Last Thursday I was in Dawsonville with some Home Dog Training clients and their one-year-old Shepsky named Popeye.  Popeye was a “classic Shepsky”.  By this I mean that he was very smart, hardheaded, and full of energy. He was constantly running and jumping on tables, chairs, people, other dogs, etc.  He didn’t have a single mean bone in his body and truly loved to greet everyone. Although this made him a fun dog to play with, it made him very difficult to manage. 

Understand what you need to consider before giving a puppy as a Christmas gift.

We needed to provide Popeye with structure and direction in his life. To be more exact, my clients needed to become his boss. Luckily, this is our “training sweet spot” and we were very effective in teaching Popeye that, even though he can be allowed to have fun, he has to obey and respect “Mommy and Daddy”.  My clients were overjoyed with the results and couldn’t wait to continue what they had learned that day.

As I was about to leave, they asked about giving a puppy as a Christmas gift.  Their nephew loved coming over to play with Popeye several days after school.  They had been visiting German Shepherd, Husky, and Shepsky breeders in the area and thought it would be the perfect surprise if their nephew discovered “his own Popeye” under the Christmas Tree on Christmas morning.

They confessed that they had not discussed this with the brother and sister-in-law about it. They assumed that since they allowed their son to come over all the time to play with Popeye, they would surely want their “own Popeye” as well.  They asked what I thought about their idea.

I quickly explained that there are a lot more things for them to consider before placing a new puppy under their nephew’s Christmas tree.  Yes, I am aware that Christmas Puppies are “extra sweet, cute and cuddly”.  Who doesn’t love puppies?

I went on to elaborate that even though I don’t doubt their sincere intentions, numerous studies indicate that most Christmas puppies end up at animal shelters. I referred to a study that was executed several years ago with animal shelters across the country.   The data they collected indicated that 65% of puppy surrenders took place between late January and the end of March.  This study was run for several years with the same results.

Visiting a friend and playing with their puppy is very different than being responsible for a puppy twenty-four hours a day for the rest of the puppy’s life. It is critical that my clients determine if their nephew and his entire family really want a puppy. They need to understand the full extent of the commitment that decision will entail.

I further explained that even though they truly believe that his brother-in-law’s family was ready to take on the responsibility, they may want to slow the process down. Instead of having a “live puppy” under the tree, they may consider placing a stuffed puppy under the tree with a gift certificate and invitation to visit a breeder and pick out the exact puppy they want.

I went on by stating that I was not trying to be contrary (most of our dogs came to us as puppies), but simply realistic.  Simply stated, his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew need to clearly understand that when they are adding a puppy to their family, they are incurring a ten-to-fifteen-year responsibility. This is a huge commitment.

It requires a great deal of time and effort.  Their nephew, who adores Popeye, didn’t have to deal with the problems of potty training, all-night barking in the crate, tearing up pillows, chewing chair legs, etc. As I said, puppies are wonderful, but for all the “wonderful things”, there are some really “nasty things” as well.  My client may consider gifting his nephew a dog that is twelve to eighteen months old.  They are normally potty trained, calmer, and well socialized.

Even if his brother and sister-in-law seem ready for a puppy, they must understand that the gift arrives with a very large time commitment on their parts.  Their son may have constantly said “If I could only have a puppy, I would take care of it all by myself”.  Trust me, that never, never happens. The parents will always do most of the “hard work” with the puppy.

In any case, we always stress that we need to give our new puppy the best chance for a wonderful and long life.  These are some suggestions that Robin and I have given to our clients over the years:

  • Perform the appropriate research on puppies before you even start to actively do anything. Having a clear understanding of what to expect during your puppy’s first year is crucial in acting on his needs and not reacting to surprises.
  • Give your puppy calm and clear direction. He needs to understand what you expect of him.
  • Make sure that every family member agrees to the house rules about caring for your new puppy. Designate tasks that specify how every family member will work and socialize with the puppy.
  • The true cost of a puppy only begins after you leave the breeder.  Plan for the expenses that will take place the moment your new puppy arrives at your home. Food, vet visits, and training are a part of the “new family expenses” that must be included in your budget.
  • Purchase a dog crate and use it. The crate is a very important part of your puppy’s potty training. Besides potty training, the crate allows you to keep him in a safe place when you can’t actively watch him. Proper socialization with the crate will let your puppy know that he will always be safe if he is in there.
  • Just as you did with your “human toddlers”, you must “puppy-proof” your home. Puppies are curious and will want to get out and explore.  Put items such as vases, plants, and anything you don’t want broken out of his reach. Make sure that you lock away “dangerous toxins” such as antifreeze, fertilizers, alcohol, cleansers, detergents, and tobacco.
  • Baby (doggie) gates are fantastic, and we suggest you use them. They are the perfect training tool to passively close off restricted areas of the house. This helps your puppy learn where he shouldn’t wander.
  • Your puppy should only have access to “dog-appropriate toys”. Items like the puppy-sized Kong™ are best for his chewing and focus. Never give your puppy old clothing or shoes as toys.  He will not have ability to differentiate the old clothes you gave him to chew from the new clothes you just brought home from the store.
  • If things start to become frustrating, talk to your Vet.  They see a lot of puppies and puppy owners and probably have heard your “story of woe” many times before. They probably have a solution for you.
  • If you are still frustrated, think of going to a puppy class or have some in-home puppy training.  The one thing you don’t want to happen is to allow bad puppy behavior to persist into their adult life.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.