By Erin Buvala and Jake Buvala
Halloween has been over for all of three seconds, which – according to every shop blasting carols – means it’s Christmas. And what’s one of the most popular gifts at this time of year?
This is a pretty controversial topic, and there are lots of people trying to convince gift-givers not to consider this option.
But… we’re not going to do that.
There are all sorts of very good reasons not to get or give a puppy for Christmas. But like a parent saying “if you’re going to do it, we’d rather you do it in the house”, we know this is something that isn’t going away any time soon – and that there are ways to make it a healthier experience for everyone.
So, instead of telling you not to do it, we’re going to tell you how you can do it well:
1. Don’t make it a surprise
#consent, you guys.
Puppies are a ball of fun, fluff, and the most adorable way to fill up your phone camera reel by the end of the first week. But they’re also a responsibility that lasts years, a financial burden, a potential restriction on residential options, and an overnight lifestyle changer.
When you put it that way, altering someone’s entire life without them having any say in the matter doesn’t sound like such a great stocking stuffer.
How to do it well:
Make sure everyone is in on it. This is a major life decision, and whether you’re giving a puppy to someone else, or you’re getting yourself a puppy, it’s a change that will affect everyone around you. Raising a puppy is a team sport, and that means that deciding to get one at all should be just the same.
2. Get time on your side
A puppy under the tree might get you an insta-worthy reaction video, but the best gift you can give everyone in this situation – including the puppy! – is time.
Children in the home need time to learn how to appropriately interact with a puppy (or dogs in general).
Other pets in the house may need time to learn new behaviours that will allow for good cohabitation with a puppy, adjust to new management strategies put in place to keep everyone safe and happy, have their routines changed well in advance, or address any behavioural concerns that could jeopardize their relationship with the new arrival (or teach that new arrival bad habits).
And the puppy needs everyone to have had this time, so that when they arrive in their new home, all their new family needs to focus on is loving them. And making sure they don’t pee on the carpet.
How to do it well:
Although it’s tempting to be spontaneous and get a puppy for a loved one on a whim, getting a dog should never be an impulse decision. Start your discussions and planning at least a couple of months in advance.
3. Don’t bring the puppy home on Christmas morning
I know, I know, what a killjoy. We’re not trying to ruin the fun, promise. But the hustle and bustle of Christmas morning is not the ideal environment for a new baby puppy who’s already pretty scared and overwhelmed by this whole new family thing, nor is it the ideal environment for the new family to be calm and focused enough to stick to their puppy plan.
How to do it well:
Don’t worry, there are heaps of fun ways you can still celebrate a puppy on Christmas day! One of the easiest, stress-free options is to have a New Puppy Preparation kit as a gift to unwrap under the tree. It keeps the new-puppy excitement alive without having to worry about a pile of poop on the carpet ruining Christmas. This can range from management equipment like crates and puppy plan pens, to books and courses about puppy raising, and pretty much everything in between.
This one is also a great alternative to giving a puppy as a surprise. Instead of “Surprise! Your whole world is changing RIGHT NOW and you have NO CHOICE”, it’s “Surprise! You have the time to learn and prepare, and if you decide you want to, I’ll totally get you a puppy!” Much nicer.
4. Think very carefully about getting a puppy for children
Kids love puppies. It’s just one of those inherent truths of the universe: gravity holds us to the ground, climate change is real, and kids love puppies. And many of them will pester, and promise, and bargain, and pull at heartstrings, desperate to get their parents to get them one.
Now, we’re not saying that kids shouldn’t ever have dogs. We’re not the Grinch. But as rewarding as raising puppies is, it can also be really, really hard, which is something that not all children have the ability to get through, or even fully understand ahead of time (remember that #consent).
A dog should never be brought into someone’s life to fulfill some other need, like having a best friend, or teaching them responsibility. Dogs are more than what they can do for us, and they should come into our lives when we already have the tools to ride out the hard parts with them. Sure, we’ll learn things along the way, and no one gets a new puppy completely prepared for everything that gets thrown at them; the WTFWIT phase comes for everyone.
But if Johnny struggles to get up before 8am, or spends too much time in front of the tv, or always forgets to do his homework, raising a puppy is not going to make any of those things better, whether he promises that they will or not.
Children and dogs growing up together might seem like the logical choice, and it might make for some heartwarming then-and-now photo collages, but it’s not always the best thing for puppies or children.
How to do it well:
The best way to know if the kids in your life are ready, is to do as much research as you can about what having a puppy is like. Sit in on a few puppy school classes, read about people’s experiences with puppies, or take a puppy course. These things will prepare you to have some conversations with the kids you’re thinking about gifting a puppy to, and they’ll be invaluable resources if you decide to go ahead and get the little floofball.
Our Puppy Survival School program is a lifetime membership, so even if you decide that now may not be the right time, but next year could be, it’ll be there waiting for you.
5. Find the right puppy for you, the ethical way
Unfortunately, Christmas is big business for puppy mills and unethical backyard breeders, some of which are quite clever at hiding their practises. It’s also the time of year when people most want to give back and do something kind, which often involves adopting a dog from a shelter, many of whom have been overlooked due to their breed, colour, age, or behaviour.
Unethical breeders are dangerous for everyone. They produce puppies that can have significant health issues due to insufficient healthcare for them and for breeding females, along with potentially dangerous behavioural issues that often don’t become evident until later in life, as a result of negligent treatment of puppies and their mothers.
And whilst adopting a dog from a shelter is a lovely, noble, and kind thing to do, it’s important to seriously consider whether they are the right dog for you. Because no matter how sad a dog’s story may be, and how much you may want to help them, adopting a dog that is not right for your lifestyle or your experience can be even more damaging for them.
How to do it well:
When choosing to buy a puppy from a breeder, be sure to visit their breeding facility. A breeder who isn’t willing to have potential buyers visit them, at relatively short notice, and see all of the premises, is a big red flag. A truly good breeder won’t just allow it, they’ll encourage it. Ask if they can tell you about any socialisation practises that they have for their puppies. Meet the parent dogs if you can, and any dogs from previous litters if possible, as this will give you a good idea of what your future puppy will be like when they grow up.
If you’re adopting from a shelter, pick a breed type that’s appropriate for your situation. Like, a pit bull mix is not going to suit every person, and making the decision that they aren’t right for you doesn’t mean that they’re bad dogs, or that they’ll languish in the shelter and never be adopted. And make sure to adopt a dog with full knowledge of their age and health requirements. If you know you don’t have the ability to care for a dog that needs serious ongoing medical treatment or behavior modification, that’s okay. Check out our video series, How to Adopt a Dog.
6. Have some fun
All of this talk about responsibility and sleep deprivation and poop piles and ruined routines is necessary. But that doesn’t mean that puppies are all doom and gloom.
There’s a reason puppies are such popular Christmas gifts: they’re joyful. They’re joyful when they get the zoomies and run around the living room with their tiny little baby legs, they’re joyful when they bowl you over with enthusiastic puppy kisses, they’re even joyful when they’re peeing in your shoes.
They’re tiny goofballs, and raising the little tykes will probably be one of the most fulfilling things you ever do. And when you’re poring through all your research at 3am as you listen to a random Youtuber recount the time their puppy chewed through their wall and then pooped on grandma’s lap, it can be hard to remember that.
How to do it well:
Balance your research. Being prepared for the hard times is SUPER important, but being prepared for the good times is important, too. Talk to your friends who have dogs, and let them wax lyrical about what an awesome little adventure buddy Buddy has become. Read about all the ways that raising a dog can help you to grow.
Believe in yourself: being aware of the difficulties and deciding that you’re ready for the challenge is very different to making this decision on blind faith. And empty your phone camera storage, ‘cause you’re gonna need the room.