You’re responsible. You’ve done your research. You know there’s some hard work involved when you get a dog.
You knew your puppy was going to do annoying things like run away with your slippers, have an accident or two in the house, or beg for your dinner.
But what about the annoyances you didn’t expect?
In our work with puppy parents and rescue dog adopters, we’ve identified some experiences/challenges that almost everyone goes through, but almost no one expects.
These experiences are so common they’re almost rites of passage. But many of our students report being totally blindsided by them.
This isn’t their fault; for whatever reason, these things either don’t get talked about much, or the reality of them is hard to understand until you’re in the thick of it.
These challenges can create conflict and resentment in your blossoming friendship with your dog, and they’re the reason a lot of new dogs get returned to the shelter.
So for all you new dog owners and dog-owners-to-be, here’s a heads-up on some “unexpected” challenges you actually can totally expect, and prepare for.
Because if you can prepare for them, you can survive them. And keep your relationship with your dog intact.
1. That thing where your mental health takes a hit, everything sucks, and you kind of hate the dog
You wanted this dog. You paid for this dog. You dreamed of this dog. So why are you suddenly so freakin’ sad?
You sometimes wish you could get rid of the little monster, even though you never thought you’d be the kind of person to get rid of their dog.
This is a little something we call the What the **** Was I Thinking?” (WTFWIT) phase. It usually starts 2-14 days after you bring your new dog home, but it can pop up any time in the first three months.
This phase can be triggered by the other challenges listed below, but it sometimes happens even when the dog doesn’t have any behavior problems. Many people report the feeling of “nothing is going wrong but I just can’t take it anymore!”
This feeling is your brain’s response to a big life change. Your routine has been disrupted, you don’t get much sleep, and you’re doing a lot of new things, like dog training, that don’t come naturally. You might miss the life you had before.
So your brain hits the panic button. “I’ve made a terrible mistake! Abort mission!”
One of the things we tell our students who are suffering from WTFWIT is to cut yourself some slack.
If your mental health has hit a low, it’s okay to take some time to care for yourself. Put the pup in a playpen or dog-proofed room of the house with a bunch of delicious frozen food toys to enjoy, and take some time for yourself.
Have a shower (yes, even if the puppy cries. See below), eat some food, forget about the laundry list of “dog things” you’ve told yourself you have to complete.
2. You’re a prisoner in your home because the puppy screams when you leave them alone
They follow you EVERYWHERE. When you go to the bathroom, they freak out. When you put them in their crate, they freak out. God forbid you try to leave the house. You have no idea how you’re supposed to shower, cook dinner, work, or hear yourself think ever again.
When new puppy parents join our online academy, this is usually what they ask for help with first. It’s the biggest cause of that “oh shit, I think I made a mistake” feeling.
No one expects the intensity with which their puppy will lose their little mind when they step out of the room for two seconds. It instantly gives people an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.
It might make you assume your puppy has separation anxiety.
And sure, that’s a possibility. Some dogs do have anxiety disorders. But it’s more likely your puppy is showing normal, appropriate behavior for the developmental phase they’re in. Babies of all species are “programmed” to stick to their guardians like glue, of course. It would be weird if your puppy didn’t want to follow you everywhere you go.
3. Bedtime is the worst and sleep deprivation is no joke
You knew you’d have a few sleepless nights, but this dog turns into an energised crazy person in the evening, refuses to go to bed until well past midnight, and then they’re up at sunrise expecting your attention.
Your puppy is used to sleeping in a pile with her mom and littermates. If you adopted an older shelter dog, they may have been alone in kennels for weeks or months. It’s no wonder both groups hate bedtime!
Our number one tip for surviving nights: plan on sleeping near the dog for the first week at least. Either put their crate in your bedroom, or sleep on the couch next to them. This way, you can provide reassurance and bathroom breaks as needed. You might have a better chance of getting at least some sleep if Sparky isn’t crying because he’s all alone in the laundry room.
Fortunately, this is temporary. Your rescue dog will settle in as you build a routine. Your puppy will develop the bladder control not to need to pee every five seconds.
4. Puppy “play biting” is not at all what you thought it would be. Like, not AT ALL
You knew there would be some puppy biting. You weren’t concerned – how bad could playful mouthing from a ten pound ball of fluff be?
But now you’ve found yourself with a puppy who latches on with their tiny needle teeth so hard it’s left you with scars. They chase down you and your children to bite at your ankles, shoes, clothes, even hair.
You pet them, they bite. You pick them up, they bite. Put their harness on, they bite.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they also get into these extra insane moods where they turn into a tornado of teeth and fury.
This is another one of those things where the intensity of “normal” catches people off guard.
Biting is a normal developmental phase.
Puppies discover everything with their mouths. They need to bite stuff, so they can learn how to control the force of their bite.
Does your older rescue still do the bitey/mouthy thing? They’re overstimulated, they may have been in kennels for a long time, and/or don’t know you well enough to have good play skills.
Give your new dog appropriate things to chew on by themselves, and use toys that create distance between your hands and their mouths when playing together.
5. Potty training takes a long time and there will be “regressions”
New dog owners expect there to be a few accidents here and there, but many don’t realise how long they’ll be on potty monitor duty for.
People often tell us they house trained their puppy in one week, but then the puppy started having accidents again.
The truth is that a week is a great start, but it’s just the beginning. Because potty training is all about habit formation, which takes months. Even after a few months straight of no accidents, puppies can regress at around 6 months old or so.
Many new owners adopted an older dog assuming that they’d already be house trained, but that often isn’t the case. Time in kennels, and being in a completely new environment, means even grownup dogs need potty training.
You can help speed up the process by being extra watchful when your new dog has some freedom in the house, and being sure to confine them to a play pen or crate when you can’t supervise.
6. This dog is a guided missile looking for stuff to destroy and messes to make
Ask me about that time my newly adopted dog ate an entire couch.
Dog adopters typically know that they need to put their valuables away, but don’t always realise the level of puppy proofing needed. Your new dog has no idea what’s a toy and what isn’t. That TV remote looks awful similar to the plastic chew toy you gave them earlier.
Dogs investigate with their mouths, and this is a brand new place, so they’re sure gonna do some investigatin’. And dogs are scavengers by nature, not just predators, so they need to snuffle around for food: that’s why you keep finding them on the kitchen bench trying to reach the loaf of bread you left up there.
That means baby gates, play pens, crates, closed doors and containers with lockable lids are your new décor.
And they go along with a new house rule: if you don’t want to lose it and it isn’t bolted down, put it away. Pretend you have a very inquisitive toddler in the house.
7. Your other household members (including your other pets) hate the new dog
Maybe you adopted this new dog so that your older dog would have a friend. Or the kids begged you for a puppy. Or your cat has lived with dogs before and did fine.
But now your older dog growls every time the new dog comes over, your kids are terrified of the puppy because it bites all the time, and your cat has had a hissy (ha, get it?) fit every time the new dog has looked in their direction.
The solution: time, and patience.
This is a big adjustment for everyone, the new dog included. It takes around three months for a new dog to be fully settled in their new home, and have them acting like themselves. The puppy will get older and the biting will improve – and the kids won’t be afraid anymore.
The dog and the cat might never be BFFs, but with a slow introduction they’ll likely learn to cohabitate. And the older dog will probably get less grumpy as the new pup grows up and becomes less annoying. Take a deep breath, get a game plan together, reach out to your support network for help and encouragement.
(Don’t have a support network? We have one! Come join our friendly community in the 3 Lost Dogs Academy)