Puppy Blues
Dog Behaviour, Puppy

How to overcome the puppy blues so you can enjoy your puppy!

Having a new puppy can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster at times, but it’s often the lesser talked about reality of new puppy parenthood. It can leave you feeling a little isolated, frustrated, and even perhaps regretful. It’s the puppy blues in full effect! 

I’m going to let you into a well-kept secret that I think will help you. A large percentage of the issues we see with puppies are not actually training issues at all. 

There are two things that are leading to you feeling overwhelmed, conflicted, and possibly even guilty about life with your new puppy. You might be surprised to learn that they are both fairly easy to overcome once you identify them. 

So what are they, Jo? I hear you cry. 

Expectations and too much information. 

In this puppy blues blog, we will delve into both of these factors so you can recognise them, manage them and come out the other side with your sanity intact and a dog you love deeply and understand. 

So, let’s start with expectations. 

Puppy Blues: Is it normal to feel regret after getting a puppy?

You had a vision of what life was going to look like when you welcomed your puppy or rescue dog home. And this isn’t it. 

You’re exhausted. You’re monitoring your puppy’s toileting habits constantly, you’re sleep-deprived, and you’re frankly covered in bite marks gifted to you by your little shark puppy’s razor-sharp teeth. 

It’s disappointing, upsetting, frustrating, and you might even be feeling like getting your puppy was a terrible idea. Don’t panic! It’s also normal!

Guess what?! Your puppy is more than likely behaving like a puppy. The problem is not you, and it’s not your puppy. He isn’t some devilish spawn that you should never have invited into your life.

The problem is that you weren’t given an honest reflection of what these early weeks and months might look like. It’s not your fault. 

You read all the books and boffed up before getting him home, but now it’s like everything you read was written for someone else. 

I’ll tell you why. There isn’t much out there that highlights the fact that your puppy will not master everything you try and train immediately. And that’s not because you’re not doing it right. It’s because there are developmental milestones that have to be reached before that training will cement. Training takes time. 

Why is my puppy so hard to train? 

Your 9-week old puppy cannot physically hold their wee and poo in. They are not developed enough to do so. Your puppy doesn’t have the capacity to be fully toilet trained until approx 16 weeks old, when he can begin to learn to hold his toileting needs until he’s in an appropriate place. 

That doesn’t mean there’s no point in doing any toilet training. There is. But it means that you can allow yourself to relax a little and enjoy the little successes which are slowly adding up. 

Let go of berating yourself (and your puppy) whenever you find a puddle somewhere you’d rather not. It’s going to happen. Stock up on kind words for yourself and your puppy, enzymatic cleaner to remove odours and stains, and treats for celebrating the toileting that is happening in the right places. 

And trust that it will pay off. These little accidents may be frustrating, but they won’t be forever. 

The puppy biting you’re experiencing is also normal. Your puppy is teething, prone to becoming overtired in the blink of an eye and learning about the world with her mouth. You can do things to help your puppy with their sore teeth, but it is unrealistic to think you can completely eradicate any biting. 

Those sleepless nights or hideously early mornings? Yup, normal! Again, there are things we can do to make it easier on you and your puppy, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be gifted a puppy who sleeps 12hrs straight as soon as they enter your life. 

The fun and joy you expected from puppy life are in there. You will enjoy your life with your dog. The puppy blues will pass! 

You just need some help to adjust your expectations so that you can revel in your training successes and actually recognise when they happen. You might find that your puppy training is actually going swimmingly, you just need a different perspective… and perhaps a couple of small tweaks to help you on your way. 

Who can I trust – there is so much conflicting information

I remember when I first had my son, Logan. Yes, I’m talking about a human child, but stick with me, it is relevant, I promise. 

I drove myself round the bend, worrying about whether I was getting it right. I’d read so many books while pregnant, but my views were completely different when he arrived. 

So what did I do? I turned to Google, of course! 

And I didn’t stop there. I read various books, talked to friends, and tied myself in little knots once I’d acquired a ton of conflicting advice. 

It was overwhelming, confusing, and very unhelpful.  

We all have really good gut instincts, but we go down these rabbit holes seeking information, and we often end up ignoring or even fighting against our gut.

I have clients who have achieved great results using books or videos from YouTube. They have developed amazing skills which have helped them to train their dogs. But there is still something missing. 

For a lifetime of success, understanding, and a strong bond with your dog, you need to not just be able to teach behaviours but to have a clear understanding of your dog’s behaviour. 

What’s beneath the problems you are experiencing? When you understand your dog’s specific needs, what motivates him, what he struggles with and what emotions he is experiencing, you are both set up for an incredible relationship.

That can’t be taught in a generic video or picked up from a well-meaning dog friend because your dog is unique. There will be different motivations, life experiences, breed traits and so much more that affect your dog’s perspective on the world. 

Let’s go back to Logan for a minute. Imagine I told a friend he screamed all night, and I was at my wit’s end. And imagine my friend told me that she had a similar experience, and her baby was hungry, so she gave her an extra feed before bed, and the problem was solved. 

So off I toddle, and I give Logan a huge top up feed before bedtime. Only he doesn’t sleep soundly. He screams even more and for longer. Because the reason he couldn’t sleep was reflux, and the extra milk just made that 10x worse. This is a made-up story, but I just want to highlight how if we seek out information without a two-way exchange, it can quickly lead us into bigger problems. 

Just like children, our puppies and dogs need us to be consistent. And with the best of intentions, when we bounce from pillar to post trying different techniques from various people, it simply doesn’t work. In fact, a lot of the time, it creates bigger problems, because we are now unpredictable to our dogs (or kids), and that doesn’t foster confidence or security. 

What should I focus on with my puppy?

Your puppy is like a baby, he/she needs you. The absolute best thing you can do for your puppy (and your future self) is to help your puppy to grow in confidence. The typical dog training obedience stuff can come later. The early weeks and months are all about supporting your puppy and helping him/her to feel secure and safe. 

This solid foundation will enable you to build a strong relationship with your puppy. And that foundation will make it a million times easier to teach your puppy the vital skills they need to grow into an assured, confident, and happy dog. 

You can begin teaching cues such as drop and leave to help keep your puppy safe, of course. I don’t mean that you should completely ignore all elements of training your puppy. But the area of most importance is your relationship and their feeling secure. 

So, if you’re not going to Google everything and ask every dog owner you know, what’s the alternative? 

“I wish I had got help from the beginning” is a phrase I hear from clients all the time. Initially, they tried using a book or the internet to help them with their puppy woes, but the reality was they became even more overwhelmed. 

They wound up pulling their hair out and making things so much harder for both themselves and their puppy. 

Prevention is better than cure

Don’t put off puppy training until you have a problem. It will be so much harder for you and your puppy. 

Being proactive to prevent problems or getting help as soon as they arise sets you and your puppy up for success both now and in the future. Whether you’re having a tough time or you’d like to try and prevent a challenge from occurring, having a professional you can call on to discuss your individual situation is a huge relief. 

How choosing one to one puppy training support can help you overcome the puppy blues

Group puppy training classes usually teach general obedience training covering things like sit, stay, recall, and drop. And while these can be helpful skills to learn, you then have to take what you’ve learned in a class environment and progress it in the outside world alone. And that can be tricky without someone coaching you through the little hiccups that occur in day-to-day life. 

Choosing one to one dog training support means that we work on your specific challenges and your unique goals. We consider your lifestyle, the things that are important to you, and we work on a bespoke plan for your puppy or dog and support you through putting it into action. 

I’m not just a dog trainer and behaviourist, I support the humans I work with. If you have a safe person to turn to it makes it a million times easier for you to be the safe person for your puppy. 

And it helps you get over those inevitable humps without falling down a Google hole, only to emerge confused, even more exhausted, and utterly fed up. 

Instead, you have one person to reach out to who will give you consistent, tailored advice and support that meets your needs and those of your puppy. Hurrah!

So that vision you had of life with a confident and calm dog by your side that can stride through life with you no matter what happens is your reality. 

If you’re struggling with the puppy blues, then please don’t suffer alone. Reach out and get in touch with me, and let’s banish those puppy blues so you can enjoy your new pup! 

Since you’re here and tackling all things puppy, you might find this blog on socialising your puppy a useful read. https://johinds.com/2018/03/29/dog-play-vs-oversocialisation/

Pug Lying Down in Resignation on Wooden Floor with skirting board in background
Dog Behaviour

How can you help your dog during COVID19 lockdown and after?

Hi Guys so we are in the midst of the COVID 19 lockdown, I have been putting off writing anything about this subject because we was not quite sure how long it was going on but I think unfortunately lockdown will not be ending anytime soon. I have had lots of thoughts running around in my mind that you might have concerns with and what concerns I have regarding when lockdown ends for your dog. Socialisation, separation and concern about overtired/over aroused dogs are all covered below.

Firstly I have pulled out some key points from the British Veterinary Association their info graphics are below too. The current strain of Coronavirus is a result of Human-to-human transmission, there is absolutely no evidence that companion animals can spread the disease. Current evidence suggests Covid-19 has a wild animal source however this still remains under investigation. It is also thought it might be possible the virus could be carried on fur from humans that are infected/carrying the virus, for a short period of time in the same way it is on other surfaces, such as tables and doorknobs, this could apply to their harnesses as well. The main advice for animal owners is continue to practise good hand hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds with soap and water) after touching your pet and also not letting them interact with other dogs or people that do not live with you. If someone else is walking your dog for you for what ever reason, please carefully still follow social distancing rules and hygiene advice. Have a bag with all your dog equipment in, that you do not need to touch and the dog walker can take and bring back.

All veterinary practices are now required to limit face-to-face contact with clients. This means running an emergency care and emergency prescription service, some are still providing food and doing necessary vaccinations but this is branch dependent. So avoid putting your dog at unnecessary risk.

Pets and corona virus advice from royal veterinary college
RVC Someone walking your dog during COVID 19 advice


Food

If you run out of food dogs can eat human food they did evolve from our discarded food after all! However try and find alternative healthy complete dog foods, if you can rather than making your own, often getting the balance right of nutrients and what your specific dog needs is difficult. It’s always good to add fresh veg and fruit (in moderation) to your dogs dinner a minimum of 3 times a week anyway, this helps with gut health, a healthy gut helps with behaviour too! If you have to change food try and do it gradually if possible, I know this might be difficult don’t worry if it’s not feasible it just to avoid tummy upset. If your dog is on a special diet speak to your vet to see if they can suggest a good alternative. If you are struggling with costs http://www.trussellstrust.org are able to provide pet supplies for people who need it.

Difficult time for all

Lady with hands covering face depicting stress with someone else hands on sides of head

I know this is a stressful time for all of us but believe it or not it will be for our dogs too. Dogs pick up on our mood state so if the behaviour has changed it can be due to this, be mindful to try and take them out when you are feeling not so tense, as handling of the lead can then change the walk and can be unpleasant for your dog and in turn you, as they are likely to pull more or be hyper vigilant to things in the environment if the lead is tense. Some dogs will love you being home but others will be overwhelmed because everyone is there all day, they may not be getting the rest they need. There will be more people interacting with the dog, whether it’s kids constantly playing or teasing them or multiple adults managing unwanted behaviour, if this is not managed right you can have a stressed dog on your hands. Overtired, overexcited or frustrated dogs can lead to bites, statistic are usually higher during school holiday periods so this isolation period will be no different.

Routine

Dogs do appear to have an inbuilt time clock seeming to recognise the difference between week days and weekends (our actions and body language is more likely what influences this the most) however if we treat everyday as a weekend when lockdown is over some dogs are going to struggle. Each dog is different when it comes to routine sometimes a strict adherence to routine creates anxiety issues when all of a sudden they have a day where the routine gets thrown out the window, dogs which suffer from separation anxiety or isolation distress, are extremely aware of routine events that predict your leaving, which triggers their anxiety. What I am mainly suggesting is stick to a version of your normal routine for your working week, feeding your dog when you normally would and walking them. Obviously this will be different if you have a dog sitter but you can do activities in the same way without the socialisation aspect. Don’t walk your dogs more than you usually walk them unless you can sustain this after lock down otherwise when it’s over they will find it difficult when you go back to work, this is unfair and definitely do not make them walk more if they are refusing. Change for the future is inevitable things will not be exactly the same when restrictions are lifted, dogs do adapt but their are somethings to consider for getting through this period with ease for both parties.

Sleep

Ginger and white senior collie x sleeping on bed in sunlight with door in background

I have just posted a very detailed video on YouTube on this specific subject “Is your dog getting enough sleep” but some key points are below. With everyone home everyone may be interacting with your dog more than normal but be mindful sleep is vital to mood state dogs should be sleeping through the night and having regular undisturbed good quality naps in the day. Children and adults should be leaving the dog alone when they are resting or sleeping. Puppies need around 18-20 hours sleep and adult dogs need around 12-14 hours of sleep a day. Lack of rest and sleep can effect behaviour.

Alone Time

If you do not normally work from home, some separation and being unavailable is going to be important for your dog at this time, even for the people that do, you are probably at home more than normal. Absence from your dog is important for the ones that used to it but even for the ones that are not like those of you that have new puppies or ones that have existing separation related problems the following exercises will help:

  • Provide searching and foraging activities in a different room/garden than you are in (safe activities of course) not shutting them in there unless they are comfortable with this, just aiding with a little separation from each other. There is a link further below for lots of ideas but one simple foraging activity is to put out lots of cardboard boxes in a group on the floor or a box filled with safe recycling items in and scatter their dinner or healthy treats, for them to sniff out and find (for nervous dogs make it easy with not to many boxes or items to start with) put out a snuffle mat at the same time, if you have one too and leave them to it no encouraging or cheering them on, the idea is they decide if they want to and they can choose to be away from you.
  • If you have a Kong another option is to put a rope through the small hole end of it and tie a knot. Stuff the Kong with something they have to lick, then tie the long end of the rope to a piece of secure furniture (with no risk to the dog) in a different room again where you are not, I usually suggest having something comfortable for the dog to lie on, near it. If you have a chewer or a dog that gets easily frustrated this might not be the right activity for them.

If you do not normally work from home, some separation and being unavailable is going to be important for your dog at this time, even for the people that do, you are probably at home more than normal. Absence from your dog is important for the ones that used to it but even for the ones that are not like those of you that have new puppies or ones that have existing separation related problems the following exercises will help:

  • Provide searching and foraging activities in a different room/garden than you are in (safe activities of course) not shutting them in there unless they are comfortable with this, just aiding with a little separation from each other. There is a link further below for lots of ideas but one simple foraging activity is to put out lots of cardboard boxes in a group on the floor or a box filled with safe recycling items in and scatter their dinner or healthy treats, for them to sniff out and find (for nervous dogs make it easy with not to many boxes or items to start with) put out a snuffle mat at the same time, if you have one too and leave them to it no encouraging or cheering them on, the idea is they decide if they want to and they can choose to be away from you.
  • If you have a Kong another option is to put a rope through the small hole end of it and tie a knot. Stuff the Kong with something they have to lick, then tie the long end of the rope to a piece of secure furniture (with no risk to the dog) in a different room again where you are not, I usually suggest having something comfortable for the dog to lie on, near it. If you have a chewer or a dog that gets easily frustrated this might not be the right activity for them.

Those of you that have puppies that you are concerned about or a dog that struggles to be alone and you are worried about the impact, this is actually a good time to work on separation. The first thing we as behaviourists would advise is not to leave them alone at all and build on separation within the house and them being relaxed first, working in leaving them for seconds rather than minutes.

As well as the above points other places to start would be:

  • Within the house just going to simple places like the toilet or shower and closing the door. If they struggle and get distressed about this in anyway, have a treat pot in the toilet, pick up a handful, drop treats outside toilet door and shut the door every time you need to go.
  • When you need a bath or shower have a kong/chew ready and ask them to lie down on the bed whilst you go to the shower. If you have a dog/puppy that does get distressed leave the door open building on closing it but giving them an activity to do in another room close to the shower.

The important thing with separation training is you going in casually and come out casually. This is what you eventually need to do when leaving the house, this is not about ignoring them it’s about making it no big deal, so it’s normal. You do not want to be adding to how they feel, if you come out saying “I am so sorry I left you” verbally or in your body language, showing any anxiety yourselves, your dog will get distressed because you are.

Teaching a settle on a bed or blanket is also something that is useful to work on. You build on duration first and them truly relaxing and then build in doing short activities around them cleaning or when cooking building in distractions whilst they are still relaxed there. You would then work on distance but not aiming for the front door first, aim for them being at the kitchen door whilst you are at the cooker. Distance will be first before out of sight, before starting out of sight I always suggest to get a dog monitor or application if you have a smartphone and tablet, this enables you to watch for some of the subtle signals dogs give way before they start panting, becoming hyper vigilant, tense whining, barking or howling, you want to return to them before this whilst they are still chilled and relaxed. Do not force confinement or let them cry/whine/bark until they are quiet, this is outdated information it causes anxiety and high stress levels.

Periods of unavailability are important to, think about an activity you usually do and when you do it you dog often goes and rests away from you. Common times this happens (depending on the dog) are when you are on the phone, computer or reading a good book, you are usually completely unavailable and your dog often knows this because your body language indicates it. No eye contact, often looking away doing something else, so they often settle and rest, some almost relieved. It’s important to do activities where you are unavailable you cannot however fake this, you need to just go and do something else in the house. If you think about puppies we are on their case all the time watching them incase they wee or chew something and because of this some find it very difficult to settle in our company and this happens to adult dogs too, being unavailable sometimes is good to give your dog permission to just chill out.

If your dog is used to you going out if you can go out without them, I know there are limits around this but some alone time is important.

Play

To start with there is such a thing as too much play, contrary to popular belief play often does the opposite to tiring a puppy/dog out, it usually makes the dog or puppy over aroused, some frustrated because of how we play and we often play for far too long particularly with puppies, which can make them over tired, nippy and restless or worse. This lockdown is leaving some people bored, be careful not to over do it with your dog, there needs to be a balance between play, eating, sleeping, resting, mental and environmental stimulation and training. Some of the signs of play has gone on to long or the dog is over aroused are as detailed in the below images from the vet behaviour team, you want to end the game way before these occur:

Obviously yes it is important to make time to play with your dogs for short periods but not at times where you need to work or do stuff or you will have a dog that pesters you all the time. Do not leave kids playing unattended watch how the children are playing with the dog. It’s important if the dog is sitting just chewing on the toy or moving away with it that no one tries to grab the toy off them

Rather than constantly playing ball which can be over arousing, be careful of football too, play other games that provide them outlets for natural behaviours such as:

  • Searching for the ball; if your dog knows a stay ask them stay, throw the ball into long grass, count to 5 then release them to find it. Leave patches of grass to grow long for this game in your garden as well.
  • Hide a toy in the house or garden and then let your dog in/out to find it. For newbies make easy.
  • Tug ensure they win, ensure they are bringing it to you, when you are trying to instigate a game remember to use the toy as if it is prey, don’t waggle it in their face prey doesn’t do that, run it along the floor in zig zag movements keeping it low. Be careful not to make the game frustrating and ensure they are bringing it back to you, don’t grab it off them if they just try to take it away its not an invitation to take it.

Like us, dogs don’t enjoy being teased, nor do they understand the difference between our toys and theirs, so it’s best to keep any toys they shouldn’t play with safely out of their reach.

Outlets for natural behaviours

Dogs need outlets for their natural behaviours and what each dog likes is different. Digging, searching, hunting, foraging, sniffing, chewing, water play are all examples of what dogs need and there are lots of ways this can be done during this period. Searching for treats or scattering their dinner is just one way to tire them out as sniffing is stimulating to some dogs and often very tiring. Enrichment done right is actually what tires dogs out, this also will help prevent your puppy/dog becoming bored, restless and getting up to mischief. Here is a great blog for 100 days of enrichment whatever you choose it should be stimulating and not frustrating, each dog is different always start with easy stuff first particularly for dogs that’s are fearful or lacking confidence.

Walks

Each person in the household can go out with the dog once a day but this should only be for the dogs who are used to it or you can continue this in the future. If there are not multiple people in the house make the walk longer and focus on really good quality sniffing and what they enjoy, this is the tiring bit. Dogs that are used to being off lead, avoid situations where they interact with other dog or people as it could mean you break the social distancing rules because you have to go and get them. Instead keep them on lead but clip them on a different point on their lead or change to a slightly longer lead to imitate being off and work on just letting your dog take the lead, as if they are off lead let them take you on an adventure. If you control the snifari walk then you may start to build in frustration and could trigger behaviour problems in the future.

Socialisation

A lot of people are worrying about the lack of socialisation for their dog or puppy at this time but I myself am really not. I think for most dogs this is actually a blessing. Firstly if you have a dog that is anxious or stressed out normally on walks, do not start taking them out more than usual particularly as people are looking different at the moment this will add to their anxiety unless your road is much quieter now. Those of you with puppies social distancing is good and I recommend this in generally anyway for all puppies, for the unsure puppies distance is important to make them feel more confident this allows them to observe at a distance without being overwhelmed and choose whether to investigate, it also allows the over friendly puppies to read people and other dogs body language from a distance when they are saying I am not interested. Puppies that are not used people you can do exercises at home where you dress up getting them used to different out fits, hats, high visibility wear, glasses, fancy dress and of course masks most dogs may find these a little odd. Do take your puppies out at different times of the day.

For those dogs that are socialites and struggle keeping a distance this is the perfect time to really work on rewarding disengaging from dogs, don’t try and get their attention when they see them just wait until they do disengage and pay them a lot with multiple treats to their mouth and ground as you are moving away, no pulling them, even if this takes time, the trick is to stay at distances where they can disengage. Have a really good game after the walk with them, these are the dogs that may need play increased slightly.

Grooming

For those of you that have a dog that needs regular grooming, ensure you do this daily particularly if you usually rely on a groomer. It’s actually a great time to help them feel comfortable with it giving them short sessions and giving the choice to stop too. Pairing treats at every step even if it’s every brush and a tasty chew at the end, always give them other options when grooming put boxes, snuffle mats and kongs with food around during the session to allow them to have breaks. This is a great way to do regular check overs with your dogs.

My final note is like us dogs will get through this crisis, things will be different and there behaviour might change too but hopefully some of the above will help prevent this. Of cause if you are having specific behaviour problems and would like some advice I and many other trainers and behaviourist are still doing telephone, virtual-video sessions for training and behaviour and I do have a five week puppy course for those who have puppies and are concerned which I am now tailoring subjects to get puppies through this period.

Check out my website http://www.johinds.com for more details.

I am signing off now, really missing seeing and interacting with all your canine companions.

Please keep safe and take care.

Jo