Are you thinking about bringing home a puppy as a present for the family this holiday season? Before we jump in, I will throw out a big cautionary flag to warn you that this is NOT the ideal time for most families to take in a puppy so you should consider this decision very carefully indeed. We’ve all seen the images of yellow Labrador Retriever puppies in festively wrapped boxes under the tree or Beagle noses poking out of red and green stockings. But the reality, as with most things in life when compared to these Rockwellian images, is quite different. So let’s consider carefully what’s involved with giving a puppy as a present, in the hopes that each family can ultimately make the best decision for their lifestyle and get off on the right foot with their new addition.
No matter the time of year, the first important question you must ask is whether the intended recipient is ready to take on the responsibilities of a new puppy. If this recipient is a child, keep in mind that children under a certain age often do not persist in reliable caretaking of pets, as much as they might love them, so adults in that child’s life will have to be ready to take on pet care as well. When the puppy arrives over the winter, remember that an important part of this responsibility involves taking the puppy outside to urinate and defecate as often as every hour initially, including in the middle of the night. Even several months in, many pups need to be let outside every few hours, so consider whether the owner will be ready and able to stand outside in snow, sleet, and freezing rain during that house training process!
Another responsibility in new puppy ownership is financial. Many costs accrue over the first year of a puppy’s life, and families must be ready and able to purchase food, toys (which need to be replaced as often as puppies chew through them – which can be at break neck speed!), a crate, chew bones, and other supplies. Visits to the veterinarian early in life can be expensive, especially with the costs of flea, tick, and heartworm preventative. It must also be considered that household items may fall victim to the curious puppy’s chewing tendencies or the developing puppy’s toileting habits, and families must acknowledge that they may lose a possession or two during the course of puppy rearing.
If you are sure that the family is ready and excited to take on a puppy, you also must consider the breed of dog and its source. It is not recommended that you purchase a puppy from a pet store, many of which source their puppies from puppy mills where breeding conditions are poor. In a pet store as well, a puppy rarely receives appropriate early learning opportunities and puppies without proper learning and socialization experiences during their first months are at greater risk of behavior problems later in life. You should consider purchasing a puppy from a reputable breeder or rescuing a puppy from a shelter or rescue group. In the former case, you may be given information about the needs and general tendencies of the breed. In the latter case, where many dogs are mixed breeds, you may be guessing in terms of the puppy’s adult size, coat length, or behavioral predispositions. In either case, however, no available puppy temperament test can reliably predict that dog’s adult personality so you will need to ensure that the puppy’s family is equipped and inclined to train, socialize, and raise this puppy in the best ways available (see more on this in other columns of this Teacher’s Pets series).
One potential advantage to taking in a puppy over the holidays applies to those families who have extended winter vacations. In this case, the extra time that family members have at home to help their pup adjust, begin socialization, and work on housetraining can be helpful. If families have extended time off at another time of year, however, the advantages of warmer weather and increased socialization opportunities outdoors are important benefits to consider. Of course, if families have travel plans over the winter holidays or busy households with extended-stay visitors, this would not be a good time to start off life with a new pup.
Ideally, a puppy should be brought into the home when a) the family is fully committed to taking in a puppy and has discussed various roles and responsibilities each family member will have in puppy raising, 2) the household is relatively stable and family members are available to focus on the puppy’s initial needs, and 3) the family has done lots of reading and preparation to learn about how to train and raise a puppy before bringing this one in. While each photo of that adorable puppy under the Christmas tree captures a charming flash in time, dog ownership is a commitment of 10-18 years and our first responsibility to these wonderful animals is to ensure that we are ready and able to raise them well!