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Puppies for Christmas not wise idea

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POSTED December 10, 2017 6:02 p.m.

DEAR DIDI: Our kids have been begging for a dog for a couple of years now. My husband wants to surprise them with a puppy for Christmas but I am worried that it might send the wrong message to the kids. He insists that we are strict enough to enforce the chores that will be involved.   We have five kids: a girl age 2, a boy age 4, a boy age 6, a boy age 7, and a girl age 9.  Do you have any recommendations for us? -Professional Mom


DEAR PROFESSIONAL MOM:  Many people have a romantic view of what dog ownership is like. Professionals in the animal industry refer to it as the “Lassie Syndrome”.  Everyone hopes for that imaginary dog who has E.S.P., is always there when you need them, and magically always knows how to behave in every situation.  This romanticism can become exaggerated by the warmth and loving kindness associated with the Christmas season. Puppies are just the quintessential symbol of the true spirit of the holiday season. A puppy represents innocence, unconditional love, loyalty, hope, and exuberant energy.  The look of pure joy on their children’s faces is the reaction loving parents hope for after spending lots of time and money searching for that perfect gift!

Indeed, marketing departments and advertising companies 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.  It is a recognized fact that including a dog in your television commercial, no matter your product, will generate good will towards your brand!  Iconic images are shown everywhere of the puppy stumbling over mounds of gift wrappings while the kids, with delighted giggles, rush forward to hug the little fuzz ball and receive wet puppy-slurps in return.  What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

With the picture? Nothing. As art, fiction or advertisement because it captures the Christmas spirit perfectly much like a Norman Rockwell painting. It sells products.  What IS wrong, though, is when real people try to recreate the fantasy with a living puppy.  I feel like the bearer of bad news or a Grinch running around with an ice pick popping Christmas bubbles but, rescue groups, animal control officers, behaviorists and veterinarians around the country have  well documented results of these Holiday choices for decades. A living, breathing animal is not a stocking stuffer. It is about 10 years of care and responsibility.  Christmas is an emotionally charged time of the year and introducing a new puppy is frequently an impulsive decision that is punctuated by frustration and regret.  That puppy just had its entire world change and excited, exuberant children can terrify the poor dog and start their relationship into a downward spiral. Potty training begins immediately which adds to an already hectic schedule for most families. The puppy can’t be left alone for more than 2 hours so this puts a kink in church celebrations or visits to grandma’s house. 

Many families that value pet ownership do so, at least in part, for the lessons that can be learned by the children in terms of care, responsibility, love, loyalty and compassion for living things.  Think about what happens to the other toys and gifts that start off under your Christmas tree.  By Valentine’s Day, most of them have been forgotten, broken, traded or shelved.  Excitement inevitably wears off and then your puppy is relegated to the back yard all day where it will continue to develop more behavioral problems.  As a matter of fact, responsible breeders won’t even release puppies to their new owners close to Christmas.

There is, however, a way to capture that Christmas morning joy about a puppy and model responsible dog ownership to your children!  Purchase a leash, a collar, a book on raising a puppy, a gift certificate for a veterinary well-puppy checkup, and a gift certificate for puppy training from a private trainer that will come to your home.  Wrap these things up and put them under the tree. It wouldn’t hurt to include a video or book on how to select the right breed of dog for your family.  Believe me, your kids will have that miraculous look on their face when they open this box! Make the research phase a family event. Teach your children about dogs and how the breeds can differ. Discuss size issues, energy levels, grooming needs, costs and the quintessential dilemma...should we get a girl or a boy??!  The children will take pride in the process through participation and therefore value the puppy when it finally joins the household.  In this manner, you are rewarding hard work, patience, and preparing to welcome a new life to your home in a truly responsible and successful way!-email your questions to

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