There’s this… thing that happens to unsuspecting new puppy parents.
It’s the part where everything is terrible and you think you made a huge mistake.
Where you find yourself thinking “I knew raising a puppy would be hard work but holy crap, I was not prepared for THIS.”
Where you secretly wonder if you should rehome them – and you feel supremely guilty for having those thoughts.
We call it the “What the **** Was I Thinking??” phase. WTFWIT for short.
I get it. Been through it myself a couple times. Now, I specialize in helping other dog owners get through this terrible time.
The WTFWIT phase can manifest differently for different people. In our work with lots of overwhelmed puppy owners, we’ve noticed that many of them fall into (at least) one of these five categories at first.
In this post, we’re gonna describe the symptoms of each category so you can identify where you’re at, and then we’ll give you 5 of our favorite strategies for breaking free of the WTFWIT phase and getting to the part where you can actually enjoy life with your puppy.
Is This You? 5 Types of Struggling Puppy Parents
The Irked Puppy Parent (aka the “stubborn little shit” dilemma)
You’ve been hard at work training your pup for a while. It seems like they should know the rules by now, but they just don’t listen!
It’s like they’re trying to test you, or get back at you for telling them no. You could swear they’re still peeing on the carpet (or biting you or chewing up your valuables) just to spite you.
If this puppy doesn’t stop getting into trouble, you’re gonna snap.
Why this happens
A couple weeks (hell, a couple days, even) with a puppy can feel like an eternity, so it’s understandable for a sleep-deprived puppy parent to think “we’ve been working on this FOREVER. Chomper must know this by now, he’s just choosing not to listen.”
But when puppy parents come to us with this issue and we put on our detective hats and start problem-solving with them, it almost always turns out that the puppy isn’t actually fully trained. The owner just thought they were.
They may have done a great job introducing their pup to a new command or rule, but haven’t trained the pup to a level where they can follow those commands in real life.
Think of it this way: Would you take one art class and suddenly be a master painter? Or take one high school language class and suddenly be fluent in that language?
Probably not. A lot more goes into mastery of a skill than just knowing the basic information.
The same is true when your dog learns a skill, too.
Just because Sparky went to puppy class and learned what “come” means, doesn’t mean she’s trained.
So if you take her to the dog park and she doesn’t come when called, don’t worry – she’s not being stubborn. She just isn’t proficient enough to use that skill in that situation.
And just because Chomper had a few good days of potty training success, doesn’t mean he’s officially potty trained. If he starts having more accidents in the house, it just means his potty skills aren’t a fully established habit yet.
The Information-Overloaded Parent
In your pre-puppy excitement, you started doing a ton of research. Buuuut the more research you do, the less certain you become.
You feel like your head is going to explode. And you think maybe raising a puppy might be much harder than you expected.
The avalanche of information has paralyzed you into inaction.
Why this happens
All your research has led you down the massive convoluted network of rabbit holes that is the world of Dog People.
You probably followed a bunch of dog training accounts on social media, so now your feed is nothing but perfectly trained dogs.
And you found a bunch of advice that basically says you have to raise your puppy EXACTLY RIGHT or else they’ll be RUINED FOREVER.
But it seems like no two dog trainers can agree on what “exactly right” even is??
And that’s just the internet.
Even when you put down your phone, you can’t escape.
Because as soon as word gets out that you’re thinking of getting a dog, an endless supply of friends, relatives, neighbors, and your cousin’s coworker’s brother who “knows a lot about dogs” pops out of the woodwork to bombard you with advice.
Shockingly, all this noise doesn’t make you feel any better, does it?
It makes every tiny decision feel like a life or death situation and sucks all the joy out of what should be a more or less delightful experience.
Now you’re just terrified that you’ll get something wrong, so you’re second-guessing your every move and slowly losing your mind.
See also: Pre-Puppy Jitters: When The Information Overload Starts to Freak You Out
The Blindsided-Parent Parent (aka the “all my babies hate each other!” dilemma)
You were excited for your puppy and kids to grow up together. But you were shocked at just how much dear little Chomper wants to chomp on your kids.
The puppy bites, jumps on, and otherwise terrorizes your children as soon as they’re in the same room together.
Now the kids are freaked out and want nothing to do with their new “best friend.” And you’ve got a serious case of parent-guilt on top of the dog-owner guilt.
Why this happens
You’re caught in the clash between the cultural narrative of kids and puppies, and the REALITY of kids and puppies.
Kids and dogs are a match made in heaven, right? It’s a trope that’s been ingrained into our collective consciousness.
So what usually happens is this:
Parent is inundated with the message that kids and dogs are perfect for each other. Parent gets a puppy for their six year old, anticipating endless fun and happiness.
Then puppy starts biting. Child becomes afraid. Parent becomes overwhelmed.
Parent lies awake at night thinking this isn’t how this is supposed to go. It’s supposed to be joyful, dammit. What am I doing wrong?
They think they’re either screwing up real bad or they got the world’s worst puppy, or else it wouldn’t be this hard.
My friend, you’re not screwing up. It isn’t just you. And it doesn’t mean you have a particularly demonic puppy, either.
The truth is that all of this *gestures broadly* chaos? All the biting and jumping and terrorizing?
It’s how pretty much all puppies interact with kids.
Puppies love chasing and roughhousing, and kids make super exciting chase targets because they’re fun-sized, they run away or roughhouse back, and they make funny squealing sounds when chomped on. Just like a squeaky toy!
The good news is that it’s not too late. Your kids and your dog can still grow up to be best buds. It’s not quite as effortless as the cultural narrative leads us all to believe, but it’s definitely possible.
The Guilty Multi-Pet Parent
You already had a cat or an older dog at home whom you love very much. To your dismay, the new pup has made them miserable.
The little sharknado is obsessed with them and harasses them at every opportunity. And now the cat hides under the bed and refuses to come out. Or the older dog seems sad and depressed all the time.
All you want to do is comfort them and make them happy, but you can’t, because the puppy takes up all your time.
You’re worried you’ve ruined your relationship with your best buddy forever.
Why this happens
There’s no denying that life with a puppy can be hard on the other pets in the house. Dogs and cats (especially cats) are creatures of routine. Your pets have had their routine momentarily smashed into oblivion.
Not to mention that while you may have had plenty of time to get used to the idea of a new puppy coming home, the other pets had no idea it was happening until it happened.
So they’ve been thrown for a loop. They need some time to adjust. It doesn’t mean you’ve made a terrible mistake or they’re going to be miserable forever.
The Prisoner Parent (aka the “my soul is in solitary confinement” dilemma)
You wanted a furry little friend to keep you company, but somehow, this experience has only made you feel MORE lonely.
Your puppy screams their head off every time you leave the room for two seconds. You have no idea how you’re supposed to shower, buy groceries, or hear yourself think ever again.
Why this happens
There are a couple things going on. One, for most of Chomper’s life, he’d never been alone. He had his mom, siblings, and human caretakers around him pretty much 24/7. So being by himself is scary!
Puppies come with this neat little survival mechanism: if they find themselves alone (usually because they’ve leapt headfirst into mischief with no regard for their surroundings or physical body) they sound their ear-piercing little alarm so that mom can find them.
And guess who mom is now. It’s you! Congrats!
And two, you’re doing a lot of thankless work for a critter who doesn’t even seem to like you yet. Much of the hard work of puppy-raising happens before you establish that deep man’s-best-friend connection.
You’re pouring your heart and soul into raising this puppy – and you still feel like strangers.
So not only are you dealing with some degree of social isolation because you have to spend all your time with the puppy instead of with other humans, you may also feel lonely in the puppy’s presence.
5 Tools For Overcoming These Struggles
1. Make your life easier with a generous helping of management tools
Management refers to anything you do to physically prevent dogs from doing the thing you don’t want them to do.
Baby gates. Crates. Exercise pens. Closed doors. Even makeshift “baby gates” and pens made out of cardboard boxes, folding tables, or whatever you have on hand.
If you’re not using these things, you’re making your life harder than it needs to be.
I’m especially looking at you, Irked, Blindsided Parent, Prisoner, and Multi-Pet parents.
You can use these tools to prevent demon puppies from interacting with your kids or other pets when you aren’t able to actively supervise.
People get ambushed by the Gremlins of Self Doubt here. They contact us, confessing in hushed, apologetic tones that sometimes they confine their poor puppy in the kitchen so that their toddler (or their older dog) can play in the living room in peace.
To them I say: Yes, fantastic! Good work! You don’t have to give your puppy free rein to unleash chaos upon your home and terrorize your family.
Feeling claustrophobic, Prisoner parents? Use management tools to keep the puppy in a safe area so you can take a break (see number 4 below)
Fed up because Chomper wandered off where you couldn’t see him and peed on the carpet again, Irked parents? Use management to keep him from wandering off in the first place.
Management is not the whole solution to all your puppy problems, of course. But it is the first step. Whenever we work with clients or our online academy students, the first thing we do is brainstorm a management system that works for them.
2. Ask yourself this question when you’re overwhelmed and don’t know what to do
Information-overloaded? Can’t make a decision on what training method to use? Discouraged because your puppy doesn’t seem to love you? Feeling like a failure because training isn’t working as quickly as you expected?
There’s a question I find helpful to ask in these situations.
Take a break from the Googling and the scrolling.
Take a step back, take a breath, and ask yourself:
Why did I want a dog in the first place?
I’m going to guess your answer has something to do with having a friend, and building a relationship. You wanted a hiking buddy, a TV-watching buddy, or a partner in crime for your kids.
Okay. Now think about how friendships and bonds are formed.
They’re formed over time, not overnight. You would not meet a new person and expect to be BFFs on day one.
What do you do when you’re building a friendship? You do fun stuff together. You show interest in them. You learn what they like to do, and what they don’t like. What are their favorite foods? What do they like to do for fun? You gain their trust by showing them that they can trust you. You (ideally) try to listen more than you talk.
Back before I was a professional trainer and I was lost in the weeds of all the contradictory advice out there in Dog People World, this question helped me get my bearings and start finding my own way.
See also: Whatever Tomorrow Brings: Important Things to Know Before (and After) You Adopt a Dog
3. Think cooperation, not confrontation (the truth about stubborn puppies)
Does your puppy do any of the following?
- When you try to discipline them, they wander off, sniff the ground, bite you, or act like they can’t hear you
- Bite even harder when you try to get them to stop biting
- Chew on their leash or activate Crocodile Tornado mode when you put their harness on
- Duck away when you reach for them
- Growl when you try to take a forbidden object from them
- Sit down and refuse to move, either on a walk or when you call them
If so, then your puppy may be struggling herself.
Because most “stubborn” behaviors are really signs of frustration, confusion, or fear.
When you think about it, we ask a LOT of puppies.
This critter who has been alive for mere months (sort of the developmental equivalent of a 2-3 year old child) is dealing with:
- Being taken away from their family
- Living in a new place with strangers (of a different species)
- Not speaking the language
- Learning a whole new set of rules that don’t make any sense (why shouldn’t I pee on the soft beige grass in the living room?)
- Not having their own species-appropriate rules respected (this is my shoe to chew on, finders keepers! Why would you take it away?)
All things considered, your puppy is doing one heck of a job.
Dogs are highly social creatures who evolved to cooperate with humans.
Far from trying to piss you off or control you, your puppy would LOVE to know what the sounds coming out of your mouth mean, or where they can pee safely. It would be a huge weight off their tired baby brain.
So an important ingredient in achieving harmony with the little gremlin is to think teamwork:
“I know this is hard, Sparky, but we’re gonna figure it out together!”
4. Take care of yourself, too (aka put on your own oxygen mask before helping others)
This one’s for everyone, but especially the Prisoner parents.
In Dog People World, there’s a huge emphasis on taking care of your puppy’s well-being. Meeting their needs and helping them become functional members of polite society. Which is great!
But it sure can make dog owners feel a lot of pressure to sacrifice their own well-being in favor of the dog’s.
This results in puppy owners quickly burning out. Feeling totally depleted, run down, guilty, and isolated.
Which isn’t good for anyone. Including your puppy.
Yes, puppies need lots of care and training and supervision, and sometimes that means you’ll be exhausted and have to lose out on some sleep and do stuff with the pup when you’d rather not.
But it doesn’t mean you have to run yourself completely ragged to ensure your puppy never experiences a single less-than-happy moment.
Take time to take care of yourself.
Which sometimes means putting the puppy in their trusty management setup with a pile of stuffed Kongs so you can go for a walk. Or go through a drive thru and eat fries in your car while mindlessly scrolling Tiktok. Or play with your older dog. Or cry in the shower. Whatever you need to feel slightly more human again.
Yes, Chomper will cry when you leave him alone. That’s what puppies do. He’ll be okay.
5. Recognize the hyper crazy biting behavior for what it is: a symptom
I’m gonna take a wild guess and say one of the biggest contributing factors to your case of WTFWIT is that Chomper bites like a madman. Bites you, your clothes, your kids, your other pets.
And you’re going crazy trying to make it stop.
But I’ll let you in on a secret:
The more you focus on the biting, the worse it gets.
If your child fell off their bike and broke their wrist, would you go “ugh, how do I get this kid to stop crying? It’s driving me crazy! Is it because they don’t respect me enough?” Probably not. You would take them to the doctor to treat their broken wrist.
Or if you had a leaky pipe under your kitchen sink that was getting dirty water all over your floor, would you spend weeks Googling the most absorbent paper towels? Or would you start Googling for plumbers to fix the pipe?
Going after the symptom does not address the root issue, and it can just make the symptom worse, because the more you focus on the symptom, the longer the root issues get ignored.
It’s the same with crazy puppy behavior. The out-of-control biting is a symptom, not the actual problem.
The actual problem: The puppy has a need that isn’t being met.
Sure, puppies are always a LITTLE bitey. Being chewed on is basically a rite of passage for puppy parents. But sometimes puppies get into moods where they turn into veritable tornadoes of teeth and fury.
In Puppy Survival School, we call this Hyper Attack Mode.
Things that cause Hyper Attack Mode:
They’re overtired and cranky. Just like toddlers, puppies get obnoxious when due for a nap.
Not enough exercise or enrichment. Puppies need to run and play and explore in age-appropriate ways every day.
Too much exercise. Believe it or not, this is actually way more common than not enough exercise. Think of how a little kid might have a screaming meltdown after a couple hours running around Disneyland.
They’re confused. If your puppy doesn’t understand what you’re asking, they can get cranky.
They’re frustrated because they don’t know how to get what they need. Most puppies have a razor-thin tolerance for frustration.
So meeting your pup’s needs for exercise, brainwork, rest, structured cooldowns, and clear communication will help keep the crazy to a minimum.
We have a bunch of frameworks, exercises, and games designed to take the guesswork out of this process. Including but not limited to:
- The Puppy Taming Game
- The Puppy Biting Toolkit
- Teach Your Puppy to Say Please
- The 3-2-1 Chill Out Routine
If you’d like guidance on getting dear little Chomper to chill the eff out, come hang out with us in Puppy Survival School.