Why puppies may not make the best holiday gifts

Expert Dog Behaviorist Jonathan Klein has successfully trained more than 6,000 dogs, and their owners, over his successful 22-year career. He is the founder of the West Los Angeles-based, personalized dog-training center I Said Sit! Jonathan answered some questions for us about getting puppies during the holidays and why you might want to think twice before adding a pet this Christmas. Check out next Monday’s post for more great info from Jonathan!

Bart the Dumpster Dog: Many families consider getting a new puppy during the holidays.  Are there reasons why this might not be such a good idea?

Jonathan Klein:  Surprising the kids with a new puppy for the holidays may seem like the perfect gift, especially if you’ve heard “Can we PLEASE get a dog,” for months, but there are some reasons to reconsider the decision. The holidays can be a very stressful time for everyone.  There are places to go and people to see and as anyone who has children knows, the energy level gets ramped up a bit.  And none of these are conducive to bringing a puppy in to the home.

Getting a dog isn’t like getting a new video game console.  There’s a lot of preparation that needs to take place in advance and you want the transition to be as smooth as gentle as possible for the puppy.  My recommendation is to wait until after the holidays when things have calmed down. If you want to still give the kids a “gift” it can come in the way of some photos or a fun “Certificate.”  This will also be a chance to get the kids involved in preparing the home and accompanying you to the pet store to pick up all the essentials.

BDD: If you’re dead set on adding a dog to the family this holiday season, where should you look for the pet?

JK:  As with most any dog professional I am firmly against the idea of “puppy mills.” While seeing a puppy at the mall can tear at your heart strings and make you want to provide it with a good home, the unfortunate truth is that many of these puppies come from breeders with questionable practices. The puppies may have immune deficiencies and are often stressed. And the best way to stop the proliferation of these types of stores is to not buy from them.

The preferable method in finding a puppy is to do your research on the types of breeds that make the most sense for your living situation and visit a reputable breeder, shelter or rescue group.  There are a great many resources available in helping you make the decision that works best for you, your family and the new addition.

BDD: When might you want to consider an adult dog or even a senior dog?

JK: There are benefits that come from bringing a puppy in to the home but it’s important to not overlook older dogs.  They are usually house-trained and have had some type of socialization.  Dog shelters and rescue groups are full of great dogs that have ended up there through no fault of their own. In fact, many of these organizations see a rise in drop-off’s from those who received pets as holiday gifts and either don’t want or can’t handle the responsibility.

One thing that I stress to my clients is that you actually can teach an old dog new tricks so don’t let that old wives tale dissuade you from adopting an older dog.  Most dogs are incredibly malleable and will respond to consistent training and, of course, a lot of love.  And the feeling you get from knowing you saved a dog’s life is something special.

BDD: Is it okay to surprise someone with a dog, especially if they’ve already expressed a desire to get one?

JK: No it isn’t.  A dog should ONLY be given as a gift to someone who is prepared and expecting it. My recommendation around the holidays is to give a “You will be receiving…” card and some photos. The desire for the dog won’t go away but it will allow for some more time to make sure everything is in order around the home.

Even if they have expressed a desire for a dog, there are still steps that need to be taken before introducing it to the home. Tying back electrical cords, locking away all hazardous chemicals and removing any potentially harmful houseplants or breakables is a necessity.  And then there are the essentials that come along with owning a dog such as food, collars, leashes and toys.  And then it’s important to consider finding a reputable veterinarian for vaccinations as well as locating a nearby emergency vet clinic.

More about Jonathan Klein: Jonathan is the founder of the West Los Angeles-based, personalized dog-training center I Said Sit! which was voted the 2009 #1 Dog Training School in Los Angeles by KTTV-FOX/My Hotlist. Jonathan was one of the first trainers to pursue the “causative” approach to training which moves past the symptoms of behavior and instead focuses on the cause. This has allowed him to successfully address behavior problems without breaking the spirit of the dog.

A frequent expert source of commentary to the media, Jonathan holds numerous professional association memberships and is an active member of several trainers groups including Truly Dog Friendly and the Southern California Dog Trainers Forum. He visits schools and service clubs all over Southern California to teach basic dog training and has done hundreds of presentations on dog training and responsible ownership…all from a place of praise-based training methods. He was also the key consultant to the acclaimed Doris Day Foundation and has trained the dogs of many well-known celebrities.

Jonathan, who has written numerous articles on training, is a regular contributor for the Los Angeles-area Pet Press and will soon begin a regular column in the quarterly glossy Dog Days in L.A. In addition, he will soon be seen in numerous segments on the nationally syndicated show Dog Tales teaching children dog-handling skills and basic training techniques.

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4 thoughts on “Why puppies may not make the best holiday gifts”

  1. This is a very timely post for the Christmas Season. Giving someone especially kids a puppy for Christmas is something that one needs to think long and hard about. It can be such a noisy, busy and stressful time of year. It is probably best to consider getting a puppy after everything has calmed down, easier on everyone including the puppy.

    1. Seb, I got a black lab that was six months old from a shelter years ago. He was obviously a christmas puppy that turned into something that was way too big for the family to handle, and subsequently spent most of his puppyhood tied out. Really important that the first year of a puppy’s life be calm and well managed!

  2. I agree with Seb, maybe not the best time of year for a puppy. Kids can get overwhelmed and the puppy can be scared as its not a calm time of the year. What about getting a toy dog as something to open and then taking the kids to pick up the puppy when the Christmas craziness is over?

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