In this age of constant streaming videos, as dog lovers we are bombarded by images of cute puppies and heroic rescue stories. This creates a narrative that dog owners love their pets unconditionally, all the time… but this can hide an uncomfortable truth: the regret of buying a puppy.
Society doesn’t look favourably on those who get angry or frustrated with their pets. But, puppies can produce high stress levels in their owners, equal to and exceeding their cuteness levels.
Is it normal to regret buying a puppy? Yes, it’s perfectly normal to regret buying a puppy at first or even when getting a second dog. Your routine will be disrupted and it’s not that unlike caring for a newborn baby. It’s very tough, and you would not be normal if you did not feel regret at some points.
But it can get better. I promise.
Is it normal to regret getting a dog or puppy first time?
Many people rue the day they let a puppy their lives. It takes extraordinary levels of enthusiasm for humans to emerge from ‘puppyhood’ unscathed. I’ve owned plenty of dogs from puppies over the last 20 years, and always swore this will be the last time.
It never is, despite how much I regret buying the puppy or second dog at the time.
Here’s why regret is a perfectly normal emotion when you buy and get a new puppy.
Puppies are hard work
Puppies need to be potty trained; they whine or bark when they don’t get their own way and never seem to tire of doing so. It’s psychological torment, and they also shed a lot of hair.
Puppies are like erratic, mobile infants, with needle sharp teeth. When they are quiet for brief spells, you cannot rest. They are invariably up to no good. They damage furniture, rip curtains, pee on the sofa, and chew through communication cables and even walls!
Puppies have an inflated sense of their own importance. They will act tough around incumbent pets, annoying them and then playing the victim when their targets retaliate.
If you have more fun observing their antics than trying to train them, expect illogical, and sometimes annoying, behavior for at least two years.
A puppy will change your life
Puppies are disruptive. They will change your daily routine and make you think twice before leaving the house, whether it’s for an hour or for a week. You will no longer have the freedom to just lock up and go.
Of all the normal regret of buying a puppy, the changes to your routine and freedoms is one of the most common.
A puppy that has just left its mother and siblings will experience trauma and will be vocal about it, day and night. Your sleep will be compromised, both in terms of quantity and quality.
You will have an extra financial commitment, not to mention health and safety considerations (shut the access to the balcony!), and extra housekeeping duties. You will be taking on all these responsibilities for anything between 10 and 20 years.
In short, you will lose control of your environment. It can be overwhelming and often leads to regret when getting a puppy for the first time, and often when it’s a second dog and you’ve already been through it once before.
The psychological and emotional responses to getting a puppy
Many people do not respond well to change, and that is what a puppy represents. Anyone in a household with a new puppy, who is challenged by a change in routine, will have a knock-on effect throughout the entire family.
A steep learning curve
Raising a puppy is a learning experience with many opportunities for trial an error. It is frustrating acquiring most skills worth having. The process can lead to overwhelming feelings of helplessness, being trapped and ultimately having to admit defeat.
There is a tendency to over think difficult situations and to manufacture dire consequences. For example, you may imagine the embarrassment of having to return the dog to the breeder, or worse still, the shame and guilt of taking a rescued dog back to a shelter.
If you have never had responsibility for the well-being of another living creature, this can be a daunting prospect. It is natural to project your fears onto your puppy, imagining all sorts of dangers lurking in the wings. This will manifest itself as guilt.
When I got my first French Bulldog, I had heard of a puppy dying after it had eaten leaves off a shrub. Our neighbour had such a tree growing on our boundary.
I became obsessed with sweeping away any debris from the tree, wondering all the while when my dog would have the good sense to stop exploring the world with its mouth.
Expectations are usually high when you have a great desire. The puppy may not live up to the images that have been created in your mind or seen on social media.
You might not live up to your own expectations in terms of your response to the dog, and there is the ever-present concern over what others will think of you if you fail.
If, as a new dog owner you do not understand the body language or the personality of your pup, this could to lead to difficulties in bonding with it.
You could start to question whether the puppy likes you or whether you like it! Surely only a monster would not love this adorable little Golden Doodle, who has just peed on your carpet for the twelfth time.
Do not underestimate the negative effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, energy levels and ability to carry out routine activities.
It only takes a few nights of interrupted sleep for you to become irritable and prone to accidents. Most parents of newborn infants, and owners of young puppies will know the feeling.
What are the “Puppy Blues”?
The regret you feel after buying a puppy is often called the “Puppy Blues”. This is a common condition, described as being on a continuum, somewhere between buyer’s remorse and postpartum depression.
It can last for a few days, a few weeks or even longer, and can reoccur when a puppy enters a new phase of development.
Puppy Blues are not limited to the acquisition of young dogs. They can be experienced when older dogs are welcomed into your home. These could be foster dogs, those being rescued, rehomed or coming from a shelter, sometimes as a second dog.
What to do to recover the joy of owning a puppy
Firstly, if you or anyone in your family is feeling overwhelmed by the puppy or shows anger or resentment towards it, do take this seriously. When regret turns to anger, you’re treading on dangerous ground… it’s never the dog’s fault.
In addition, a loss of appetite, lethargy, and irritability, are all signs of a depressive state of mind, which can be exacerbated by any underlying mental health issues.
Establish a support system for looking after the puppy and yourself. Speak to family and friends about the experience and feelings. If necessary, join a dog club or consult a mental health practitioner.
Handy Hint: Dogs are said to improve an owner’s mental health. Whilst you might have regret now, which is normal, perhaps stick with it a few more months.
Develop a long-term view and have patience with yourself and the puppy. Try to understand life from the pup’s perspective while taking control of the situation. It has just left its mother and siblings and finds itself in a new environment where you set the boundaries.
Give yourselves time to adjust to each other without any other pressures. When I got the French Bulldog puppy, I took leave from work, placed my mattress on the floor and spent the two days napping on and off with him.
After this short period of bonding, I started laying down the ground rules.
Slowly introduce your pup to the various areas in your home (not complete freedom though!). It can be overwhelming for both of you if your pet does not understand how to behave in each room.
You might find unwelcome puppy parcels, at odd hours of the day and night, where you least expect them.
It is never too early to start potty training or attending obedience classes. Get everyone in the household on the same page with respect to discipline. Puppies, like children, intuitively identify a gap in authority, and will exploit it.
Live day to day, in the moment, without concern for the future. Countless puppies and their owners have survived, and you no doubt will too. Take deep breaths and time out.
Go for a walk if necessary.
Handy Hint: Your regret may stem from buying a sick puppy. Here are red flags to look out for when picking your next dog.
Prevention is better than puppy buyer’s regret
Do not buy a puppy on impulse.
Only visit pet shops and animal shelters in the company of one of those friends or family members that always finds holes in your hare-brained schemes.
In the same vein, do not buy a puppy as a tonic or to cheer yourself up. You need to have mental and emotional resilience when taking on the responsibility of a puppy.
Be realistic about your expectations before buying a puppy. Have a long talk to the same stoic friend before making any decisions. Discuss various scenarios.
Choose the right breed for your temperament and lifestyle. For example, if you are an avid jogger, get a dog with stamina, like a dalmatian. If you prefer more sedentary pursuits, do not get any type of terrier.
Above all, do not buy puppies as Christmas gifts for others, and hope that no one springs a puppy surprise on you. There are countless seasonal advertising campaigns that warn against this practice.
Please don’t feel guilty if you regret getting a puppy. It is very normal.