woman with cute little golden retriever dog

(Credit: Standret/Shutterstock)

HELSINKI, Finland — Bringing home a new puppy is often seen as a joyous occasion, but for many new dog owners, it can also trigger an unexpected emotional rollercoaster. A groundbreaking new study is shedding light on a phenomenon known as “puppy blues” — a period of distress, anxiety, and frustration that some new pet owners experience after getting a puppy. Researchers in Finland have developed the first-ever scale to measure this condition, revealing striking parallels between puppy blues and the “baby blues” that new parents sometimes face.

The study, published in the journal npj Mental Health Research, found that nearly half of dog owners reported experiencing significant negative feelings during their dog’s puppyhood. For some, these feelings can be intense. About 10% of owners of young dogs reported feeling “extremely burdened” during the puppy period. These findings challenge the notion that getting a puppy is always a purely positive experience and highlight the need for greater awareness and support for new dog owners.

“The study found that these so-called ‘puppy blues’ manifest in three ways: anxiety, frustration and weariness. These often occur concurrently, but in some cases one or two of the three may be particularly prominent,” says Psychologist and Doctoral Researcher Aada Ståhl from the University of Helsinki in a media release.

A woman holding Pomsky puppies
About 10% of owners of young dogs reported feeling “extremely burdened” during the puppy period. (Photo by Victor Ataide on Unsplash)

Methodology

To investigate puppy blues, researchers first collected responses from 136 dog owners who had experienced distress during their dog’s puppyhood. Based on these responses, they developed a 15-item questionnaire to measure various aspects of puppy blues.

The researchers then administered this questionnaire to a much larger sample of 1,801 Finnish dog owners. To ensure the reliability of their scale, they had 265 participants complete the questionnaire twice, about 80 days apart. They also collected data from 326 owners of one to two-year-old dogs, asking them to answer the questionnaire both about their experiences during puppyhood and their current experiences with their now-adult dog.

Using statistical techniques, the researchers analyzed the questionnaire responses to identify underlying patterns and factors contributing to puppy blues. They also examined how puppy blues scores related to other psychological measures, like personality traits and attachment styles.

Key Findings

The analysis revealed three main factors that make up puppy blues:

  1. Anxiety: This includes feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy as a dog owner, and worries about the puppy’s well-being and development.
  2. Frustration: This encompasses feelings of dissatisfaction, emotional strain, irritation, and questioning the decision to get a puppy.
  3. Weariness: This relates to exhaustion, sleep disturbances, and feeling overwhelmed by the time and attention required by the puppy.

Importantly, the researchers found that these feelings tend to be temporary. When owners of one to two-year-old dogs were asked about their current experiences compared to the puppy period, they reported significantly lower levels of anxiety, frustration, and weariness.

The study also uncovered some interesting connections between puppy blues and other psychological factors. For instance, people who scored higher on the personality trait of neuroticism (a tendency to experience negative emotions) were more likely to experience puppy blues. There were also correlations between puppy blues scores and measures of anxious attachment to pets, suggesting that how people bond with their pets may influence their emotional experiences during puppyhood.

“Just under half of owners report having had significant negative experiences during their dog’s puppyhood phase, with only about a tenth reporting the most severe levels of strain. This is in line with the prevalence of postnatal depression. However, the negative feelings fade relatively quickly,” reports Professor Hannes Lohi.

Study Limitations

The study relied on participants’ memories of their experiences during puppyhood, which could be influenced by various biases. The sample was also not very diverse. Most participants were Finnish women, so the findings may not apply equally to all populations.

Additionally, the researchers point out that their questionnaire was developed based on experiences reported by Finnish dog owners. It’s possible that there are cultural differences in how people experience and express puppy blues that weren’t captured in this study.

Discussion & Takeaways

This research marks an important step in understanding the emotional challenges that can come with new dog ownership. By identifying and measuring puppy blues, the study opens up new avenues for supporting dog owners during what can be a stressful transition period.

The parallels between puppy blues and baby blues are striking. Just as new parents can experience mood swings, anxiety, and exhaustion, new puppy owners may go through similar emotional upheavals. This suggests that some of the support strategies used for new parents might be adapted to help new dog owners as well.

“Capturing the phenomenon in a measurable form is important if we are to better understand its characteristics, prevalence and duration. This will also allow us to improve understanding of the factors that may predispose owners to or protect them from the ‘puppy blues’, which will help us to develop prevention and support measures,” says Ståhl.

The researchers emphasize that experiencing puppy blues doesn’t mean a person won’t ultimately form a strong, positive bond with their dog. In fact, understanding that these feelings are common and usually temporary could help new dog owners navigate this challenging period more smoothly.

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