Updated: March 10, 2022. Originally published: November 18, 2011.
Dear puppy owner,
So you’ve adopted a puppy who has turned out to be a little terror, and you’re thinking of finding them a new home. Despite your best efforts, some problem has come up: they won’t stop biting, won’t stop pooping all over your house, or maybe they just require a lot more work than you expected.
I feel your pain. This letter is not a guilt trip – I’m sure you’ve heard the “OMG how could you! A dog is a lifetime commitment!” lecture already. That kind of thing doesn’t help, and you will find none of that here.
This is just some friendly advice from someone who has been there.
I’d like to introduce you to my puppy, Friday.
For as long as I could remember, I had wanted a dog. I did tons of research. I saved money. I built a kennel in the backyard. If anyone was ready for a puppy, man, it was ME.
Finally the day arrived to start searching animal shelters for the Perfect Dog. I found her at the first shelter we looked at. In the very last kennel was an eight-week old German shepherd mix, casually chewing on her toes as she waited for someone to rescue her from her situation. She was everything I wanted.
Fast forward two weeks.
Friday was the puppy from hell, turns out.
She would bite, tear at clothing and chew on everything. She never listened. She had an attention span of three seconds. She whined all night long. She peed on my bed.
I thought I’d somehow ended up with the worst puppy in the world.
That feeling when you have no life beyond your puppy and you regret every decision you made to get to this point
You might be dealing with challenges like:
- Being unable to leave the room for two seconds without the puppy screaming her head off or having an accident
- Feeling like you spend 90% of your time saying “no, don’t do that!” (And you don’t know why you bother, because the little hell-spawn never listens to you, anyway)
- Having your life completely taken over by a tiny ball of fluff with razor-sharp teeth
The biting thing was the biggest issue with Friday. She never. Stopped. Chewing. On. People. My family came really close to finding a new home for Friday. So I understand being totally frustrated by this kind of behavior.
But that doesn’t make you feel better, does it?
The information overload just makes everything worse.
So before we can talk puppy tips, we have to talk about…
The monsters in your head
Maybe you’ve tried teaching your pup manners, but it hasn’t worked.
Maybe you’re worried you’ve made too many mistakes, and now it’s too late.
Maybe you regret putting your family through this stress. You wanted your dog to be a buddy for your kids. Instead, the kids are upset and tensions between your family members have skyrocketed.
No matter what you’re experiencing, one thing is for sure:
You knew raising a puppy would be a challenge, but holy crap, you were not prepared for THIS
You’re probably thinking, “dog ownership is supposed to be fun! What gives? Do I have a bad puppy? Am I a bad person?”
No, you’re not a bad person. Neither is your puppy, as unbelievable as that may sound right now.
What you’re experiencing is actually pretty common. Allow me to explain:
Why this is so freakin’ hard
Getting a puppy disrupts every part of your life. They require a ton of attention. You don’t get much sleep, all your daily routines get screwed up, and your free time evaporates.
You want to make sure you do this right, but an internet full of conflicting advice has you second-guessing your every move.
Add your pup’s obnoxious behavior to this mix of self-doubt and sleep-deprivation, and you have a recipe for something I like to call:
The “What The **** Was I Thinking?!” phase (WTFWIT)
It usually starts 3-14 days after you bring your new puppy home.
5 signs you’ve got a case of WTFWIT:
- I’m a prisoner in my own home
- I’m pretty sure I adopted the worst dog in the world
- My old dog was so much better
- I had dogs growing up and/or I did a ton of research, but I was not prepared for THIS
- I feel guilty. Guilty for not knowing what I’m doing. Guilty for not loving the dog. Guilty for thinking of returning the dog. Guilty for thinking of keeping the dog. Just an overbearing sense of “wow I’m the actual worst person in the world”
Your brain has hit the panic button. “I’ve made a terrible mistake! Abort mission!”
This is why you’ve found yourself tempted to get rid of the dog, even though you NEVER thought you’d be the kind of person who would get rid of their dog.
It’s sometimes called the “puppy blues,” but that’s far too cute of a name, imho. It doesn’t capture the true essence of the experience. Because it’s not “gee! I’m feeling a little blue today.”
It’s “oh god, what the FUCK WAS I THINKING.”
But anyway, don’t worry. You’re not alone. This happens to many of us puppy parents. It’s usually worse for first-time dog owners, but it can affect even the most experienced dog people.
Society has lied to you
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But see, the cultural narrative is that getting a puppy is endless excitement and joy! A fuzzy little bundle of love who wants nothing more than to be your best friend!
We get bombarded with that message our whole lives.
And then you get a puppy, get slammed with a bad case of WTFWIT, and find yourself not happy at all. You’re just doing a lot of work for a tiny demon who screams, bites, and maybe doesn’t even seem to like you that much.
And that’s when you think that something must either be wrong with you, or wrong with the puppy.
Nothing is wrong with either one of you.
The truth is that puppies are cute for a reason: so we don’t kick them out when they drive us insane.
For the vast majority of us, raising a puppy isn’t non-stop fun. It can really suck for a while.
And that’s normal. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, and it doesn’t mean it’s too late to have that beautiful bond you were hoping for.
You got this.
Life on the other side of the puppy panic
Chewing, biting, accidents on the carpet, and everything else that goes with raising a puppy can seem like huge problems. I know it felt that way with Friday. However, after many years, and after helping countless people in the same situation, I can tell you that these issues are not as big a deal as they seem right now.
Puppies eventually stop trying to bite everything that moves. They develop the bladder control to hold it for more than five minutes at a time. They grow up and no longer need 24/7 care.
It gets easier.
If you are seriously considering finding a new home for your puppy, my advice is to give it another week or two before you decide.
There certainly are cases where it would be best if the puppy found a more appropriate home. But the vast majority of WTFWIT cases resolve themselves. You will settle into a routine. You’ll work out what you’re doing as you go. The overwhelm will go away.
This too shall pass (and did pass. And now someone’s cutting onions in here)
Friday lived to be eleven years old. She was the sweetest dog you’d ever meet. All those horrible puppy behavior issues that made me so angry are now a very distant memory – a memory that I can laugh at. I loved her dearly and can’t imagine how I ever considered sending her back to the pound.
Puppyhood is a crazy time. But it doesn’t last very long and when it’s over, you will miss it. So enjoy it while it lasts, keep your sense of humor, and take lots of pictures.
Now that we’ve talked about the monsters, it’s time to talk puppy tips. Scroll down to see the list of resources I put together to assist on your journey.
I believe in you,
(Who, for some reason, voluntarily adopted five more puppies after Friday)
What to do next (resources to help you survive the WTFWIT phase)
We’ve got more free content, a comprehensive online program for the overwhelmed puppy parent, and virtual coaching. Pick yer poison:
- Video: How I Survived the First Three Months With A New Puppy (And You Can, Too!)
- 5 Sanity-Saving Rules For Putting Together Your Puppy’s Daily Routine
Puppy Survival School
Our online program designed for people in the WTFWIT phase.
We start by teaching you a simple strategy you can use to quickly get problems under control and be a lot less overwhelmed.
When you’ve implemented the strategy and gotten out of crisis mode, we’ll teach you everything else you need to know to raise a puppy you can be proud of. Potty training, biting, sleeping through the night, leash training, basic obedience, getting along with your other pets… it’s all here.
And it’s all taught using video demos of real puppy training, so you can see exactly how it works in real life.
You can get it either as a self-study course, or sign up for the virtual coaching package where I can help you out via one-on-one Zoom coaching sessions. Click here to learn more.