three days and I can’t take it anymore.”
A full half of all Puppy Help emails are from people who’ve had their dog for three days. I don’t know what it is about the 72-hour mark, but it’s when a lot of people hit their breaking point. Or at least it’s when they hit up Google for the answers and find my article.
The first few days can seem impossibly difficult. But it does get easier. You’re in the belly of the whale! This isn’t the time to give up. It’s the time to knuckle down and push through.
“I wanted a dog my whole life. I did tons of research but I was not prepared for THIS.”
In the words of Zoe Washburne, “talking ain’t doing.” Getting a dog is a bit of a culture shock, and the only way to really understand it is to do it. This oh shit sensation does not mean your research was in vain, or that you’re doing anything wrong.
“I had dogs growing up but I was not prepared for THIS.”
Maybe it’s because your parents did most of the work raising your family’s dogs. Maybe your last dog truly was an angel who could do no wrong. Or maybe you’ve forgotten how tough the early days with your last dog were – time heals all puppy bite wounds.
Even professional dog trainers can have a rough time with their new dogs. Every dog presents new and exciting challenges. They keep you humble that way.
“I don’t love this dog. Aren’t you supposed to love your dog?”
Indeed, that’s usually the goal… but not right away! Yeah, sometimes people do fall madly in love with their new dog on the first day. But in most cases, it’s a process. Bringing your new dog home is only the first step. You still have to build the relationship.
“I’m a prisoner in my own home.”
The thing about raising puppies or adding a rescued dog to your life: if you do it right, it takes up all your time. The more work you put in now, the better things will be later.
And yeah, that can mean being stuck at home for a while. It can mean not showering/sleeping/eating food more nutritious than Top Ramen.
But this is temporary. It will not always be like this.
“I just want my life back,”
“The thought of doing THIS for the life of the dog makes me want to curl up in a ball and die.”
“THIS” can be a lot of things – house training, 24/7 supervision, keeping the puppy from biting the toddler, not sleeping, dealing with the constant existential crisis that for some reason this experience triggers for all of us, or even just the pressure of being responsible for another living being for the next 10-ish years.
Like I said, THIS is temporary. Eventually, the puppy will be house trained, the dog won’t require a tenth of the supervision he requires now, he’ll sleep through the night, he’ll stop harrassing the toddler, the existential crisis will abate (haha just kidding, the existential crisis never stops).
And that whole “I want my life back!” thing? I’m pretty sure you won’t feel that way a year from now. The dog will become an important part of your family, and you won’t be able to imagine life without him.
“Nothing is really going wrong but I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.”
I often hear this from people who say that training’s going fine, the puppy sleeps at night, the kids love him, etc. Nothing’s wrong. So why is everything wrong?
I don’t know why this phenomenon happens. But of course I’m going to tell you my opinion anyway.
The early days with a new dog disrupt every aspect of your life. You now have to think about all your little daily routines that used to be autopilot. Plus, raising a new dog is a lot of emotional hard work, which can leave you just as exhausted as physical hard work.
So it’s natural for your brain to slam the brakes and screech, “NO! DO NOT WANT.”
So does all this mean I can guarantee that with a little hard work, by golly, everything will be just fine? Of course not. There are certainly some cases where everybody would be better off if the dog found a more appropriate home.
BUT. The vast majority of these panicky, “I just can’t keep this dog anymore” situations resolve themselves – if you’re willing to wait it out. It’s just your brain being a jerk, wanting to go back on autopilot so it can space out in front of Netflix.
You can do this. I believe in you.
Update February 2021: We now have an online program designed for stressed-out puppy owners
I wanted to build something that would address the concerns I heard over and over again from the Puppy Help emailers. So I did:
Puppy Survival School is a comprehensive system for raising a happy, well-behaved puppy without losing your mind.
- Eight online courses, with lots of video tutorials, that tackle all the major elements of puppy life.
- Community forums where you can ask questions, vent about your puppy troubles, and connect with other people who are going through the same thing.
- Achievement badges! This is meant to be a fun way to track your progress and celebrate all your hard-earned training successes.
The forums are a newly added feature in the program, and I’ll be hanging out there a lot this month to get the community off the ground. Come say hi! Click here to learn more.