They say ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.’ Given the huge surge in ‘pandemic’ puppy sales they may need need a new slogan; ‘a puppy is for life, not just for lockdown.’ Registrations of new puppies jumped 26% between April and June. With many buying dogs as lockdown companions, there is a real fear that many could be abandoned afterwards. After my experience over the past three weeks, I think that fear is very real. This is my experience of ‘Puppy Blues’ and what I have learned.
Despite the internet being awash with stories and studies related to ‘Puppy Blues’ it was something I never knew was a ‘thing’. Commonly reported symptoms are sadness, exhaustion, numbness, anxiety, depression and regret. Unlike postpartum (postnatal) depression postpartum puppy depression is not a psychiatric condition but is a common issue amongst new puppy owners. It can last anything from days to months. For me, trying to process the guilt I was feeling, added to my anxiety. In a year in which people have suffered serious loss, of loved ones and livelihoods due to Covid, I was tackling severe anxiety and regret over a puppy! Most people would never understand how I was feeling as won’t many readers of this article.
My family and I didn’t just jump into the idea of adopting a puppy but I now realise we were still unprepared. We researched the right breed for our lifestyle and sought advice from friends with dogs. Rescue dogs were discounted, for as new pet owners we didn’t know if we would be equipped to provide the right support for some of the issues these dogs have. We decided to opt for a Maltipoo puppy – a Maltese and Poodle cross which seemed an ideal first dog. Once we made the hour long journey to view a puppy the emotional deal was sealed. How can you look into the eyes of a fluff ball of a puppy and not be smitten? Yet, we still took five days to make a decision. Covid made the timing perfect as I would most likely be working from home much more in the future and holidays were off the agenda for now. The cost was significant, as puppy prices have seen huge rises during the pandemic, but this wasn’t about the money. This was about making the right decision for the puppy and our family.
The next few weeks were a blur of shopping for doggy supplies, watching puppy training videos and debates over dog names. They were also filled with real moments of doubt when I almost called everything off. I thought this meant we were taking this responsibility seriously. By late October, we were bringing August, as we named her, home. She was leaving behind everything she had ever known and we were facing an unknown challenge.
When you bring a baby into your life, the sense of fear is palpable. Their cries both wrench at your heart and pierce your exhausted mind as you struggle to process what their needs are. For the most part, instinct and pure parental love take over. With a puppy, I found the situation similar but also different in so many ways. We had a baby that was dependent on us but could also move, feed herself and bite! We had a baby with no toilet training but who wore no nappies and who we’d taken away from her own mother.
The plan was to follow ‘crate training’ whereby August would sleep in a locked crate which was meant to provide a sense of security and an element of control. I would sleep in the spare room and attend to her needs. I would take her outside for the toilet when she cried. As with a baby, the theory is when they cry to leave them to settle on their own.
As with everything, the theory is great. Reality is waking every two hours to a crying puppy. Standing in the rain at 3am hoping they cried because they wanted the toilet. Realising when you ignored their cries at 5am that they did want the toilet and having to clean dog poo from their bed. Being woken up at 6.30am by a dog when you have never been an early riser. After night after night averaging four hours of sleep, my life was consumed by sleep deprivation. With unexplainable loneliness, anxiety and deep regret, I had the puppy blues.
I resented my family for waking at 10am (it was half term) whilst I sat bleary eyed and bored at being nipped and jumped upon. She is “so well behaved”, “adorable” and “learning so quickly” everyone remarked. I saw a fluffy machine that had taken my life, chewed it up and spat it out like the leaves she loved chasing around our garden at 7am. I longed to wake up and find that this nightmare was over. By day six I was a total mental wreck. Seeing no way out of this mess, I actually ended up sobbing. I didn’t care about how much money we had spent, I just wanted August to find another caring family. I couldn’t actually see a fulfilling life that included this dog. The more my family grew attached to her, the more depressed my own thoughts became. In desperation, I contacted the breeder who offered to re-advertise her. I just wanted her to find a happy home for August and get my mental health back.
The breeder suggested I reflected for a few days. My family promised to help out more often and relieve me of the early morning rises. Then, lockdown happened. We were ‘stuck’ with August for at least four more weeks.
Covid has meant more people are spending more time at home and deciding to bring a puppy into their lives when they may never have previously considered it. I do fear for the impact on mental health for those who have underestimated the challenge and for the puppies themselves who may find themselves abandoned in rescue centres. Yet, in many ways, for me, having a puppy is just another challenge to overcome in 2020.
The lesson I have learned from all of this is that in order to appreciate the joy the a puppy brings, the burden needs to be shared with other family members. Likewise, sometimes the guidebooks have to be ignored. I am sure the theory works, but trying to do it all can leave you feeling inadequate when you cannot cope. Occasionally, it is better to wake to a small mess and have some sleep. Training is important, but also take a break and enjoy the moment. If your puppy becomes a chore, like she did for me, what is the point?
The other thing to remember is that puppies grow quickly. August is already growing up so the accidents are becoming fewer, the sleep disturbances much less. Part of me still yearns for my simpler life but at the same time it is hard not to feel happy at the love our children are developing for our newest family member. My own bond isn’t yet as strong but I hope as the puppy blues fade it will grow and August’s time with us will last beyond lockdown and for many summers to come.
Words by Andrew Butcher
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