Your Question:

My kids are in the middle of a campaign called We Want A Puppy For Christmas! I have to admit I am secretly rooting for them, but I’m not sure they are ready. They are 7 and 9. What do you think about giving a puppy to children as a gift?
– Ellen

My Answer:

A puppy can be a wonderful addition to the family. Even so, don’t take the decision lightly. My first piece of advice is to resist the temptation to make the gift a surprise. Instead, sit down as a family and talk about what a puppy needs: regular feeding, walks,training, grooming, veterinarian costs, etc. Talk about how the family will divide the responsibilities so everyone has reasonable expectations. A surprise puppy might make for a dramatic and sweet holiday moment, but that puppy will be a part of your family for the rest of its life.

Once you have decided everyone is ready and willing to take on the responsibility, it’s time to find the puppy. The best idea of course is to adopt from one of the many animal shelters and rescue groups nearby. If you decide on a pure breed puppy, be sure to throughly check out the breeder. A responsible breeder will welcome your questions, offer references and want to know as much about you and your family as possible. Keep the following in mind:

  • Make sure you buy from a reputable breeder who will, in writing, guarantee eyes, hips and heart health and will have already begun desensitizing all the puppies to noise, human handling and all things that go “bump in the night”.
  • Don’t accept puppies too young.  Ideally, puppies should stay with their litter mates until the 8th week of age or their 49th day.  This gives them time enough to learn their social graces like bite inhibition and how to play. Do not be afraid to ask questions about these behaviors.
  • When getting your new puppy from a shelter, you may not have the luxury of knowing the puppy’s past.  Remember that the window of socialization closes between the ages of 3 1/2 to 5 months of age.  This means that, to the extent you can, desensitize and socialize your pup to as many new distractions (his world as he will come to know it) as you can, to assure that he will be okay with people, noises, children, things. etc

My last and most important piece of advice is to make sure you get your puppy off to a good start by starting training early. The time you invest in training your puppy will pay off when you have a well-behaved dog. My new CD Puppy Training Sins Every New Puppy Owner Needs To Avoid is like having me in your home and is available to order on Amazon. Your gift of a Christmas puppy wouldn’t be complete without it!

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as the teacher of your children and remember, “Opportunity Barks!”
(C) Jim Burwell 2010