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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

THE CHRISTMAS PUPPY CONUNDRUM

Santa Claus is coming to town! Parents and relatives eagerly search for the perfect gifts, and dog trainers anxiously anticipate the influx of Christmas Puppy business that will be coming in the New Year. 

I’m not a scrooge and as a dog trainer I understand why people gift puppies at Christmas. Puppies are cute!  However, giving someone a puppy also gives them tremendous responsibility for another living soul. While puppies are cute, they can also be a major pain in the rear end.  They pee-pee and poo-poo everywhere, nip tender hands and feet with tiny needle teeth, and they chew anything and everything they can get their mouths on.  Puppies are a lot of work and regrettably they don’t look like puppies for very long.  Raising and training a puppy requires effort, patience and dedication. 

If you are absolutely determined to give someone a puppy for Christmas, consider first whether this action is in the best interest of both the puppy and the new puppy owner.  Realistically consider the appropriateness of the long-term consequences for both dog and dog owner. On many occasions I’ve seen well-meaning family members gift a puppy to grandma or granddad thinking it would provide companionship and good cheer. While some seniors are perfectly capable of handling the level of activity of a young pup and the hard work this care entails, there are far more who would no sooner be burdened with a puppy than they would a human baby. If you are certain your beloved grandparent would actually enjoy having a canine best friend, consider a mature dog instead. Most senior citizens do better with smaller dogs, and due to the current economy, shelters are over-burdened with perfectly suitable dogs whose only crime was that their owners could no longer afford to care for them. Gifting grandma with a carefully chosen six to eight-year-old Dachshund or Bichon mix, for example, would save a life while providing a calm, loving, and appreciative companion. 

If gifting a pup to your children, know going in that you are the one that will be burdened with the responsibility of daily care. Yes, it’s wonderful to contemplate little Johnny learning responsibility by cleaning up after the dog every day and little Cathy taking him for walks. However, you will be the one getting up in the middle of the night cleaning up the pup’s accidents. Children will be children, and again, you will be the mommy or daddy to a very young pup who needs constant care and attention. If you’re up for the task, terrific! If not, think about adopting a mature dog. Dogs are adolescents from approximately five or six months of age until around a year-and-a-half to two years, depending on the breed. You might not be able to subvert the dreaded adolescent phase of acquiring selective hearing and pushing boundaries with your offspring, but you can totally avoid it with a dog by adopting one who is already two or more years old. 

Choosing the right puppy or adult dog for another person can be a daunting proposition. When choosing a dog for someone else; the breed, temperament, activity level, and sociability with other animals must all play into the decision making process. Beyond all of that, “chemistry” between the human and the dog must exist. Rather than bestowing the actual dog on Christmas day, here’s a suggestion that still allows for the “wow” factor: Buy grandma and granddad the cutest stuffed dog you can find and tie a big red bow around its neck with an appropriate Christmas card that explains how the stuffed dog is a surrogate for the real one. Upon reading the card, the recipient can learn where the real dog will be coming from. For example, your Cocker Spaniel puppy will be arriving from a carefully selected breeder and will be arriving in approximately two weeks. An even better idea is to plan a date for the family to go to the local shelter or humane society to pick out a dog together. By presenting your gift in this way you are providing an “out” for the potential recipient who may have no interest in taking on the numerous responsibilities that come with caring for a dog.  For example, what if your retired parents have plans to travel more and you are unaware of those intentions?  Gifting a dog without warning could complicate those plans greatly and potentially create an uncomfortable scenario of guilt on the part of your parents for either having to politely decline the gift or for having to leave their sweet little dog alone.  What about the poor dog?  They are social creatures and need stable companionship.  Do you want to be responsible for placing that type of stress and anxiety on a helpless animal?  Of course you don’t!     

A final consideration: Even though your thoughtful gift might not come with “some assembly required,” it does come with work required. Consider gifting a bit of help from a professional trainer. The Victoria Stilwell Positively dog trainer network or  The Association of Pet Dog Trainers are responsible places to start your search. Your gift card could include the trainer’s assistance in choosing a dog, and/or a private session or two in the recipient’s home. Getting the dog off on the right paw will help to ensure that your “gift” will be cherished for many years to come. Merry Christmas!
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