Christmas Puppies: the Good, the Bad, and the Oh So Cute!

12273784_1094956390568857_1264871435039585272_oI’ll admit it. I start to get a little giddy around the beginning of December. One of the great joys of my career is that I know, come January, I will have oodles and oodles of puppies at my dog training facility in Birmingham, Alabama. Here are a few tips for bringing a new dog home for the holidays. If each and every one of my clients followed these tips, we would all have a much more peaceful New Year!

(Disclaimer: This article is not meant to discuss the pros and cons of bringing a new family member into your home as a holiday gift. There are many wonderful resources for you to read about whether this is a responsible choice for your family. This article is meant to help you make good choices once you have already decided to bring a new dog home for the holidays. )

Step One: Selecting your Holiday Hound

Puppies are adorable! I don’t know many people that would dispute that! However, selecting a dog that will best suit your family for the next 10-15 years is much more important than selecting the cutest puppy. Here is some advice on selecting your new dog.

  • Purebred Puppy From a Responsible Breeder: At the writing of this article it is already early December, so finding a puppy from a responsible breeder in time for the holidays will be very difficult. If you have your heart set on a purebred puppy, it is likely that you will need to wrap up a picture of your new puppy’s parents and some adorable new puppy items to give on the actual day while awaiting your puppy’s birth and arrival in the coming months.A RESPONSIBLE purebred dog breeder will first and foremost do genetic health testing on the parents of your new puppy. While this is not the only indicator of a responsible purebred dog breeder, it is typically an excellent sign that your breeder is ethical and responsible. Genetic health testing differs from breed to breed, but you can find out what tests your breeder should be performing on their breeding dogs from the National Breed Club of a particular breed. For instance, Golden Retrievers should be tested (at minimum) for hips, elbows, eyes, and hearts. These test are performed BEFORE the parents are bred and are evaluated by a third party source (typically the Orthopedic Foundation of America, abbreviated as OFA).

    All purebred dog breeds have a parent club, typically called breedname Club of America (i.e. Golden Retriever Club Of America). If you put that into a google search, the breed club website comes up and they all have excellent information on the required genetic health testing for that breed. Many of the breed club websites also have great advice on selecting a responsible breeder for that particular breed. A very reasonable waiting period for a puppy from a responsible breeder is 4-6mos. You are waiting for a dog that has been carefully selected for health and temperament from a breeder who has dedicated their life to the well-being of that breed and the preservation of health and temperament.

    If you are looking for a purebred companion, it is WELL worth the wait to get one from an excellent breeder. If a breeder isn’t doing genetic health testing, it is absolutely not an appropriate breeder with whom to be working - no exceptions. Breeders that are not, at a minimum, carefully genetically health testing their breeding dogs are adding to this country’s horrible pet overpopulation problem and should not be supported.

  • A puppy from a shelter or reputable rescue: Puppies from shelters or a reputable rescue are a wonderful option for Christmas. These puppies are desperately waiting for their forever homes and Christmastime is a great way to save a life and add a new family member to your household. Visit your local shelter and talk to the adoption counselor about the puppies they have available, estimated adult size, estimated breed mixes, and general temperament. Pick a dog that will be of a size, breed mix, and coat variety that will suit your family’s needs. Remember that these are general estimations! Be prepared for some variance on adult size and coat type.

    If you choose to work with a rescue, be sure that it is a reputable rescue. Rescues should be 501c3 non-profits and have transparent financial records. The reputable rescue should have an adoption screening process, This means that adoptions can take several days or weeks to process. Reputable rescues should have dogs in a clean and sanitary environment. A reputable rescue should be actively involved in the community advocating for animal welfare and care. Reputable rescues should have excellent references both from previous adoptions and other rescue groups/shelters. All reputable rescues should only adopt dogs that have been spayed/neutered, microchipped, and vaccinated (or do a foster-to-adopt situation until the dog is old enough to be spayed or neutered).

  • An adult dog from a shelter or a reputable rescue: This is an often overlooked and WONDERFUL option for many families. Adult dogs have many advantages. You know exactly what size, shape, and coat variety you are getting. You have an excellent idea of temperament that has less variables for change. In many instances, the adult dogs at shelters/rescues are already house-trained or have started on house-training. Some adult dogs are already crate trained and/or have basic obedience skills. Additionally, you have less likelihood of “puppy” behaviors like excessive chewing and mouthing.

Step Two: Preparing your home to be a forever home for the holidays:

Bringing a new dog home is stressful for both the dog and the family, regardless of the time of year. The reason many people advise against bringing a dog home at Christmas is because holidays are often stressful and less structured. However, I advocate that sometimes holidays can be an ideal time to transition a new dog into his forever home. If a family has time off of work, school, and other commitments, it can make for an ideal time for a peaceful and successful transition. Here are some tips to make your holiday home transition successful:

  • If you usually have a big family get-together, plan to scale back: A party is not a relaxing endeavor for a newly acquired dog. If you usually have a big party, plan to have it at a location other than your home or enjoy a quiet holiday at home with immediate family this year.
  • Christmas Morning: If your new dog is a surprise for your children, remember that joyful squealing and rushing to a new dog is SCARY for your newly acquired dog and almost always ends badly! I would suggest surprising your kids with wrapped “clues” to their new dog and when they guess what it is and get SOO excited, wait for them to calm down. One excellent wrapped clue is to watch one or two videos on kids and dogs (I absolutely love the YouTube channel “TheFamilyDog” as they have awesome videos). Once the kids have calmed a little bit and have learned a little about how to interact safely with their new pet, you can do the big reveal while coaching your kids to stay calm, gentle, and quiet.
  • Supplies: Rather than wrapping all your new dogs supplies, set them up in a “secret” space and have a scavenger hunt for the kids to find them. This way you have them readily available and organized rather than trying to sort through all the wrapping paper chaos when you reveal your new family member.
  • Peace and Quiet: It generally takes 2-6 weeks for a dog to feel comfortable in their new home. Set good expectations for yourself . That first few weeks can be stressful for everyone. Plan to spend lots of time at home relaxing and building your bond with your new family member.

Step Three: Planning for a wonderful life together

The ASPCA recommends that every single adopted dog, regardless of age, be enrolled immediately in positive reinforcement classes. This increases the likelihood of dogs staying in their new home by 80%!!

  • Enroll your dog in classes BEFORE you bring your new dog home: Classes with a reputable positive reinforcement trainer should be just as important to your supplies list as food bowls, toys, and a veterinarian visit! Many dog trainers offer a pre-adoption consultation to help you select the perfect family member as well as prepare for your new arrival. This is a WONDERFUL idea and should be taken advantage of if your local positive reinforcement trainer offers this service.
  • Puppy Kindergarten: The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior, the Pet Professional Guild, The ASPCA, and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers all firmly recommend that puppies begin a Puppy Kindergarten group class immediately upon adoption regardless of their age. You can find the link to this recommendation Here.
  • Finding a good trainer: Remember that the use of intimidation, force, or fear of any kind is against the most basic ethical standards of dog training and behavior as set forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association. You can find some great trainers on the website. Here is a link to a great article about how to choose a dog trainer: The Ten Questions To Ask Your Dog Training Professional Before You Hire Them
  • Finding a good vet: Ask your breeder, rescue, or shelter for veterinarian recommendations in your area. Also, ask friends and family for referrals. You should always make a New Pet Check appointment with your veterinarian to take place within 72 hours of bringing your new pet home.

Bringing home a new four-legged family member is a big decision and is not to be taken lightly. When planned for and chosen responsibly, a Christmas Puppy can be a wonderful gift that brings your family joy for many, many years. I wish each and every one of you a lovely holiday and a peaceful new year!

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Positively Expert: Abigail Witthauer

Abigail resides in Birmingham, Alabama where she owns Roverchase, a large dog training and care facility. Abigail has been training dogs professionally for 15 years and resides with several animals, most famously, Mr. Big the Chihuahua (Instagram @MrBigChihuahua).


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