Please don’t give a puppy as a holiday gift. As a professional dog behavioral therapist and trainer, I see cases year after year of puppies that were given as a “wow for now” surprise, but when the newness wore off and their owners became tired of all the daily puppy care responsibilities, they were neglected, given up or even abused.
A living puppy should not be thought of in the same category as a holiday toy. When a puppy is adopted, he should be carefully chosen as a permanent addition to the family who will contribute much, but will also have needs of his own, which require a serious commitment from all family members to meet.
Many dogs surrendered to shelters are young — just 6 months to 3 years old — and a good portion of these are puppies younger than 6 months old. In addition, people need to know that the No. 1 cause of death for dogs isn’t trauma or disease — it’s euthanasia due to behavior problems. In fact, 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats will be euthanized this year in the U.S. That number could include that cute puppy bought as a Christmas gift.
Adding a puppy to your life is, on average, a 15-year responsibility. Raising a happy, well-balanced puppy requires an enormous time commitment, so a young pup is not a suitable choice for every dog-lover. Remember, it may take several years for a rambunctious puppy to settle down into a calmer adult dog.
Giving a child a puppy does make for delightful photos on Christmas morning. But a puppy is not a toy. Most children under the age of 8 do not understand a puppy’s needs, that puppies cannot be carried around, poked or teased. Having a puppy or dog does not teach a child responsibility. Parents teach responsibility. In fact, it will be the parents who ultimately must do the majority of the walking, feeding and cleaning associated with pet ownership.
If the intended recipient seems ready for a puppy, be sure they can answer “yes” to these questions:
* Are you ready to participate in managing all aspects of the responsibilities of puppy (and dog) ownership, each and every day? Most dogs, even small breeds, need lots of exercise to stay healthy and happy.
* Are you willing to provide opportunities for your dog to run, walk, and play every single day?
* Do you understand that a dog is not a person, and will need consistent training to learn to become a good canine citizen?
* Can you afford to provide good nutrition, regular veterinary care and grooming so your dog will be in good health inside and out?
* Are you willing to walk or take your dog out to toilet at least six times a day, in all sorts of weather?
* Are you and your house ready for the inevitable dirt, hair, slobber, potty accidents and spilled food and water that a dog brings?
* Do you have a reliable pet sitter or dog walker who can care for your pet when you’re at work or out of town?
If someone on your gift list really wants a puppy, consider giving a homemade gift certificate for one instead. Wrap a can of dog food, fancy collar or good book on raising a puppy, and include a note saying a puppy (or dog) of the recipient’s choice comes with the gift.
And remember, too, that dogs of all ages make perfect companions. Most adult dogs tend to be calmer, have more predictable behaviors and are already housebroken. Local animal rescue groups and shelters have a wonderful selection of adult dogs, including purebreds. According to the Humane Society of the United States, up to 30 percent of shelter dogs are purebreds.
If your gift recipient is really ready for dog ownership, set a date after the holidays to start looking for the perfect dog. Research different breeds, identify responsible breeders or visit your local animal shelter or rescue group so the gift recipient can choose a dog that they really want and one that will match their lifestyle.
As a professional dog trainer, I am committed to helping people better understand how dogs think, act and communicate, and therefore be responsible dog owners. The holidays are the giving season — so give a puppy his best chance to become a long-term companion and have a happy life by not putting him under the tree.
Rachel R. Baum, CPDT-KA is a dog behavioral therapist and master trainer at Bark Busters Home Dog Training.