Dear Rae, Now That I’m Sober, Can I Get a Puppy?

puppy ownership in early recovery puppy sleeping

We work with therapy dogs at Sanford, and dogs can brighten the darkest day…

Dear Rae, After many years of starting and stopping drinking alcohol, I have been sober for six months! I am thinking about getting a puppy to celebrate. Do you have any advice as to whether that is a good idea or not? SJV

Dear SJV:

Congratulations on six months of sobriety; that is a benchmark to celebrate.  I am sure you have been told in 12-step meetings, with your therapist, or in treatment that early recovery is a time for adjustment. Perhaps you have also been told it would not be wise to start a serious relationship, move, take on a new job, or make other major changes until you have your recovery sea legs. You may be thinking a pet will add structure and routine to your life, and of course, a puppy is cute and dependent and universally positive!

Therapy Dogs

We work with therapy dogs at Sanford Behavioral Health, and dogs can brighten the darkest day. Our therapy dogs create a calming physical connection and add comfort to discussing and processing difficult emotions, including trauma. Positive interactions with a puppy, like petting or cuddling, can increase oxytocin levels in both you and the pooch. Oxytocin is a hormone linked to positive emotions, bonding, and love.


A puppy might be a good idea for you, and it might even be therapeutic, but I suggest you take a step back (and take a deep breath) and weigh the pros and cons of puppy ownership. Puppies require constant attention and can be a stressor. Likewise, getting a puppy is a long-term commitment that rivals other serious relationships like marriage and childcare.


puppy ownership Rae Green with therapy dogs

Sanford Founder Rae Green with therapy dogs Lola and Appolonia, prepping for work with Sanford clients.


PROS of Puppy (or Dog) Ownership

  • Pets can alleviate loneliness and isolation, both enemies of early recovery.
  • A dog offers companionship, unconditional love, and acceptance.
  • The presence of a pet provides a distraction and can ease stress associated with early recovery.
  • Dogs require physical activity, so they can be a motivator to increase exercise and spend more time outside; physical and mental health are connected as mindful movement and exercise create endorphins (hormones that reduce stress and improve mood).
  • When you pet your puppy, levels of oxytocin increase. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone.” Coincidentally, attending peer support or 12-step meetings also produces oxytocin.
  • Pets can provide routine, which is helpful in reducing stress.
  • If you struggle with social anxiety, dogs can be a great icebreaker and social conduit. For example, I have made friends from the local community college that I call my “walking friends” because we became acquainted with the cuteness of my corgi. I actually time my dog walks when their class lets out so we can visit.


Puppy ownership walking dog

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Cons of Puppy Ownership

  • While cute, puppies require endless patience, attention, and care.
  • Have you researched breeds, or do you plan to get a mixed breed? Size and temperament is an important aspect of the selection process.
  • Puppies can be expensive. There are many first-year veterinary and other costs associated with puppyhood.
  • Training a puppy can be challenging. Do you live somewhere with easy access to “outside” for potty training?
  • Do you have a time-consuming job, travel, or have other taxing relationships? Realistically assess whether you have the time and energy that a canine friend requires.


It’s Personal

As I mentioned, it is often recommended that newcomers to recovery avoid major life changes during the first year. Depending on the circumstances, a pet can qualify as a major life change. Before committing, be honest about your ability to care for a pet. Talk to someone you trust about whether getting a pet is the right choice for you. In the end, the decision is yours to make.


I also recommend considering the “rescue” option. When you bring home a rescue dog, you are doing a good deed, getting solid information on the dog’s personality (good and bad), and starting with a more mature, often pre-trained pet. With our most recent therapy dog, Lola, I knew I wouldn’t be a good puppy mom but I really wanted a Bernese Mountain dog. Lola’s profile was irresistible: “I am a retired mill momma who lived in a barn, and I just want to be loved!”  Lola’s foster mom described her as adaptable and easygoing, with a calm, sweet, lovable nature. After meeting Lola we knew she was a special dog. She is already attending therapy groups and providing endless love and snuggles to Sanford’s clients.



Rae Allyson Green, JD, MA, LPC, CAADC, is the Founder & President of Sanford Behavioral Health. After extensive experience working in residential treatment centers, Rae sought a new treatment approach for addiction and co-occurring disorders. Together with husband, David Green, she established Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers in 2015. Their mission was to elevate the effectiveness and availability of treatment for individuals diagnosed with substance use disorders (SUDs). Today, Sanford is an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving the state of Michigan and beyond.