Dogs As Holiday Gifts

Holiday puppies: A nightmare after Christmas?


There’s a right — and wrong — way to give a puppy for Christmas

In one memorable summer for Samoyed Rescue of Minnesota, three dogs arrived, one after the other. All 18 months old, the white fluffy dogs were typical mischievous adolescents–if a little unrulier than most.

“None of the dogs had been to obedience class,” says Julie Dunkle of Seattle, one of the rescue group’s founders. “None of the owners had studied the breed before buying the puppies, which would have clued them in that a Samoyed wasn’t a good choice for their families, or at least explained why the dog was behaving the way she did and what to do about it.”

The kicker: All were named Angel, and all had started life as Christmas gifts for the kids.

Reality sets in

Although the three Angels found a happy ending–they were all in good homes by the end of September–they were part of a phenomenon that drives rescue groups, shelters, and trainers crazy: the Christmas puppy.

Parents envision a cute stubby-legged puppy under the tree and a Christmas morning their kids won’t ever forget. But fast-forward that tender scene two or three months, and the picture perfect moment often fades to a shot of chewed up shoes and splotchy carpets, edged by deep regret.

That’s when dog trainer Nicole Wilde’s phone starts ringing. “When the puppy’s three or four months old, she’s jumping up, nipping the kids, soiling in the house, and keeping the parents up at night,” says Wilde, author and owner of Gentle Guidance for Dogs in Santa Clarita, California.

If the puppy’s lucky, the new owners turn to trainers like Wilde. Less fortunate pups are banished to the yard, basement, or even a shelter. No matter the outcome, the root of the problem is usually the same: owners who are underprepared and underinformed.

“Parents get so focused on how excited the kids are going to be,” says Wilde, “they’re not looking past what happens when that excitement dies down.”

Improve your odds of a happy homecoming

Still, it’s not always a bad idea to bring home a dog for the holidays. In fact, for some families it’s an ideal time to get a new pet, says San Francisco SPCA president Jan McHugh Smith. “The kids are on vacation for a couple weeks, and mom and dad are off from work,” she says. “You have time to help the pet acclimate to her new home.”

But the key to making a Christmas puppy a successful gift is to do your research ahead of time. Many prospective adopters are completely unprepared, for instance, for the hard work of raising a puppy. So the first step is to know what you’re getting into. (See if you’re ready or not.) Another important step is to evaluate different breeds–and breed mixes–to get a sense of what type of dog best suits your personality and lifestyle. (Take DogTime’s MatchUp to find out.)

As Wilde points out, your puppy won’t just be with you for Christmas Day; she’s there for the rest of her life. So give yourself the time to make a wise choice–even if it means missing the December 25th deadline.

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