Why You Should NOT Get Your Child a Puppy for the Holidays

As a professional dog trainer, I deal with the potential physical dangers of kids and dogs interacting; which can range anywhere from a child being knocked down frequently by an untrained over-active pup to serious problems where the dog is not being child-friendly.  But there is another potential danger: an emotional aspect of my job that oftentimes goes unforeseen by well-meaning adults until after-the-fact. One that seems to happen most often during the holiday season… and that is the ‘impulse’ purchase or adoption of a live animal.

On the one hand… who can blame you? Who can resist the sweet innocent fuzzy face of a puppy? The adoption ads online strategically place the cutest fuzziest puppies first. The puppy stores place the most adorable ones by the window. Maybe you grew up with a dog, and all those fond memories come flooding back to you. Or, maybe you always wanted one as a kid, but your parents would not allow it… and all of a sudden, you feel you just HAVE to get one for your child at home, so they don’t grow up ‘deprived’ like you did!

The problem with these kinds of decisions is that they were made by the heart… even the most rational-thought-minded person can find themselves falling prey to this. But after the first few weeks, the ‘novelty’ wears offs…. And suddenly, that cute little fuzz-ball is wreaking havoc on your once quiet and smoothly run home! I had one client call me in total frustration, saying, “I sent three kids to IVY league schools, and I can’t get this puppy to pee outside!”  Or the other phone call, “I got a puppy this Christmas, and I am trying to get it housebroken, but the kids keep letting him out of the crate, he is chewing up everything I own, my kids are running away from it in fear…… this is SO not what I bargained for!”

I recently read an article that a friend of mine, Chad Mackin had written on this. He is a professional dog trainer as well as a fellow member of the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals) and someone that I have a great deal of respect for, and have learned a lot from over the years. I found his article so appropriate, I asked (and was granted) his permission to share it with you. So here is a link to that article……

Everything Chad talks about I agree with 100%. There are, however, a few things in particular in his article that I want to highlight….

1.  Never buy or adopt a live animal as a surprise or a gift.

There is so much involved in puppy and dog ownership besides the initial purchase or adoption of the animal. There is the housebreaking process (which demands quite a bit of time, patience, consistency, and a bit of know how.) As a professional trainer, I always have the items needed on hand, but to get someone a puppy, wrap a bow around it’s neck and deliver it as a gift, and then expect the receiver to now buy the crate, exercise pen, food, dishes, leash, collar, training treats, stain and odor remover, paper towels, etc. is a lot. Then there is the total loss of all their free time. Long gone are the days when they could grab their coat and just go out. Now it is all about getting the pup on a routine. (Remember the comment I wrote about the client that complained she sent three kids to IVY league schools and can’t get the dog to pee where she wants it to?) And let us not forget the vet bills (boosters at 3 months, full set of vaccinations at four months, neutering or spaying at 6 mths to a year) and added expenses of boarding the dog while they go away, hiring a trainer, etc. For all of these reasons, surprising someone with a dog or a pup as a gift is never a good idea.

2.  Plan for a dog…. not just the puppy.

The second thing I wanted to highlight that Chad mentioned was that he (and I) are not trying to talk you out of getting a puppy. It is a wonderful experience… but make sure you are ready for not just the puppy, but the dog. What we mean by this is to do your research prior to getting the dog. I can’t tell you how many dogs end up in a shelter a couple of months after the holidays because the family ‘just didn’t realize he would get that big’ or ‘didn’t realize it would shed so much’ or ‘didn’t realize so much was involved in the training!’ Dogs are not born knowing how to act and behave in a human’s world. They must be taught, and everything you do with a pup is molding it for who it will grow up to become. Where do you begin the research?

Look at your family and their typical dynamics. Are they:

  • Outgoing or shy?
  • Active or sedate?
  • Loud and boisterous or quiet and reserved?
  • Fearless or more hesitant?
  • Outdoorsy (likes camping, hiking, fishing, etc) or prefer to sit and read?

Also, what does your typical day look like?

  • Are you at home most of the day or out most of the day (e.g. working in an office, etc.)?
  • Do you like vacationing locally, and can include the dog or do you prefer to travel to locations that would mean leaving the pup at home (which would require boarding)?
  • Do you like things neat and tidy, or are you okay with a bit of mess.

Other factors would include:

  • Finances (Bigger dogs cost more to feed, board, vaccinate, etc.)
  • Are there any allergies?
  • Do you own a house or live in an apartment (A dog that barks may be an issue for neighbors)

Once you have answered the above questions, now you have narrowed things down a bit and can start researching different breeds based on your needs. Some great resource books for learning about different dog breeds and preparing to be a new dog owner are:

3.  Make sure the entire family is involved in the final decision of which dog to get.

Why do I say that? I can explain this best by sharing a recent experience one of my sister’s and her family went through. The youngest had been begging for a puppy… specifically a Golden Retriever. My sister did not want a dog that large so they decided on a mix.  She also was worried about the housebreaking process, so she decided she wanted one about a year old.

It didn’t take long for the on-line search process to derail. When they found one that was local (that they could visit) they’d find out it had already been adopted. After this happened several times, they got frustrated and went from a planned decision into an impulsive one. They found a dog that was out of state, and adopted it sight unseen. They never got the chance to see how it interacted with all the family members beforehand.

Even though it was made clear right from the start that this was to be a ‘family’ dog, (my sister has two other children other than the youngest) from day one, it was obvious that the primary owners were my sister and the youngest. And the dog followed suit. He growled and shied away from my sister’s husband and the middle child, and ‘tolerated’ the presence of the oldest. He was not adaptive to their lifestyle; where they are very friendly and outgoing, the dog was territorial of his home, and possessive of my sister and my youngest nephew. This led to several bites on friends visiting the house… some of which were the kid’s friends. Eventually my middle nephew got bitten. The dog had to be re-homed. End of story.

But now you’ll see the emotional toll it can take on an entire family; my sister and one child were in tears, my middle nephew was left feeling guilt that it was his fault, my niece had separated herself so much from the dog already that everyone assumed she just ‘did not care’ and my brother-in-law was furious! In their case, it effected the emotional, physical wellbeing, AND safety of not just their kids, but other children as well. Anyone visiting the house unexpectedly was in potential danger.

So, what went wrong? Let’s refer to the lists above:

  • They wanted a dog smaller than a golden, so they had decided on a golden retriever mix, instead of researching what other potential breeds would be good for them.
  • They made the decision that the timing was right for a dog, and they were ready for the commitment, but when they looked locally to find a dog, once they got frustrated, that carefully thought out plan was abandoned, and the dog from out of state that the youngest had found on-line was flown in. Instant connection with the youngest and my sister, but no real connection with the rest of the family was ever established, and in the end, all of them paid for it.

So now they are puppy hunting. And yes, it happens to coincide with the holidays, but that just happens to be luck.  This time they’re doing things a little differently:

  • They’ve discussed their lifestyle: Outgoing, outdoorsy, social, and friendly. That rules out breeds that are aloof and weary of strangers (e.g. chow, ridgeback, etc.). So are breeds that are couch potatoes, not good with kids, and not good with other animals.
  • They have taken size into consideration, medical expenses, boarding expenses, etc. and decided which breeds would do well in this home.
  • The entire family is involved in picking out the puppy, and the entire family will make the decision…even if it means waiting a little longer. They’re choosing the right “dog” not just pup.

Need a bit of extra help deciding? My article What age should I get my child a dog and what should we get can give you quite a bit of information on which breed might be right for you and your family and also includes a link to a test that, based on your answers, can narrow down the choices for you a bit.

Just remember, any pup or dog you choose during the right time, the right circumstances, the right involvement by everybody, with the right research, may turn out to be the best pet you have ever had! Choose wisely, based on rational thought and not impulse, and every member of your family can have a wonderful bond with your pet for the rest of their lives. Trust me when I say it is so much better than the tears after-the fact!

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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