I didn’t realise I had pet-adoption blues, in fact that I’d had it before, till after I was out of it.
We adopted our older dog Panja, a few months into the pandemic, and our younger one Cookie, just a few weeks ago. With both adoptions we had actually been looking to adopt older dogs, not being too keen on toilet training. In both cases we ended up with pups.
And in both cases, I felt doubt and anxiety at the commitment we’d taken on, and there was despair at the chaos that the new puppy brought.
It struck me that this could be why so many people give up on their animals within a few months of getting them. The sense of impending failure is so strong, even when you’ve done it before.
I’ve never heard anyone talk about this, rather they judge the failed pet parents. In some cases yes, poor hasty decisions are made, and I don’t condone the abandonment of pets. But it would have been nice to hear someone say, “don’t worry, it gets better”.
Bringing a new pet, especially a dog, and most especially a puppy into your life requires a huge adjustment and some significant amount of pain (sometimes both mental and physical!) before it all settles.
What happens at the beginning is stressful and peppered generously with unsolicited advice about what you need to do to be a good pet parent.
Different people will tell you different things, at times contradictory things, which all claim to be backed by science. In our case it was: dogs like this, dogs don’t like that, you should do this, and you absolutely shouldn’t do that.
It’s difficult because everyone is convinced they’re right.
We got five different suggestions for tick control, and widely varying opinions on getting her spayed.
When we adopted Angel (aka Panja), her anxiety was a huge roadblock to toilet training. She’d still rather go inside the house than go for a walk. We did so many recommended things to bring up her confidence – but none made much difference.
In the end, it was my taking her to the office, starting when she was one and a half years old, that made the most difference.
In the early days, she peed so much it was overwhelming. Given her assumption that she belonged on every bed and sofa, this often happened on the furniture, resulting in more than a few early linens changes in the early days. In addition, every time our landlord would visit she would pee.
Shredding became a part of our lives, we had to remember to keep doors shut that used to remain open, and be careful about leaving food unattended. Then there was the 6am, “whose turn is it to walk the dog” (before we hired dog walkers), the tracking of pee and poop timings, the feeling of joy when she relieved herself in the right place at the right time, and many other small victories and failures.
I’m not sure when she started to settle and become calmer (relatively). But over time she matured and until recently, she has been a reasonably well behaved dog, unless my colleagues at the office are eating in front of her. Then she goes back to being an untrained ruffian.
The recent change of course being the new puppy.
The thing is, doing all the things suggested to us, in all the right ways was practically infeasible for us – and sometimes the result wasn’t what was promised. For example it was clear early on that Panja wouldn’t do some things – not because she didn’t understand that it was wrong – but more that she didn’t see that particular “hooman” rule to be too important.
So we learned we had to take all the advice and find our own way to manage.
Adding Cookie into the mix compounded the challenges of raising a puppy, because now there was an older dog to play with, get jealous of, and fight with. Cookie’s too young to have much bladder control, and she couldn’t go out for walks for the first ten days, because she needed to get vaccinated.
Since her sister was allowed to do it, Panja also decided she would commence peeing and pooping inside again.
Right after we officially adopted Cookie (for the first 3 weeks she was a foster), my partner went away for a 2 week trip to the US. The early days of managing both alone were torturous, since Cookie displayed no visible interest in acquiring any discipline or being a well-behaved dog.
During my first week I felt despair, frustration and anxiety all in equal measure. They tested my patience in ways I cannot describe.
Panja was never territorial about her food. In fact I would say largely she still isn’t – except when her baby sister is around to try and steal it. Like a typical younger sibling, Cookie wanted her sister’s share and her own both – and of course she doesn’t want to share with Panja.
For one person to feed two dogs separately is a logistical challenge to say the least, without adding the fact that one is noisily outraged when her dinner takes too long.
She’s the polar opposite of Panja, confident with humans and yet afraid of dogs which has presented an interesting challenge.
I had finally gotten Cookie to use pee pads, when the two of them decided that their new favourite game was “shred the pee pad” and they made such a mess, that eventually I gave up leaving them down for her altogether.
I think I hit rock bottom, when one night, Cookie peed in one of the small stainless steel bowls I use to make them frozen treats. Why? Because Panja came to lick Cookie’s bowl (they often licked each other’s bowls after eating), Cookie decided she wasn’t happy about it and peed. Then she went and licked Panja’s.
I actually said “are you kidding me?!?” to Cookie.
Now while in retrospect this is quite comic, by this point, I was exhausted, had major feelings of self-doubt about my ability to do this, and felt overwhelmed by it all.
But what I didn’t realise is that a shift had started. I am not sure when it began, but slowly I found myself starting to adapt. I tweaked the way I handled them, trying different things to see what worked. I consulted a behaviourist, and implemented some of the strategies she suggested in the best way I could.
And then, one day I woke up and I thought, “okay, I got this. Whatever’s coming, I got this.”
I wrote all of this basically to say – if, after bringing your new dog home, you feel doubt, upset, overwhelmed, or frustrated – it’s completely normal. You’ll need to change some things of course, like you would for any new member of the family, but it’s more possible to succeed than you think.
And you’ll be okay even if you don’t have all the answers or you’re struggling to get them to behave. While I’m not qualified to give advice as to specific dos and don’ts of dog care – I only know what’s working for my dogs – I can say with confidence that if you can learn as you go, and make the changes you need (assuming you are in a position to do so of course), it can get better.
I was sitting on my sofa this afternoon with the two of them sound asleep beside me. When I saw them peaceful at last after a morning of play, I felt a joy that I cannot describe. I didn’t know I could love like this: it’s more than I’ve ever felt for any human.
And that moment made the stress and the hassle all worthwhile. We’re going to be okay.