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All I Want For Christmas Is ... A Puppy!

Should you give a pet for a present?

Last week, I December’s holiday upheavals from your pet’s perspective. Frantic activity, changing schedules, trees, candles, bows, parties, music … yikes!

Now we’ll look at another holiday dog issue: The Gift Pet. Combine over-the-top cuteness with the unstoppable persuasive powers of children or grown-ups (who are still children at heart) and it’s no wonder that puppies, kittens and other young creatures top many holiday gift lists. Experts caution against it, but the irresistible allure of a bow-collared puppy romping with over-stimulated, pajama-clad children is just too much to resist.

But the joy can be short lived. Unlike toys, pets require more than love to survive. Pets, like people, thrive on routine schedules and consistent care. Puppies have more in common with children than other pets, and thus require early socialization and training as well, to ensure a lifetime of cooperation.  

And so consider your gift list this year. If you have the willpower, you can give your “surprise” package a few days after the holidays, or perhaps, before. An overstimulating day full of noise, trinkets, and racing around is often unsettling to a young animal whose only desire is to feel safe and nurtured.

Here are some tips to ensure the holiday pet has a positive transition into his or her new home. While these tips apply to adoption at any time of year, holiday pets are vulnerable to the extra excitement that befalls December's special days.

1.   If you’re focused on giving your pet present on a specific day, wait until the excitement has waned to bring him or her into the room. Instruct everyone to put away toys that might otherwise entice or startle him, and urge them to stay calm. If more than one person will be vying for face time, work out the plan ahead of time (either holding the new pet, or having the kids flip a coin to see who holds the pet first) to avoid a meltdown. Plan out your day and the first few weeks ahead of time. My book, "Puppy for Dummies," lays this out nicely.

2.  A puppy is not a stuffed animal. Ok, that’s a little obvious, but puppies are more similar to pre-verbal toddlers than to any other pet you’ll find in a pet store. Like children, puppies do best with a regular schedule. Stay one step ahead of your pup’s basic needs with pre-established feeding times, organized playtime and comforting nap and bedtime rituals. Puppies raised without a set schedule can be fussy, and fussy puppies nip, chew and roughhouse more.

3. Make housetraining priority number 1. Whether you chose to use papers or go outside, make potty training your puppy a complete obsession. Wiping up little puppy puddles may seem like no big deal, but understand that your puppy is learning habits that will last a lifetime. Decide on one place for potty training, and take her there after feeding, sleep and playtime. For more detailed housetraining information, visit my Web site or refer to one of my puppy books.

4. Practice my signature “Loving Touch” technique. When your puppy is calm, sit in a four-legged chair. Make an open space beneath your legs and bring your dog under the chair. Pet your puppy with an open palm in long, soothing, loving stokes. This calming gesture simulates a mother dog’s grooming ritual. You’ll use this grounding interaction to calm your dog throughout his life.

5. Leash train your puppy. A very young puppy will stay near his family, but puppies grow up quickly. It won’t take long before your wallflower is darting off to wander and explore. A leash will ensure her safety. A young puppy happily accepts new experiences, so begin leash training between 8-10 weeks.

Are you giving a pet this holiday season? If so, what kind of puppy and to whom are you giving it? 

Sarah Hodgson December 20, 2011 at 03:20 AM
Alyson- I'm so glad you brought up this point. We are fostering a southern rescue puppy over Xmas. It is so sad to think of dogs/puppies, cats too, around the holiday; we all need to do what we can. I've affiliated with one of the many rescue groups, http://www.ruffstartrescueny.org/, and am enjoying helping them with some of their more traumatized cases. I have an incredibly soft spot for a Pyrenees mix (about the size of a golden, 2-3 years old) who is an old soul, stoic and calm. He is good with all others, but needs one person to call his very own in a home where the water are still and chaos is low. Thank you for pointing this out and for all you must do to help publicize the rescue efforts. Kudos!
Sarah Hodgson December 20, 2011 at 03:25 AM
They do say the best time to adopt a pure bred dog from the shelter is March to April when the cute factor is wearing off. Regardless, it's hard to judge. Responsible people who choose to buy a dog/pup during the holiday season are going to be responsible pet owners and I loved the tip from sweetpea about buying the accessories for the holiday, and bring home the pet later. That's a fabulous tip and I will borrow it! Irresponsible people who buy for the moment, only to discard their pet like a trinket, are going to be irresponsible no matter what day they bring the puppy home.
Sarah Hodgson December 20, 2011 at 03:29 AM
There are so so many desperately loving animals at shelters all over. Just go and see. Your perspective will change forever. I have only bought one pure bred dog in my lifetime; the rest have been rescued (both pure-bred rescues like my German Shepherd Dog, and mixes). Shayna May, my border collie- mix from New York City, saved my life literally by placing herself in front of an oncoming car: she lost her life doing so. Love knows no pedigree, trust me.
Sarah Hodgson December 20, 2011 at 03:30 AM
I can feel your son's enthusiasm. Thanks for sharing that story. Responsible people, happy kids, loved dog. A dog's love knows no calendar!
Sarah Hodgson December 20, 2011 at 03:32 AM
That's exactly how I feel about all our pets! My daughter remembers the day and month each of our five came into our lives...we always remember not only birthday, but adoption days in this household!

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