Should you give or get a puppy as a holiday gift? Many dog trainers will tell you no. I am going to buck that trend and say: Go ahead! Or rather, get or give that darling little puppy as a gift IF and only IF you are prepared to do these 30 things that will set a puppy up for a successful life with humans:
1. If purchasing from a breeder, meet the parent dogs in person. Ask to see them around a new dog. Ask to see them interacting with children (but keep the kids safe — they can be on the other side of a chain-link fence or puppy gate).
2. Ask for detailed health and temperament information for the puppy’s parents and grandparents. Only purchase puppies from breeders who answer your questions, allow you to meet both parents, test for health and temperament and prove that they do, and agree to take the dog they bred back should the need arise, no questions asked.
3. Know that the health and well-being of the mother dog is crucial. Events that happen while in utero can have a huge impact on the well-being of your puppy. Ask about the mother dog. Find out how many times she had been bred and how her life is lived when not being bred.
4. Do not ship vulnerable puppies. Pick up your puppy in person. I don’t care how long the drive is. Shipping is simply too stressful for a puppy.
5. If you are getting a puppy from a shelter, find out as much information as possible about the puppy’s first few weeks. If you choose an easily frightened puppy, get with a qualified trainer or behaviorist immediately to help you help the puppy.
6. Know that if a young puppy has been ill and had to spend time away from mom and litter mates, that dog begins life starting from a scared place — it’s up to you to help the puppy along.
7. Never purchase a dog from a puppy store unless it can prove that the puppy came from a real shelter or rescue group. Most store-bought puppies come from horrendous puppy mill conditions and will likely have health and temperament issues to the extreme.
8. If you get a puppy from a breeder, ask about how they socialized the puppy while still with mom and litter mates. Proper handling and socialization needs to happen WELL BEFORE you bring the pup home. Puppies stuck in kennels are not well socialized.
9. Never ever bring home a puppy less than eight weeks old. It is now illegal to sell or give away a puppy younger than eight weeks old in some states.
10. Walk away from puppies from an “oops” litter. You are dealing with a human being who is irresponsible at best, stupid at worst. All able-minded adults understand how puppies are created, and there is no excuse good enough for an “oops” litter.
11. Take your new puppy to a vet for a checkup and the first round of vaccinations — do this the day or day after bringing the puppy home.
12. Do not be mislead by out-of-date veterinarians who incorrectly tell you that the puppy must stay at home until all vaccinations are given, as that is a terrific way to ruin a dog. ALL proper and positive life socialization must be completed by the time the puppy is three months old.
13. Read and take to your veterinarian the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s Statement on Puppy Socialization.
14. Slowly start exposing your puppy to EVERYTHING immediately in a positive way. Positive means you do not force anything on the vulnerable puppy. It means you help the puppy form positive associations to new people, places, and things.
15. Print out and USE the Puppy Socialization Checklist from the Pet Professional Guild.
16. Introduce your new puppy slowly and positively to 25 new noises.
17. Introduce your new puppy slowly and positively to 25 new adults.
18. Introduce your new puppy slowly and positively to 25 new children.
19. Introduce your new puppy slowly and positively to 25 new, safe dogs.
20. Introduce your new puppy slowly and positively to 25 new things.
21. Introduce your new puppy slowly and positively to 25 human handling experiences.
22. Introduce your new puppy slowly and positively to 10 new surfaces.
23. Begin potty training your new puppy on the first day in your home. I recommend tethering the puppy to you for three days straight. Praise and treat for eliminating outside, but don’t beat or scare the little guy for household peeing mistakes — just be on your A game and don’t let it happen in the first place. Get ready for NO SLEEP for a few weeks.
24. After successful potty training, begin giving your dog a few minutes here and there of alone time with a safe, good chew toy. The puppy needs to learn to be content alone, but this must be done gradually. Do not leave a small puppy home alone for eight to 10 hours.
25. Positively train your dog to enjoy being in a crate, but only in case you need it at some point in the dog’s lifetime. A crate is no substitute for your tending to the puppy, and it should not be used as a jail. Do not leave the puppy in the crate all day.
26. Puppy-proof your home and car. If the puppy chews on your new leather boots, stand in front of a mirror and point the finger at the person you see there, as she is at fault as the one who left the boots out.
27. Enroll your new family member in a six-week basic obedience class, with this caveat: Do your homework and research the trainer offering the class. Allow NO ONE to scare or harm your puppy in the name of training.
28. You must use the first three months to enrich your puppy’s rapidly growing mind. Invest in mind puzzles or DIY ones, such as hiding treats under tennis balls in a muffin tin.
29. Spend a few hours each week on loose-leash walk training. Your new little one needs have a calm and positive association with a leash because leashes provide safety.
30. Purchase a safe harness for your growing pup. Never put a choke, pinch, or shock collar on your puppy (or dog). Countless studies show us how damaging — both physically and emotionally — these tools are.
If you do these 30 things, you will fulfill the basic responsibilities of pet ownership. Yes, puppies are a ton of work, but most good things are. Do these things, and you will avoid becoming one of the guilty humans who routinely dump Christmas puppies every February and March. Do these things, and you will have set your puppy up for a life of joy and understanding with the humans in his life.
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About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She is also working on a book due out in spring of 2016: The Midnight Dog Walkers, about living with and training troubled dogs. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.