Last autumn, I was contacted by a lady (we'll call her Maxine) who was hoping to get a new puppy in the spring. I remember being thrilled to discover that, months in advance of actually bringing her puppy home, Maxine was already researching appropriate socialization, reading Dr. Ian Dunbar's Before and After You Get Your Puppy, and trying to find a trainer to get her puppy on the right path to good behavior. If only all puppy owners were so well-prepared for the arrival of a fluffy, beautiful bundle of fur, kisses, needle-sharp teeth, and excess energy.
I'm happy to say that this conscientious puppy parent recently brought home her first puppy and attended her first puppy class with me last Wednesday. She arrived with her beautiful puppy, a lot of enthusiasm, and one of the best ideas I'd heard in a long time...the concept of the "Puppy Shower!"
When a woman gets pregnant with a child, her friends and family throw her a baby shower. When a woman gets married, her friends and family throw her a bridal shower. These "showers" are intended to provide the future mother or bride with the items she'll need to start her new life while simultaneously surrounding her with support from those closest to her in this new, exciting adventure. Talk about two birds, one stone! Showers are fun and happy events intended to celebrate exciting new transitions in our lives.
Maxine told me that her friends and family threw her a "puppy shower." A surprise party intended to celebrate the puppy she'd been planning on bringing into her home for so long, those closest to Maxine arrived at her house with puppy-related presents and a perfect socialization opportunity. Knowing personally how adorable Maxine's new puppy is, I can't imagine she had a hard time convincing her well-wishers to provide the puppy with lots of treats, affection, physical and social stimulation.
Dr. Dunbar recommends that any new puppy meet "100 people in the first 100 days of life." Puppy parties are a great way to meet this critical socialization goal, provided that the puppy is given frequent breaks and that all experiences are positive for the puppy.
I loved the idea of a "Puppy Shower" so much that I really put some serious thought into what I may give as a gift to a client, friend, or family member were I invited to such a party. I hope that in the comments section, dogsters will share their own ideas about potential "puppy shower" gifts, as the list I am providing is by no means intended to be exhaustive.
Gift suggestions will be split into the following five categories: toys, education, time, management aids, and incidentals.
Casey's Top 5 Puppy Shower Gifts
I. TOYS! Instilling a great love for play with toys during puppyhood really helps pet owners "wean off treats" in training their adolescent or adult dog. If I were making a "toy gift basket", I'd likely include at least one of each type of toy mentioned:
- Chew toys - puppies have a great natural desire to chew and teethe, and providing them with a "legal" outlet for these natural desires will help keep human underwear, footwear, and other household items safe. Chew toys may include bully sticks, pressed rawhide (made in the U.S.A., preferably), antlers (yes, actual deer antlers with the "points" sawed or filed off), and nylabones, though this list is by no means exhaustive.
- Tug toys - the goal of any good training is to eventually graduate to "variable reinforcement," where food rewards are sporadically interspersed with "life rewards." Life rewards are non-food reinforcers that the dog desires. Tug can be a very powerful motivator for dogs. Taught correctly, tug does not increase aggression or the risk a dog will bite and in fact, can be very valuable in teaching impulse control and bite inhibition. Plush and rope toys generally make great tug toys. You can make your own tug toy by purchasing a length of fleece, cutting into appropriately sized strips, and braiding tightly together.
- Food dispensing toys - food dispensing toys provide two valuable functions: they encourage a dog to work for his food while simultaneously providing mental stimulation for the dog. There are a variety of food dispensing toys on the market, including KONGs, Nina Ottosson puzzle toys, Tug a Jugs, the Aikiou, Canine Genius toys, and Orbee "treat spot" toys.
- Fetch toys - fetch toys are frequently balls and frisbees, but may be anything a puppy likes including plush toys.
II. EDUCATION! Well-educated pet owners are more likely to have well-behaved dogs. Education is, arguably, the most important gift of all for pet parents. Educational gifts for pet parents may include:
- Training books - There are a variety of great training books on the market. For puppy parents, one of the best gifts would be a copy of the aforementioned book, Before and After You Get Your New Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar, a classic in the training industry. Also highly recommended is Pat Miller's The Power of Positive Dog Training. I'm also a big fan of Premier's Ultimate Puppy Tookit. which provides six fantastic booklets on dealing with common puppy issues and training basic behaviors.
- Training videos - For the visual learner, there are a number of great videos on the market. Some of my favorite videos for pet owners are the "Bow Wow" series from Virginia Broitman and Sherri Lipman and Karen Pryor's "Clicker Puppy" DVD.
- Magazine subscriptions - Truly, the gift that "keeps on giving." For 12 months, at least! The magazines I recommend most frequently to my clients are The Bark and The Whole Dog Journal.
- Puppy class - A well-taught puppy class truly is the best gift of all for the new puppy owner. Here is a great article from Pat Miller at the Whole Dog Journal on selecting a good puppy class.
III. TIME! Sometimes the best gift of all is your time. A home-made coupon booklet offering your time to help the new puppy owner may be invaluable. Coupons may be for:
- potty breaks
- pet sitting help
- dog walking help
- assistance as a training partner
- socialization visits/play/walks with a well-socialized and friendly adult dog
- a ride to the veterinarian's or groomer's office
- a puppy sleepover!
IV. MANAGEMENT AIDS! Management is critical to prevent dogs from rehearsing unwanted behaviors. Management aids may include, but are not limited to:
- baby gates
V. INCIDENTALS - there are many other useful gifts for puppy parents which do not fit neatly into the mentioned categories. These may include, but are not limited to:
- doggy first aid kit
- gift certificate for local or online pet supply retailer
- DogsterPlus memberships!
- waste disposal - not glamorous, but necessary for any responsible dog owner - Nature's Miracle or other enzymatic cleaner, biodegradable waste disposal bags, "pooper scooper" for the back yard, etc.
- Name tags
- 1st year's license
- gift certificate to veterinarian or groomer of choice
- grooming tools (nail clippers, brushes, combs, tick removal tools, shampoos, conditioners, etc.)
- Treat or bait bag
- High quality treats
That said, all dogsters are invited when I get my next puppy (undoubtedly a Chow or Saint Bernard), provided I can convince my best friend Melanie to host a puppy shower for my new pooch!