Do puppies make good Christmas gifts?

**This article is copyright to Best Pets Animal Behaviour Service.

At the top of many Christmas lists is a puppy, but this can be one of the most thoughtless gifts to give. Moms and dads around the world give in to the pleas of their young children for a furry companion and believe the promises that the child will take responsibility for the care of their new friend. More often than not, this Christmas joy turns into a New Year resolution never to get another pet. The period following the “season of giving” sees the highest incidence of pets that are given up to animal shelters.

Consider the following before you decide to get a new pet for the family:

• Have you researched the breed of dog most suitable to fit into your lifestyle?

• Do you have a securely-fenced property and sufficient space for the dog to move around freely? It is cruel to keep an animal tied up or kenneled for long periods of time since you restrict the physical development of the dog as well as create mental frustration which can turn into aggression.

• Do you have the time (at least one hour a day) and are you physically capable of exercising your new pet? “Running around the yard” does not fulfill the energy requirements of a dog, who also benefits from changes in his environment so he should be taken out for stimulating walks on a harness and leash. Do not use a neck collar or a choke-chain when walking your dog.

• Do you have the finances required to cover the needs of your pet for his entire life-span (dogs can live up to 15-16 years depending on the breed and health). This includes money for food, toys, veterinary bills, parasite treatment and control (ticks, fleas and worms) and equipment such as the harness, leash, bedding, bowls, kennel, treats, as well as grooming and training costs.

Just as a child requires education and discipline to be raised properly, so too does a dog.

You need to obedience train your new pet (no aggression training) using a reward-based form of training, not punishment-based training. A puppy also requires adequate socialisation with humans and other animals and needs to be toilet-trained. Puppies need to be taught to develop soft mouths and what items are appropriate to chew on so they learn not to bite at your hands and ankles and do not chew your slippers, furniture and plants to pieces.

A ten-pound puppy jumping on you may be cute, but a 100-pound adult dog jumping on you is not so funny and this should form part of your training. You need to start training and socialising your new puppy from six weeks old until he is at least two years old, although training should ideally be throughout the life of your dog—are you willing to commit to this?

Discipline for a dog should never consist of beating the animal or shouting at him. Both are ineffective and destroy the relationship between you and your pet. Do you have enough patience to discipline your puppy properly?

Dogs are so similar to children that they also have short attention spans and get bored just as quickly. Boredom often leads to mischief! Are you willing to provide enough enrichment to keep your pet mentally stimulated and balanced so he does not become bored and destructive? Enrichment includes providing a wide variety of toys which are regularly rotated and changed, feeding the dog in ways to satisfy the hunting instinct of the dog (who is a predator by nature) and taking the dog out to different environments.

• What are the ages of your children? Any child under 13 never be left alone with a dog for the safety of both the dog and the child. Children can be inadvertently cruel by treating the dog as a doll and pulling the puppy around by his ears or tail, or poking their fingers into his eyes and ears. Dogs who are not properly socialised to children can become aggressive towards them and some dogs may even see little children as prey animals. Can you supervise your child and new puppy at all times?

• Is your child going to assist in caring for the pet: feeding, cleaning up after, bathing, grooming, playing with, walking, training—even when school resumes in the new year and interest in the puppy wanes?

• Have you sourced a registered veterinarian for your new puppy? Your dog will need to be immunised against puppy diseases and will require a booster vaccine every year. He should also be taken to the vet for regular check-ups to ensure he is in peak physical health at all times.

• Are you willing to neuter your new pet when he/she reaches sexual maturity at six months of age? T&T currently has an over-population of dogs and we simply do not have enough good homes for the number of dogs we breed. Neutering your pet also greatly lowers reproductive cancer risks and can significantly reduce certain behavioral problems. Your dog may develop behavioural problems such as aggression towards you or other family members, fighting with your other dogs, separation anxiety, excessive barking, roaming from home, marking territory with urine, being destructive and not listening to you—are you willing to seek professional help to ensure that your relationship with your pet remains a happy one?

If you can answer “yes” to all of the above questions, then you are ready to welcome a little one with a big bow on Christmas morning! If not, then maybe get a stuffed dog this year and wait until you are ready to give your pet all he deserves.

This article is copyright to Best Pets Animal Behaviour Service.