It’s that time of year again. Kids eagerly await Santa’s visit. Parents and others scramble to buy gifts and more gifts. And dog trainers dread the advent of the Christmas Puppy.
Now, trainers are not all scrooges, and we understand why people give puppies as gifts. Who wouldn’t enjoy the sheer delight on the recipient’s face upon discovering a happily wriggling bundle of fur, and imagining the ongoing joy that tail-wags and face-licks will bring? But to gift someone with a puppy is also to thrust upon them a huge responsibility. We trainers are called in when people find that their adorable pup is urinating everywhere, nipping tender hands and feet with razor-sharp teeth, and chewing everything in sight. A puppy really is the gift that keeps giving, both in happiness and in required effort and patience.
If you’re set on a puppy as a present, consider first whether the idea is realistically appropriate. I’ve seen more than a few cases where well-meaning family members gifted grandma or grandpa with a pup, thinking it would provide companionship and good cheer. While there are certainly some seniors who can handle the level of activity of a young pup and the commitment the care entails, there are far more who would no sooner be burdened with a puppy than they would an infant. If you’re sure your beloved “golden oldie” would actually enjoy having a canine companion, consider a mature dog instead. Most senior citizens do well with smaller dogs, and due to the current economic climate, shelters are bursting with perfectly lovely ones whose only crime was that their owners could no longer afford to keep them. Gifting grandma with a carefully chosen six- to eight-year-old Maltese or Shih Tzu mix, for example, would save a life while providing calm companionship.
If the recipients of your gift are to be your kids, know going in that you are the one on whom the burden of daily care will fall. Sure, it’s nice to envision Billy learning responsibility by cleaning up after the dog each day, and Cindy taking him for walks. But you will be the one getting up with the pup in the middle of the night, and cleaning up after him. Kids will be kids, and again, you will be a dog-mom or dad to a very young creature who needs constant care and attention. If you’re up for the job, great! If not, consider adopting a dog who’s a few years old. Adolescence in dogs spans from approximately five or six months of age until around a year-and-a-half to two years, depending on breed. You might not be able to skip the dreaded teenage phase of developing selective hearing and pushing boundaries with your kids, but you can avoid it altogether with a dog by adopting one who is already two to three years or older.
Choosing the right puppy or adult dog for another person can be tricky. Breed, temperament, activity level, and sociability with other animals all play into the decision. Beyond all of that, something just has to “click” between the human and the dog. So instead of bestowing the actual dog on the festive day, here’s a much better idea that still allows for the “wow” factor: Purchase the cutest stuffed dog you can find, and tie a big red bow around its neck. Include a card explaining that the stuffed dog is a stand-in for the real thing. Once the recipient has read the card, explain where the dog will be coming from. For example, your Golden Retriever puppy will be arriving from a well-researched breeder and will arrive in approximately two weeks. Or, better yet, you will be going as a family to the local shelter or humane society to pick out a dog together. The benefits of presenting your gift in this way far outweigh the possibility of a slightly less surprised reaction than if the actual dog were present.
One last consideration: Although your generous gift might not come with “some assembly required,” it does come with some work required. Arrange for a bit of help from a professional trainer. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is a great place to start your search. Services designated in your gift certificate might include the trainer’s assistance in choosing the dog, and/or a private session or two in the recipient’s home. Most trainers will be happy to accommodate this request, and getting the dog off on the right paw from the start will help to ensure that your “gift” will be cherished for a long time to come. Happy Holidays!