Op-ed by Wendy Crann, Founder and former Executive Director of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids
Puppies & Presents Don't Mix
As a parent, I know the temptation of finding each day of the holiday season a special opportunity to make our child’s material dreams come true. If you’ve asked your child “What would you like for the holidays?” there is an implied obligation to ante up and deliver. However, if begging for a puppy is your child’s chant this season, simply dig in your heels and say, “No!”
Adopting a dog into a family can set an example for good behavior for a child’s lifetime. How you treat this pet will be a tangible experience in love, patience, responsibility and handling adversity. I think everyone should have a dog. I actually think everyone should have two. I think every child should grow up learning the lessons animal ownership can teach.
Unfortunately, I am wrong. Animal ownership isn't suitable for all families.
The Reality of Getting a Puppy for the Holidays
With fires crackling in the hearth and the smell of holiday cookies baking in the oven, it can be easy to find yourself justifying the purchase of a puppy to make your children’s dreams come true. So if you begin asking yourself, "Should I buy a puppy for the holidays," it's time to come to terms with the reality of purchasing a puppy as a gift.
People return holiday gifts every year, but with a living, breathing puppy, making a return isn't that simple. After the delight of bringing home a puppy wears off, and the dog may begin to have accidents, chew on the furniture, and other unpleasant puppy-like things, some families will discover that the puppy is more trouble than (its worth) they ever imagined. Unfortunately, some animal shelters see an uptick in animal surrenders after the holidays, when many families decide that their impulse purchase of a pet was a mistake.
In order to not make this same mistake, it's important to do your homework.
Do Your Pre-Puppy Homework
There is a lot to consider before you bring a new dog into your life. Be sure to think through the consequences of bringing a living and often demanding addition into your household before you rush out and do something in haste to meet a Holiday deadline. The fact is, you have a lot of homework to do first.
Successful ownership and training is rooted in all the decisions you should be making before the dog joins your family. Your first decision is what kind of adult dog you want to live with. After about ten months, that adorable little pup you bring home is going to look like a full grown whatever it is you’ve decided on.
Search the internet or go to the library and refer to one or more breed manuals. Pay particular attention to the pictures of adult dogs and the descriptions of a breed’s traits, temperament, size and demeanor. If you are interested in “designer” breeds, no one can guarantee a 50/50 split on the traits of each side of the puppy’s background. Cockapoos and Labradoodles aren’t pure bred dogs. There is nothing wrong with wanting one, simply understand it’s just a genetic tumble that could turn out any way at all.
Have a family meeting so that everyone agrees in advance to what you expect.
Nod and smile sweetly at your child as they assure you that they will do everything for the dog, they will be completely responsible for feeding, care, long walks and poop scooping, if only, oh please, they can have a puppy for the Holidays. Forget all of that. It won’t happen and it never has. Not since time immemorial have Mom and Dad not wound up taking care of the dog.
Once your family has chosen the best breed of dog for you, find a reputable breeder. Ask your local veterinarian and contact the American Kennel Club for recommendations. Preferably find someone who is breeding dogs to show. These breeders take great care to produce the soundest, best quality dogs for their own use. After picking one or two pups from a litter to keep, the rest of the pups are available for sale. “Pet only” breeders are not as concerned about minor flaws that may pass on in generations of breeding and may not be as good a source.
Of course, if you have the option to rescue a dog - please do! There are many dogs in shelters who are looking for their forever family! If you choose to adopt, please consider not only searching for a puppy, but giving a loving home to an adult or senior dog who is just as ready to love you.
Good Things - And Good Dogs - Are Worth Waiting For
If you decide to work with a good breeder, ask when their next litter of puppies is due. It probably won’t be for the Holidays, so be willing to wait. A puppy is an investment of your time, your energy and your heart. Bringing a puppy into your home should be an event and celebration all its own. So don’t rush out to bring home a puppy for The Holidays. For the Holidays, an IOU for the right puppy later, should do.
Wendy Crann is the Founder and former Executive Director of Working Animals Giving Service for Kids, a nonprofit organization that trains and places autism spectrum and mobility service dogs with children with disabilities in Northeast and Central Ohio. Wendy’s book, “Step By Step: The W.A.G.S. Service Dog Training Academy” outlines everything you need to know to pick a puppy and train him as a service animal, or into simply the best pet you’ve ever had.