Puppyhood can cause dogs to experience “puppy blues,” which are reminiscent of baby blues

Puppyhood can cause dogs to experience “puppy blues,” which are reminiscent of baby blues
Puppyhood can cause dogs to experience “puppy blues,” which are reminiscent of baby blues

Cute puppy

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Bringing a puppy home is usually a joyous event, but sometimes the life change that comes with it can cause significant negative emotions. In a study now published in npj mental health researchResearchers found that nearly half of all dog owners experience anxiety, fatigue, or frustration during their dog’s puppyhood.

According to a study from the University of Helsinki, some dog owners experience feelings similar to the postnatal baby blues – a short-term drop in mood and melancholy – when their dog is a puppy. Caring for a puppy brings with it a range of worries, fears and frustrations, and it can be difficult to bond with the dog.

“The study found that these so-called ‘puppy blues’ manifest themselves in three ways: anxiety, frustration and tiredness. These often occur simultaneously, but in some cases one or two of the three aspects may be particularly pronounced,” says psychologist and doctoral student Aada Ståhl.

The thoughts of an anxious puppy owner are dominated by concerns about the puppy’s welfare and development, as well as their own inadequacy in caring for their dog. Owners may blame themselves when things do not go as planned.

A frustrated puppy owner may feel dissatisfaction and stress due to the burden and unexpected challenges that come with caring for a puppy. They may find it difficult to form an emotional bond with the puppy, wish they had never had the puppy, and consider giving the dog up.

For the exhausted puppy owner, puppyhood is a time of mental and physical stress. They may have trouble sleeping and find the constant attention and time the puppy needs tiring and anxious.

“Almost half of the owners report significant negative experiences during their dog’s puppyhood, only about a tenth report severe stress. This corresponds to the frequency of postnatal depression. However, the negative feelings subside relatively quickly,” says Professor Hannes Lohi.

An interesting finding was that people remembered the time that had passed since puppyhood more positively. In other words, the negative emotional content of puppyhood memories “fades” over time.

A phenomenon known to dog owners is now measurable for further research

The study first collected the experiences of over 100 dog owners who had experienced emotional stress after bringing home a puppy. Based on this data, a survey was developed to measure the “puppy blues.” The new survey collected responses from more than 2,000 dog owners, with measures in place to ensure the validity and reliability of the survey.

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

The study represents a new approach to researching the relationship between humans and pets. Although the term “puppy blues” is widely used among dog owners, there has been no comprehensive research on the topic. Research into this phenomenon aims to raise awareness, which can help people prepare for negative feelings and better recognize and understand their own experiences.

The study is part of a broader project by Professor Hannes Lohi’s research group, which investigates the relationship between owner and animal and its importance for well-being.

More information:
Aada Ståhl et al., Development and validation of the Puppy Blues scale to measure transient affective disorders resembling baby blues, npj mental health research (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s44184-024-00072-z

Provided by the University of Helsinki

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