What Not to Give This Year for Christmas: Puppies!
Your child begs for a darling, doe-eyed puppy. You keep telling your child NO, because you know that puppies need a lot of time and attention and the adults in the house have jobs and the kids go to school five days a week and have obligations every weekend ... but then just as you are getting depleted from the long-haul of holiday madness that begins at Halloween and ends on New Year’s Day, you fumble. You see an adorable puppy with big eyes staring at you from a pet store ... you go in ... and you are doomed. (Please never purchase pet shop puppies, as they come from puppy mills.)
You are doomed in even bigger ways than you can imagine, actually. Puppies are a lot of work. Exactly how much work are they? Let’s review:
1. Puppies need vaccines, which cost money and time
Many of these vaccines require more than one shot to provide full immunity, which means several trips to the vet. It’s also a great idea to visit your vet several times to greet the staff without getting anything painful done to the pup. You make the experience a happy, happy good time with petting and treats by the staff so your dog won’t grow up to be a dog that wants to bite your vet. Best to plan on having your vet’s office on your speed dial.
Here are a few of the items that the new pup will need to receive vaccines for: DHPP (distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus), bordatella, leptospirosis (in some areas), and rabies. Prices vary widely across the country for vaccines, but know that you will pay not only for the shots but also for the exam.
2. Your little wiggly puppy will need to be spayed or neutered
There are low-cost options, but plan on this because there is a huge overpopulation problem, and millions of unwanted pets die needlessly every year for lack of a home. This is a great opportunity to teach your child about responsible pet ownership.
3. Your dog will have to pee and poop
You know this. How will you potty train your new family member? It takes time and consistency. Young children are not capable of teaching Rover to potty outside. This is adult work.
When I get a new puppy in my household, I clear my schedule for at least two months so that I can put the quality foundation training on the dog that will last for his lifetime. On average, I get about two “oops” potty mistakes in the house as the dog is learning. I achieve this by being with the dog nearly 24/7 and praising and treating when she goes outside. Also, what will you do with all the poop in the backyard? Somebody’s got to clean it up or your neighbors will get testy.
4. Your puppy will be teething, for longer than you think
She might chew on your couch. She probably arrives with a liking for leather items, especially shoes. You will need many appropriate chew items to help your puppy through this time.
Spend time researching what items are safe and which aren’t, because dogs are literally dying out there from chewies that come from China. Others present a choking hazard. You can’t go wrong with a Kong, so start with those and branch out, because your new whirlwind of a dog is likely to get bored and will need many chew things. Oh, these cost money, by the way. But you knew that.
5. Your puppy needs to be trained
He doesn’t understand that we don’t like him jumping on us to give us a lick-on-the-face hello. He doesn’t know that it isn’t fun to have the human’s arm ripped out of its socket on the daily walks the dog needs. I train in short increments (15 to 20 minutes) every day with my new puppy, several times a day. These cutie little munchkins are sponges soaking up everything you teach them -- and every thing that you don’t teach them, too.
Who is the designated trainer in your clan? Again, this is an adult job, though with adult supervision, older kids can help out. Also the little darling must go to a few puppy classes so that he can learn to be obedient around other dogs. You can skip this if you want an adult dog who may very well lunge at other dogs for the rest of his life. Your choice.
6. Your puppy needs socialization
The puppy needs this now while he is still forming opinions of his new world. Is that tall person walking down the street who is wearing a weird hat and sunglasses a threat or a happy human walking towards your puppy? Positive experiences help the dog learn that the world is a safe place, especially with you as her coach, leading the way.
Puppies need a huge amount of leadership. Some trainers say you need to show your dog 100 new things/experiences in the first 100 days you have the puppy. Oh, and you need to get this under the puppy’s belt before he turns three months old. Otherwise you will be playing catch up for the remainder of your dog’s life. Who is in charge of puppy socialization in your home?
After reading this, are you still thinking about a puppy as a Christmas gift? Are you wondering why I have taken a snarky tone in this article? It’s because after more than a decade of rescue work, I know what’s coming as early as the first week in January: Puppies are dumped at local shelters by the car load. It gets worse in February and March, and we know the cycle continues year after year.
Sometimes the reasons for the drop-offs drive rescuers to the brink of insanity, such as “the dog got too big.” It has made me grumpy about puppies as gifts anytime of the year.
So what’s a parent to do with their pleading child? I like the idea of getting a stuffed puppy that resembles the one your child is begging for. Put this dog under the tree as the present. Promise your child that every Saturday in January, you will together volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter. If the child commits to this at least four times, his or her big reward will be to choose an adorable shelter puppy or young dog in desperate need of a good home.
Then start your research on how to successfully raise your new family member. Please consider doing this because it is not only the responsible thing to do, you will be helping snarky dog trainers everywhere deal with our exhaustion and high burn-out levels. Socialize and train your puppy. Doing so will save a dog and a dog trainer’s sanity.
About Annie Phenix: Positive-reinforcement dog trainer and author Annie Phenix never met a mountain she did not love. This explains why she lives in Colorado, where she's surrounded by mountains, and why she is always smiling. She delights in the snowy season here, as do her five dogs, two horses, and six adorably cute donkeys.
To read more from Annie, check out these articles: