It's the most wonderful time of the year! To many people, a puppy is the perfect symbol of the true spirit of Christmas. A puppy represents wonderment, innocence, exuberant energy, unconditional love, hope for the future. These are the sorts of gifts that many of us wish we were able to give one another. And that is a good thing. In an increasingly violent, horrifying, mind-numbing and impersonal world, Christmas time reminds many that there are more important values, that there is hope and love, that joy comes from giving of oneself more than it does from taking. To many people, these values bring to mind the loyal, loving, uncorrupted, hauntingly simple innocence of a puppy.
Indeed, many advertisers and artists have noticed this connection. Images of cozy family Christmas mornings often include scenes of floppy-eared puppies peering innocently out of a colorful gift box, their eyes wide with wonderment and awe. As the scene continues, the puppy stumbles preciously over mounds of gift wrappings, to the great amusement of delighted children who rush to hug the youngster and receive big wet puppy-slurps in return. Mom and Dad smile knowingly in the background as the true meaning of life is celebrated before their eyes. What could possibly be wrong with this picture?
I am not against becoming a pet parent. I have five canines myself, and I think the world would be a lot better place if more people had meaningful relationships with dogs. My concern here is with the future of those living beings, those adorable puppies with child-like eyes who show up as gifts on Christmas morning. While images like the one above may look irresistibly appealing in pictures, art, advertising or fiction, the future for those real-life puppies who start out under the Christmas tree, in all probability, will turn out to be fairly grim. Not to mention what the puppy's mom and dad is going through at the puppy mill or a back yard breeder living their life to be a machine giving you unethical breeding. Groups as diverse as, and often at odds with one another as, the Humane Society of the United States, canine behavior experts, the American Kennel Club, PETA, Animal Rights Activists, breed rescue groups, veterinarians, obedience training instructors, and most reputable breeders of sound, healthy dogs, are in strong agreement that live puppies should not be given as Christmas gifts. Here are some of the reasons:
THE ATMOSPHERE OF CHRISTMAS MORNING FRIGHTENS THE PUPPY.
As I continue to study canine development and behavior, I have found that puppies, like children, go through developmental stages. The first fear/avoidance period in a puppy's development occurs roughly between 7-12 weeks of age. With the 9th week being the FEAR period. However this is also when the puppy is developmentally best capable of leaving its litter and beginning to form bonds of attachment with its new family. Most breeders agree that this is the right time to send a young puppy home with its adoptive family out of fear of loss (money). However, it is also extremely important not to over-stress or unduly frighten the puppy during this vulnerable time. Fears learned during this first fear/avoidance period can be very, very difficult to overcome later, even with the very best training or behavior modification techniques. In other words, traumatic experiences at this point can have a permanent impact on your puppy's personality as an adult dog as I witness this everyday specializing in canine behavior modification.
Your puppy's experiences of leaving its mother and litter-mates, and its arrival in its new home and introduction to its new family, can permanently affect its ability to bond with and trust humans. The puppy needs to be introduced to its new home and family during a relaxed and quiet, gentle time, with a minimum of loud noises, flashing lights, screeching children, ringing phones, visiting company, and other types of general chaotic noises. Christmas morning is absolutely the worst time, in terms of the puppy's developmental needs, for introducing this newly-weaned youngster to its new family.
THE TIMING IS TEACHING CHILDREN THE WRONG VALUES
A living puppy should not be thought of in the same category as a Christmas toy. Children need to learn that a living puppy is being adopted into the family - as a living family member who will contribute much, but who will also have needs of its own, which the rest of the family is making a commitment to try to meet. A puppy who makes its first appearance as a gift item under the Christmas tree is more likely to be thought of by children as an object, as a thing-like toy rather than as a family member. This will not teach one of the most valuable lessons there is to learn from a puppy, which is respect for living beings and concern for others in the form of attention to their needs.
Always remember that the cute fluffy puppy does grow up. If you still decide to make the decision to add a puppy to the family this season, please be sure to get him/her into training with the kids right away so the kids can learn and understand true responsibility and what's expected. Please don't impulse buy a designer breed when there is so many in shelters and rescues in need of homes being failed by their previous humans. Be sure you truly have time as they need you no matter if a puppy or rescue. A kennel is not a place for a canine for 12 hours a day while everyone is away. Please give them time to settle in. We can go on and on about adding this responsibility to your family but I'll digress. Just please remember, this is a lifetime commitment.