The Right Way to Add a Dog to Your Home at Christmas
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
In our last blog, The Christmas Puppy Problem, we talked about the problem with Christmas puppies that are purchased on a whim by humans who have not considered the lifetime commitment and the work involved. We discussed how the adorable puppy in a baby crib in that mall pet store can end up being euthanized at a shelter or living a dismal and lonely life because a family or individual has realized too late that they were not prepared for that puppy to grow into an adult dog that depends them for its very survival and happiness. And finally, we talked about the Christmas puppy in our society and how the concept is promoted through photos, films, and even catalogs from merchants. As I continue to focus on this important topic all throughout the month of December, today we are going to present the flip side to that scenario and explore how to bring home a puppy or adult dog the right way during the holidays.
Taking Advantage of School and Office Closures
As much as people seem to be super busy at Christmas time, some people find themselves with extra time off of work, which puts them at an advantage in terms of puppy rearing. In my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner, I write, “I strongly recommend taking vacation time from work the first week of your dog or puppy’s arrival home, like a canine maternity leave.”
When Jackson was a puppy I was able to take some time off the first few days he was home and then either work from home or take additional days off whenever my husband had to also work, to ensure that someone was always home with him the first two weeks. By the time we had to have a dog sitter start coming to let him out, he was essentially house trained and able to hold his bladder a bit longer than when he first arrived. Once Tinkerbell joined the family, I was already working from home, so I was able to be with her all the time. She was house trained even faster than Jackson, and her puppyhood was much easier as a result.
For the simple purpose of house training alone, being with your dog 24 hours a day, seven days a week the first week or so should shorten your puppy’s learning curve dramatically. In addition to helping speed up the house training process, you will appreciate being able to nap during the day when the puppy sleeps. After all, they are infants and they usually wake up several times a night to go outside which of course means that you are also awake and heading outside. Finally, the first few days of a puppy’s life in their new home should be as calm and positive as possible with essentially just the immediate family. They are figuring things out, getting comfortable with you and with their surroundings, and there is a considerable amount of bonding happening. It is good for you to be with them instead of having them left alone in the house just days after leaving their mother, their litter mates and everything they ever knew in their young life.
If you have been planning on getting a puppy or a rescued dog, you know what you are getting into and the lifelong commitment, you are not traveling or hosting any huge gatherings for the holidays, and you work for an office or school that closes for all or most of the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, then over the Christmas holiday might be a great time to get a dog, particularly from a rescue organization or shelter.
Most responsible breeders will not plan a litter of puppies around the holidays so are set on a certain breed you may not be able to find an available dog from a top breeder at Christmas time, but the sad fact is that rescues and shelters take in pregnant females on a regular basis and those puppies are desperately in need of homes. A purebred puppy is not necessarily the right choice for everyone, so unless you are set on a particular breed, you can find amazing mixed breed puppies at shelters and rescues who are ready to grow up and be your best friend.
Rescuing an Adult Dog
Puppy rearing is not for everyone, and adult dogs will bond with you just as much as puppies. My late Babe became my dog when she was two, and she was my best friend and constant companion. She and I had the same exact type of love and emotional bond as I do with Jax and Tink, who both came home to me at eight weeks old. Our late Basset Hound, Maggie, had been abused before my husband rescued her, and she was the most affectionate and snuggly of any of our dogs.
In fact, I have a theory based on my own personal observation and experience that some rescued dogs are often more affectionate and attached to their owners because they know what it is like to not have a safe and loving home, to be scared and alone, and they are so happy to finally feel love that they want to be near you all the time. Some people will say that dogs do not think about the past, and although it is true that for training purposes they live in the moment, I believe that they still remember their old lives.
It was not just Maggie who showed this behavior, but also my fosters Kodiak and Destiny. Kodiak had been found as a stray and while I was fostering him he would not leave my side. At night we would watch TV as a family and I essentially had a giant Labrador/Great Dane mix as a living, breathing blanket as he napped completely on top of me, his back paws down by my feet, his front paws and head on my chest. Destiny had been tied to a tree in the woods and left to die before a good Samaritan found her and saved her. Even while she was learning to trust me, she was virtually attached to me, and within weeks was snuggling with me as if she’d known me her entire life.
With Christmas as a time of love and giving, what better gift to give than to give a dog a safe haven and forever home to live out the rest of its years. There are so many amazing adult dogs that are waiting at shelters to be your best friend, particularly if you do not care about finding a specific breed. If you simply want a best friend, you can spare yourself the part-time job of puppy rearing (because it is indeed a part-time if not full-time job) and find an amazing best friend in an adult dog. And if you do want a specific breed, there are breed specific rescues in every part of the country with dogs who need homes. Giving one of them a home will open up a spot in that foster’s house for a shelter dog to make it further through the adoption process. And just like with puppies, to have extra time off of work while your new dog is adapting to his or her new home will only help the bonding process and help your dog become more secure in his or her surroundings.
Involving the Kids
No matter the age, it is never too young to start teaching children about the fact that dogs are living breathing creatures that rely on us for their survival. Instead of surprising the child with a puppy under the Christmas tree and reinforcing the belief that the puppy is a toy like a doll or basketball or some other inanimate object, consider wrapping the supplies that you will need for the puppy or dog and unwrapping them as a family.
After the gifts are unwrapped, you can explain that you have thought about it for a long time and that it’s the right time to bring a dog into the family and that you bought the puppy’s gifts in advance so that he or she has everything they need when it comes home. You can tell them that after Christmas is over, you are going to all pick out the puppy or go get a puppy that you have pre-selected, and that everyone in the family is going to need to work together to make sure that the puppy grows into a nice, well-behaved adult dog.
By fulfilling your child’s wish for a dog this way, you avoid the mindset that the puppy is a toy. If you have experienced Christmas with kids, you know that often they receive so many new toys and gifts that they are overwhelmed by the bounty, and some things get pushed to the side and never played with. The last thing you want to do is to include a puppy in that category. By introducing the puppy as a family member after the excitement of the holidays is over, you start your child’s view of animals off to a healthier start that will carry through their adult lives and in turn help them be responsible pet owners when they are grown.
It is extremely important to add that if your child wants a dog, but the adults do not really want a dog, you should not get a dog. Period. I also cover this in my book, and it may sound harsh, but it needs to be harsh because a dog’s life is at stake, and at the end of the day it is going to be the parents who are responsible for the dog for its entire life.
Kids can learn to be responsible dog owners by watching their parents and by helping their parents under close supervision. I have spent probably as much time teaching our kids how to act around the dogs as I have spent teaching the dogs how to act around the kids. As a result, now that they are teens, I can trust them to check the gates when they take the dogs outside and to stay out there with them and ensure that they are not getting into mischief.
I do not believe in putting kids in charge of a dog no matter how responsible they are. Between school, activities, friends, and all of the things on their minds, it is too easy to forget a feeding or to give medicine or how long it has been since the dog went outside. They will learn to be responsible pet owners by watching you and by you explaining what you are doing and why you are doing something, but it is too early in their lives to be in charge of an animal’s life.
Watch for the next blog, in which we address winter weather considerations when caring for puppies.