Considering a puppy for Christmas? Reconsider!

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 12/20/09
By: Gail T. Fisher


There was an interesting article in last Sunday’s paper entitled “Looking for a holiday pup? Pick Personality.” I wish the article had just been “How to pick a puppy,” including caveats about NOT FOR CHRISTMAS, then I wouldn’t have to repeat my annual Christmas mantra, about NOT getting a puppy for Christmas – or at least not bringing it home until after Christmas Day.

Recognizing the emotional appeal of a commercial with an adorable puppy or kitten wrapped up in a big red bow under the tree, advertisers make the most of this visual. But in real life, a puppy won’t sit quietly in a basket while presents are opened. Curious, active puppies get into everything. They piddle and chew and eat stuff – some of which is dangerous. Without constant supervision – next to impossible on Christmas Day – a puppy will at best be in the way, and at worst get into trouble, creating problems for both the family and the puppy.

If you’re thinking, “We’ll just put him in another room while we open gifts,” think about the impact on the puppy. He’s in a new home, anxious and apprehensive about new people, new noise, new activity – and then he’s shut away all by himself, isolated and alone for perhaps the first time in his life. Frightened and upset he’ll likely bark and cry. Then this lonely, confused animal will either be ignored, yelled at, put outside, or given attention (reinforcing the barking). None of these is good. This scenario is easily avoided by not introducing a new dog close to, or on Christmas Day.

If you really want to give the gift of a puppy, surprise the person with boxes of supplies and gift certificates. Wrap a dog crate, give a gift certificate for obedience, agility classes or grooming. Wrap toys, a warm coat, bowls, blankets or a bed.
Most importantly, make sure that a dog is wanted and will be enthusiastically received. How tragic for a puppy to be given to someone who isn't committed to loving and caring for her, not just at Christmas, but year 'round for many years to come. If it’s a gift for a child, make sure her parents also want a dog. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect a child to take full responsibility for all the puppy’s needs. Learning to care for a dog is a wonderful life lesson for a child, but like any important lesson, the teacher (read parent) needs to be involved and committed to caring for the dog, too.

Carefully consider breed, adult size, grooming needs, temperament, activity level and the like. Getting the right dog is far more critical than the timing of the pup’s arrival. If a Rescue Service says they’ll have a dog for you in January, or if a good breeder has puppies that will be ready in February, it's worth the wait. Timing a dog for a holiday is foolish. Five years, five days or even five minutes after the puppy arrives, no one will regret that it came in January rather than December.

If despite my best advice, a puppy is arriving on or near Christmas, be sure you have a plan to meet his needs on Christmas Day – frequent walks, feedings, attention and play. If he’s crate trained, use his crate as a safe place for napping and when no one is able to supervise him. When he's with the family, watch him closely so he doesn't get into anything dangerous such as pins from the new shirt, tinsel or poinsettias (which are poisonous).

Puppies require supervision, attention and caring. This is easier to do once the holiday season is past, but at this or any season, make your puppy's introduction into his or her new household a positive one.

In this season of giving, consider a donation to a rescue organization or shelter.
Merry Christmas to all – two and four-legged creatures alike.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2009. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.