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Avoiding the Christmas Rush
Hints on giving a dog as a Christmas gift

We've all seen the advertisements and christmas card pictures, the moment a loved one discovers a puppy under the tree on christmas morning. It's so idyllic, so romantic, you'd imagine the fantasy continues - it's too often so FALSE. 

If you want to give a dog as a gift at any time of year, there are many things to consider to make the gift a long lasting and loving gesture for all concerned. 

1) Is the recipient ready for a 15 year commitment? 

2) Does the recipient have time, ability, and willingness to care for the dog over such a long term?

3) Does the recipient really even WANT a dog? Or just a "faithful dog" fantasy?

These are only a few of the questions to consider. You can find many links to help with these decisions: Choosing a Dog

While it may be great for a moment Christmas morning, too often reality sets in and the gift is then not appreciated, sometimes almost immediately. Housebreaking, chewing, and training often do in the good thoughts behind a gift puppy, sometimes very quickly.  What you may have actually given the person is a gift of hard work! Raising a puppy well is almost as much work as raising a human child. For this reason, giving a dog as a surprise is not a good idea at all, since the gift of a dog will require much discussion, thought, and research. Adding a dog to your family will be about the only time you can actually choose a "relative", and you can't do too much research. That you're reading this is a good start.

If the dog is for a child, the parents must beware that they only thing they are really giving the child is the dog's companionship. Children, as a rule, cannot even take care of themselves, and are not expected to. How can we expect them to care for a dog which requires so much work? Oh yes, they often do promise to do all the work when begging for a dog. All too often though, after some time passes, the newness wears off as it does with so many other gifts. In the meantime, the dog must still be fed, walked, and cleaned up after. The parents must be up to the real responsibility of day to day care, often for many years, after the child has lost the initial enthusiasm.

To get a dog and just "get rid of it" once the novelty wears off contributes to the deaths of the thousands of animals in shelters every year. This can often send mixed signals to kids, can teach children how easily life is disposable, and how to not live up to commitment. These are lessons many parents didn't intend to teach. You do not want to ever put yourself in that position. If you want to teach a child responsibility with a pet, choose a rodent or fish tank, something that doesn't require as much care or such a long and involved commitment. You'd be amazed at what a wonderful pet a rat really can be. (I have had several pet rats, and they are definitely my first suggestion for a child's pet.) See also: Dogs and Kids and Telling the Kids...Food for Thought.

The best way to introduce a dog to your family is on a "normal" day, the quieter the better actually. It can take a while for a dog to adjust to his new surroundings and settle in. Remember, they don't know what's going on or why they're there. For a pup especially it can be traumatic to be taken from everything he knows, and put into the noise and chaos of Christmas day. Pups have developmental "fear periods" at certain ages, and some one time traumas can affect them for life.  Avoiding getting a dog until the new year can help avoid many of these problems. No guests and kids on vacation leaving doors open for the dog to get out, no additional work while already busy with holidays, and no scaring the puppy. You also avoid the problem of where to put the dog during all of these activities, which is a major consideration if the dog needs to be housebroken.

For all these reasons, giving a dog as a successful gift is not as easy as plunking down your credit card at the pet store. If you think you want to add a new dog to your family, there ARE ways to add a canine family member in the spirit of the season, while making the transitions much easier for all concerned.

First, discuss it at length with everyone who will be responsible for the dog's actual care. Are they up to it? Everyone must know who will do what and who will back them up. Remember this is a long term commitment, no surprises here, please. Again, do NOT count on children to keep up their end of the bargain over time, it almost never happens in real life. Dogs are generally "family pets", regardless of original intentions, even though they may bond more to some people than others. They will see the whole family as their "pack". So, the whole family must agree to do their part, even if that's just not interfering with training done by other family members. 

Next, it must be agreed upon what kind of dog to get and where to get him. Impulse buying at pet stores is a very bad idea. Not only are those dogs often from puppy mills, but among other things, just the fact that the breeder has no idea what kind of home the dog goes to makes them suspect in how much they care for their "stock". They almost never test for genetic health problems beyond just a basic vet check, which cannot show many problems. Clerks (sometimes called "pet counselors") who don't know any better, or just want your money, can give you very bad info to make a sale. Not to mention (but I will), the training problems these dogs often have from lack of early socialization. Many were taken too young from their litters, and missed on important lessons in getting along with other dogs. Being kept in a display can also lead to lots of problems with housebreaking, sometimes for years. Many of these same problems occur with dogs being sold in classified ads in the paper. I suggest you choose your dog from a shelter or rescue (don't forget purebred rescues), or a responsible breeder. You can read more about this here: Breeder/Breeding Info.

You will need to take as much care if not more in selecting the type of dog to get as you did in deciding whether to have one. Too often people come home with a pup because "it's so cute", then they learn a breed's REAL traits, and that dog ends up in the shelter. You can find more info on dog breeds at: So You Think You Want A......

Many responsible breeders will deliberately NOT have pups available at Christmas time, since so many of those purchases turn out badly, it's a very high rate. If you are willing to live with the "genetic pot luck" health that petstores pups have to offer, you may as well save a life and adopt from a rescue or shelter, and not support the idea of dogs as merchandise. Many shelters and rescues will also not adopt out dogs then too, that's how bad it is. The return rate is just too high. 

But, you can take advantage of that in many ways!  You've done your research and made your decisions, and you've learned that Christmas day chaos isn't the best time to introduce a pup to your family. So what to do on Christmas day? 

You can leave a "Doggie Promise" package under the tree, maybe even with a stuffed animal of the breed you're considering! Leashes, bowls, care and breed info books.  In the spirit of the season, you and your family can volunteer to help a shelter, for the less fortunate animals that won't have a good life in your home. This may also further help in deciding types of dogs if there's still any decisions to make on that, as well as see what's available. Maybe a local rescue or shelter will let you temporarily foster a dog for the holiday, or you can take in a friend's dog who's out of town. Like a test drive, you can get a better idea of how well it will work out, but you are not committed for such a long time. 

If you wait until the weeks AFTER Christmas to bring home a dog, you will often find a wide choice of pups of many breeds and mixes available at shelters and rescues nationwide. It's often the shelters' busiest time of year! These are the dogs that weren't given with enough thought as gifts and are already being given up. It's a big problem that can work FOR you as a potential, thoughtful, dog owner. They come at a substantially lower price than the pet store prices, and the money does not go back to their irresponsible breeders. They are often are already spayed and neutered, and in older dogs, many may already be housetrained and trained for general manners. Some of those pups may be the very same ones you may have seen in the petstores not a week, or a month, earlier! Not only will you save money for the same dog, you may save a life and will not have contributed to petstore puppy problems with your wallet. 

May you have a very Merry Christmas!
-Leilah's Mom

More info at:
Pets as Presents

Rescue and Adoption Links
Includes general info

Puppy Stuff

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Last updated October 8, 2003