The Emotional Rollercoaster and Challenges of Raising a Puppy

Breaking news – raising a puppy is time consuming, not to mention being physically and mentally tough.

I think most people are aware it requires effort. This post provides a reality check to those thinking about getting a puppy and reassurance to those with a puppy- it can take a huge emotional and physical toll on you.

Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed a real shift in the anxiety levels among puppy owners. In a few unfortunate instances, this has resulted in the rehoming of the puppy. Be mindful not to judge, as these owners had signed onto training courses and got a puppy ready to throw everything into it. The emotional and physical toll just became too much. Don’t underestimate how crucial owner well-being is to a dog’s welfare. If someone is absolute rock bottom, it’s a brave and likely sensible decision to rehome the puppy (only if rehoming is done responsibly- and a good breeder should take them back or help with process!).

There is now so much pressure for people to have ‘the perfect puppy’. Internet forums are full of people with problem behaviours asking for advice, detailing health issues, out of control dogs, dog attacks (thankfully somewhat rare taking into consideration dog populations) or accidents (such as a swallowed item requiring abdominal surgery or a puppy breaking a leg jumping off the sofa). These tales can result in some owners becoming quite anxious about what may happen leading to intense micro management of a puppy’s every day movements- which can cause its own behaviour problems.
The pressure to train, the pressure to get the dog meeting our lifestyle goals ASAP, the pressure to socialise, the pressure to prevent accidents and injury, the pressure to be responsible on walks, the pressure to prevent behaviour problems…… But, there’s so much conflicting advice on how to deal with and prevent these things it can screw with people’s minds.

How grouchy do you get after one bad night’s sleep? Well, be ready to times that by 60! I have had to get up a minimum of once a night for approaching 6 weeks. Sometimes I’ve had to get up twice. Last night it was 4 times (2.30am, 5am, 5.30am, 5.40am) as I shifted around our night time routine to try and improve Mohawk’s toileting- and it spectacularly backfired.
In addition to this, I am having to get out of bed 6.15am. No snooze buttons allowed….. If I don’t get up almost immediately when my alarm goes then I’m going to hear whining from downstairs and likely come down stairs to an accident.
There’s a term called ‘puppy brain’ thrown around by puppy owners and it certainly exists in this household. Forgetting what you were saying mid sentence and feeling flat and wondering where you’ll muster the energy from are all common ‘symptoms’.
If it’s not a toilet routine that interrupts your sleep it may be your puppy’s sleep/wake cycles (even if they don’t need the loo), feeling anxious at waking up alone or alerting to sounds. On our private puppy support group we are frequently problem solving how to help owner’s get a good night’s sleep.

We’re all ready to clean up the mess when we get a puppy- but 6 weeks in, it wears thin! Mohawk is nowhere near toilet trained. Why? A few reasons. He wees and poos fine outside (including on walks)- but getting this 100% reliable the ‘natural way’ is proving tough. By ‘the natural way’ I mean I am letting his ability to hold for durations develop at his own pace. I am not restricting his space, not confining him (he has free range) nor restricting his water as a method of getting him to hold it through the night, methods I personally question the ethics of. If he needs to go- he can go! It’s my job to try and be there and ready when he does need to go. The layout of our house means it’s tricky for him to develop a way of clearly asking to go out, as some dogs may (by scratching at or standing by the door). The door he goes out of into the garden is out of sight, and he loves hanging out in the cold porch- so my warning signal is him moving into the porch from the kitchen. Additionally, the challenges of squeezing in work, trying to get ready in the morning and managing a multi-dog and species household (preventing him winding up the adult dogs and cat- although this is now largely resolved) makes it very easy for signals to be missed. It’s not like I’m not trying! It’s 7.36am and I’ve got up out of my chair and shuffled 10-15 metres to the backdoor in my slippers and opened it about 4 times in the past 45 minutes. Yet, I have still cleared up a puddle! Why…….the lovely British Winter Weather!
Winter puppies have it tough….it’s brutally windy outside and pouring with rain. It has been like this for the majority of the past 6 weeks. Mohawk gets distracted when outside or quite simply doesn’t want to go (he’s not scared of getting wet). Summer urban puppies can have a different problem with surrounding outdoor sounds being a deterrent (neighboring kids playing football, building work, dogs barking).

Most mornings I’m shuffling around (usually headed to the back door) with a puppy attached to my slipper or hanging off my dressing gown. It’s a good job my housemate gets up later than me and our neighbors don’t live so close they can see- because it’s not unusual for my dressing gown to be pulled open by Turbo Raccoon (TM) and for me to sleepily pull my way across the kitchen, trying not to spill my coffee.
I’ve put lots of management and training strategies in place to reduce mouthing or the intensity of it. In 6 weeks, I’ve not had blood drawn and have only had clothes cagged 3 times. But I see some owners absolutely covered in bite marks. Without a doubt- mouthing is the number 1 complaint we get. Having now owned my first puppy (I have had five rescue dogs to date) I feel like my advice on this topic has evolved.But, mouthing gets people down! They can’t stroke their puppy when they want to, their children can’t walk through the kitchen without screaming, evenings are not the same anymore. No longer can you move from A to B across the day without being ready for an ambush. It’s tough. In this house, we try and keep laughing and see the funny side- but once in a while we can get worn down.

These are tough!! We seem to have a pattern of one week of mild zoomies and one week of epic zoomies! For those that don’t know, it’s a period where a puppy is wound up and can be difficult to settle. The classic time is between 5-8pm, termed as ‘witching hour’ (we get approx 2 hours per evening!). Generally associated with a peak of energy, over stimulation or being too tired.
We have our systems in place here that make this manageable, but it can be difficult for those in open plan homes, smaller houses or busier households. Evenings are no longer a time for relaxation in the average puppy household. Evenings may become difficult to plan- because the time of the zoomie may shift! Thankfully for most, we don’t have much else to do right now (except for those teaching on zoom perhaps!).

It’s normal for puppies to want to be close to someone, and most households have boundaries where puppies aren’t allowed in all areas of the home. In those early days, this can cause some puppies immense anxiety which then becomes triggered by associated cues. This can cause some owners emotional turmoil- because they’ve read somewhere to let the puppy cry it out…..but the problem seems to be getting worse or someone else says you shouldn’t (NB DON’T let them cry it out!!).
Simple tasks now seem like they need meticulous planning or the help of a family member to supervise. Your freedom to simply move around without being followed is gone….. Thankfully, I was prepared for this early on and Mohawk is absolutely fine without me and also without me and my dogs (such as when I walk them without him).

Yeah, good luck with that. You can probably 1/2 (if not more) your productivity rate. You will be interrupted more times than you can possibly imagine. Housework will become a thing of the past and your chore list will grow and grow.In the early days I would get up out of my work chair continuously across the day. Now we have developed a routine, it’s better. You also have to accept stopping a task right there and then to attend to your puppy (for e.g. he’s active, so let’s do some training now).Your usual routine needs to continuously shift and adapt to the energy levels and socialisation needs of the puppy- and with work, kids or other adult dogs in tow, this can seem like an overwhelming task.Somehow, amid work, managing a house-hold, getting errands run, managing a biting puppy, cleaning up mess, trying to maintain the usual standard of personal hygiene…….you have to train the puppy!! Yes, that’s right. If you don’t want RSI from an adult dog that pulls on the lead, if you don’t want a dog that ignores you on walks, if you want a puppy to ‘drop’ something that’s dangerous A LOT of time needs to go into building up these behaviours through training. It’s overwhelming how much needs to be trained, and it doesn’t happen overnight. We have development phases that often work against us and training needs to be maintained for a dog’s life- but more so during the first 18 months.

Your puppy isn’t coping with something (street walks, being alone, confinement, meeting other dogs) and this fills you with dread. Conflicting advice online causes you more anxiety.

You will need more of this than you can possibly imagine and the pressures of keeping things positive can be tough. We all have a threshold for coping, and for some it’s higher than others. I’m generally pretty good at finding the things to laugh at and to push through low moments quickly- but if others have additional stresses then of course patience can run out. Loosing your cool can lead to scaring puppies which then leads to guilt in the usually gentle owner. Upset owners feeling bad they’ve lost their patience and that they have failed their puppy.

To manage a puppy well and to keep them healthy- money needs to be spent. I’m not going to even disclose what I spend on my dogs each week, but let’s just say I’m thankful I get things at trade price. To manage Mohawk’s behaviour I have to keep him busy, but then I have 3 adult dogs I need to prevent getting FOMO. To train Mohawk- I have to use high value treats at a rate that keeps his behaviour on track… all adds up.

Life is not what it was. Your freedoms have been somewhat compromised by this little being who every minute of your day and night revolves around. In some instances, this can become very tough for owners- especially when puppies struggle to cope alone.

All of the above can chip away at the soul of a puppy owner, making the experience less enjoyable for some than others.

Here’s my emergency advise for coping:

Seriously, move away from searching for answers. Find a qualified and accredited trainer/behaviourist and follow their page. Most of them care so much about helping dogs they are putting as much generic info out their in a bid to reduce the surge of anticipated dogs in crisis as a result of the ‘puppy pandemic’. Better yet, book in a 1-2-1 with them and get tailor made advice to you and your dog.
DO NOT ask for advice on forums and do not take the advice from Sheila who has owned dogs for 20 years and considers herself an expert.
Look for trainers alligned with: APBC, ASAB, COAPE, IAABC, ABTC and APDT.

THERE’S NO RUSH: Don’t compare your puppy’s toilet training success to Dave’s labradoodle that was toilet trained in 3 days. Every dog and every home is different. It will come if you are trying your best. If you are worried, talk to your vet and if it’s a training issue, talk to a professional.

GO HAVE A LIE DOWN: If your puppy is sleeping, go and have a rest for 30-45mins on the sofa or bed. The housework can wait. Look after yourself.

EAT WELL & DRINK LOTS OF WATER: Mum tip incoming…..I’ve learned the hard way here, it’s too easy to guzzle coffee but it’s made me cope less well with sleep deprivation and of course it can increase anxiety. Staying hydrated really seems to help!

LAUGH: Try and find it funny that your puppy is attached to your dressing gown while you’re doing to washing up. Let it all hang out…..embrace it…..who says you have to do anything? (unless it hurts or tears the fabric of course).

LET IT GO: Don’t micro-manage your puppy. Let them move around, let them explore, let them discover that some behaviours (such as counter surfing) are not that reinforcing to do and for them to stop on their own accord.
Don’t feel that everything needs to be addressed with a ‘AHH AHH’ , ‘OFF’ , ‘DROP’ and ‘DOWN’. Watch your puppy casually to ensure they are safe, but try to avoid pulling every item out of their mouth (this can cause it’s own issues) and correcting everything they do wrong. Reinforce the good stuff, and if safe to do so, ignore the ‘bad’ stuff.
BUT, also acknowledge that exploration is a natural puppy behaviour and if you stifle it too much through confinement or constant intervention- you may create a bigger problem.

DO WHAT YOU CAN: Try and do a little bit of training once a day, it doesn’t have to be an hour long session! Do it when the kettle is boiling or the dinner is on. Just a few reps is all you need to do.
If you’re struggling with loose lead walking- drive your puppy to a nice green space and get them on a longline. In my opinion, this should form the majority of a puppy’s walk routine anyway! Embrace wide open green spaces and make street walks a training exercise a few times a week. Loose lead training is exhausting, I wouldn’t want to do it twice a day.A day or two off a week from training is also fine!

ASK FOR HELP: If you’re struggling then reach out to family members, housemates, partners or even dog walkers for help. Of course, Covid may make this more difficult- but try and think of a way of getting help (such as someone getting your shopping for you).

MAKE THE MOST OF IT: They’re only a puppy once! Try and enjoy the bits that you can. I’m tired, my house is a mess, I’m not sure I drew both of my eyebrows on today, I haven’t got all of my work done, I probably smell of puppy wee, cooked chicken and bad body odour from festering in my dressing gown and guzzling coffee……but I’m loving it. I chose this and it was never going to be easy. So I might aswell embrace the chaos and enjoy the ride!