Dogs as Gifts? Dos and Don’ts of Getting a Dog During the Holidays

In my last blog I wrote about the right and wrong way to bring a dog home for the holidays. In this second part I share the dos and don’ts of getting a new dog or puppy over Christmas and New Year’s:

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DO NOT purchase a puppy on a whim from a backyard breeder or pet store. Maybe you have wanted to get a dog forever, but wanting is not the same as researching and analyzing. Those puppies who look adorable in their baby cribs at mall pet stores may look like adorable little balls of fluff, and don’t get me wrong, they are. But they also need house training, obedience training, bite inhibition training, veterinary care, food, water, physical exercise, mental exercise and a lot more for ten, fifteen, even as long as twenty years. If you want an honest account of what being a dog owner is like, read Chapter 4 of my book.

DO NOT purchase a puppy or dog for someone else. Choosing a dog for someone else is not ok, unless it is a very specific situation like a service dog who is matched with a person with specific needs. For the everyday pet, though, never buy a dog as a gift. Once again, a dog is a living, breathing, feeling creature who will depend on their human for as long as twenty years. Becoming a dog owner is a decision only the owner can make.

I recently saw a post on Facebook in a dog owner group about a woman whose dog had recently passed away and her grown son decided to get her another puppy to cheer her up. The woman was distraught because as a responsible dog owner, she had very specific thoughts on when another dog would be right for her, what type of dog she wanted to get next, and she was not ready to just move on yet, but was suddenly responsible for a new dog based on someone else’s idea of what they thought she would want.

DO take advantage of a long break from work to bring a new dog or puppy home only after careful consideration and analysis of your lifestyle and budget. There are some situations in which bringing a new dog home at the holidays could be ok. For some, the time over Christmas and New Year’s is insane with holiday gatherings and places to go, people to visit. If this is your situation, this is not the right time to get a new dog. However, if you have done the research about the right dog, given an honest assessment of your lifestyle and if a dog fits into your life, reviewed your budget and living situation to make sure that you will not find yourself unable to pay vet bills or unable to find a suitable place for you and the dog to live, then taking advantage of a long break from work over the holidays might be a good time for a new dog to come home if you are planning a long and home based break.

I am a big fan of taking at least a week off of work when a new dog or puppy comes home, and some adults like teachers or people who work in corporate offices that close over Christmas might find that this time is perfect for bonding with a new dog, working on house training and getting your new family member acclimated to your home and life as long as you do not need to travel or be out of the house attending to other commitments. It is important for the first two or three days of life with your new puppy or dog to be quiet, calm, stress-free and positive for your dog, so if you are the type to spend Christmas week in your PJs at home, you and your new dog could develop the start of a beautiful new friendship over your break.

DO INCLUDE YOUR CHILDREN in the entire process. Surprising kids with a puppy under the tree with a ribbon around her neck is not a good learning experience. How often do kids get bored with their new toys within a month or less after Christmas? Ours certainly did when they were little.

Instead of surprising kids, have this conversation instead, “Instead of us getting you a bunch of presents this year, we have been thinking about this for a very long time, and the time is finally right to go to the shelter or rescue and pick out a dog and give him or her a new forever home with us. We are also going to give a donation to the shelter to help the other dogs who are still looking for their homes.” Of course you should adjust this based on the age of your children, but even little kids can understand the basics of giving a homeless dog a warm and loving home.

Part of my book focuses on the importance of training human children and how they need to be taught how to act around dogs as much as your dog needs to learn how to act around them. By explaining to them the thought process that you went through before adding a dog to your family, by teaching them how to act around the dog, and how important it is that you train the dog to understand the rules of their home, you are setting them up to be amazing dog owners when they are adults.

DO NOT cave to your kids’ pleas to get a dog if you are not ready. Please do not do this, I beg of you. This has disaster all over it, just the same as getting a dog to teach kids about responsibility is not fair to a dog. You can teach your kids how to care for a dog by having them watch what you do or guiding them step by step through the process, but turning over all of the responsibility to a child or teenager is not fair to the dog. If your kids are very young, they are too little to care for a dog on their own. If they are older, chances are they will go off to college while the dog is still alive. Either way, if you do not want a dog, don’t get a dog, because you are going to be the person caring for it and it is not fair to have a dog and view it as a burden or an afterthought. A dog should only be brought home as a cherished and beloved family member in order to receive the best treatment and care that it deserves.

For additional information on bringing a new dog into your home, check out my one-on-one owner coaching and workshops Preparing for a New Puppy or Dog and Surviving Puppyhood.

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