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Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?


Let’s face it, it’s a beautiful fantasy - the kids in their pajamas opening the big box, and out pops a fuzzy puppy with a big red bow.  Awww, how adorable!  But, this isn’t Hollywood, and puppies aren’t props.  So let’s explore the idea from a more practical viewpoint and see if a Christmas puppy really makes sense for you and your kids.

  1. How old are your kids?  Young puppies and young children are not always a match made in heaven.  Kids squeal and run.  Puppies bite and jump.  Completely normal behavior for both, but it can be a challenge to meet the needs of both human and canine babies in a way that keeps everyone safe and happy.  I believe it is best to wait until children are at least 6 years old before trying to raise a young puppy.  Despite your best intentions and efforts, some dogs are not really fond of small children; even a puppy raised with kids may not enjoy them.  So what is a reasonable compromise solution?  Find an adult dog that is accustomed to and loves younger children - a smart choice with a better chance for harmonious success.
  2. What is your house like during the holidays?  Do you have lots of visitors, parties, and excitement?  Will you still have the time and inclination to  focus on caring for the puppy, or will your other activities completely fill your day?  In most cases, it’s better to plan to bring a new puppy home in January after the excitement of the holidays has passed.  This time is more like your “normal life”, and generally better suited to raising a puppy.  You can still provide an exciting Christmas for the kids by giving gifts associated with caring for the puppy – a crate, leash and flat collar, some toys, books about dogs, like Puppy Training for Kids by Sarah Whitehead – and a “gift certificate” for the puppy.  Anticipation is exciting for kids, and you can channel that enthusiasm by getting your kids actively involved in choosing the puppy, which will ultimately increase your chances of a successful adoption.
  3. Owning a dog is expensive! The purchase price is often the smallest cost.  Before adding a dog to your family, consider the annual (and lifetime!) cost of food, grooming, veterinary care, training, and supplies for the puppy.  Choosing an inexpensive or “free” puppy without knowing any history can end up costing you far more in the long run, as it may have health and behavior problems of which you were unaware. There is a reason why puppy mills have a bad reputation, when their concern is breeding and selling puppies regardless of genetic or other underlying health concerns.  And what do you know about the dog that “accidentally” had a litter of pups by some unknown male?  Ask yourself, if there are problems (and even if there aren’t), can I realistically afford to own a dog for the next 10-15 years?
  4. Young puppies are a LOT of work.  It’s very much like bringing home a new baby.  They require a dozen or more potty trips outside each day.  They need to be fed three times a day.  They explore the world with their mouths, so there is lots to do to teach them what are, and are not, appropriate chew items, including how to keep their teeth off humans.  Raising a puppy requires patience and consistency, and in most cases, you’ll be sleep deprived while doing it.  So it’s important to make an honest assessment of your home, family, and lifestyle before committing to raising a puppy.  In many cases, you may be better off adopting an older puppy, young adult, or even a senior dog.  As cute as puppies are, getting through the first year of their life can challenge even experienced dog lovers.  And let’s be honest; if you’re not up to the task, who ultimately is the one who suffers most?  That’s right, it’s the dog.  Plus, a failed adoption will negatively impact your kids as well.
  5. Regardless of the season, choosing a puppy for your family should involve some mature decision-making and preparation on your part.  Do your homework!  Everyone in the family should have a chance to express their thoughts and desires and then, as a group, come to a decision about the type of dog that would best fit your family.  Admittedly, this does not make for a good surprise, but you’re about to take on a big responsibility.  This is not a sweater you’re getting, which if you don’t like the color, you can simply go and exchange for something else.  You’ll want to consider factors like adult size, exercise requirements, grooming needs, activity level, and basic breed characteristics.  If you, your children, or frequent visitors have allergies you'll also want to consider what type of hair the pup has. Many dogs are re-homed every year due to unexpected allergies. Websites such as Breed Match and PetNet can identify and recommend suitable breeds based on your answers to key questions you may not think of on your own.
  6. If you have never owned a dog before, it's wise to educate yourself beforehand so that you may care for your puppy properly, thus increasing your chances of having the puppy become a happy, well-mannered addition to your family.  As a starting point, please download your free copy of Ian Dunbar’s fantastic book Before You Get Your Puppy.
  7. Another honesty check… who is going to be the primary caregiver for that new puppy?  Who will walk the dog 3-4 times a day once puppyhood is over? Many kids promise they will “take care of it,” but school work, sports and other activities often take precedence.  Even with older, very responsible kids, the bulk of the dog care is likely to fall on mom.  Dads work hard too, but moms, typically being the nurturers, can’t avoid picking up any slack.  So it’s important for mom to have a special say in whether or not the time is right to add a puppy to the family!

If you’ve made it through all of this and can honestly say that the time is right and you are ready, willing, and able to give a puppy a loving, forever home, then go on to Choosing A Puppy.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Bringing Home A Puppy - Tips For Success

puppy dog hold flowers in forefoots
puppy dog hold flowers in forefoots

The big day is finally here!  You want to be prepared and get off to a good start right away with your new puppy.  Here are some tips to make things go smoothly. The ride home If you have a helper to drive, the drive isn’t too long, and the puppy is tired and/or calm you can try holding the puppy on your lap.  Otherwise you’ll need a crate or at least a cardboard box to contain the puppy.  If you use a box, put some plastic under it just in case.  Place a thick towel at the bottom of the crate or box to give the pup good footing and to catch any accidents.  If your trip will take more than an hour, plan to make a potty stop (or two) along the way.  I would avoid highway rest areas as they are frequented by lots of dogs and your puppy doesn’t have full immunity yet.  If possible, opt for a quiet grassy area instead. Be sure your puppy is wearing identification and has a secure collar or harness.

At the house Your first order of business should always be a potty trip outside.  You want to start a good habit right away.  So choose the door you will regularly use for potty trips and consistently take the pup out that door.  Consistency is everything when training!  Don’t ever forget that.  If your puppy has already been trained to potty pads, read Potty Pad Training for Puppies.  If you have family and kids waiting to meet the puppy arrange for everyone to sit down in a circle (outdoors if possible) with your pup in the middle.  Each person can have a few tiny morsels of something yummy to feed the pup, but allow the puppy to decide to go and visit each person.  That means the kids have to wait patiently and not overwhelm it.  After 15-20 minutes of this the pup will need another potty break and then a rest period.  You can sit with him in your long-term confinement area (see Preparing for Puppy), but try to remain calm and detached so the pup will settle and rest.  As much as the kids will want to play with the puppy non-stop, they will have to learn that puppies get tired and need naps - just like young babies do.   Teaching both the pup and the kids self-control will be one of your biggest challenges.  Be calm, patient, and consistent with them all.

The first night If your pup has not been introduced to the crate by his breeder, be prepared for a good deal of fussing and crying.  Make sure to take the pup out to potty before bedtime.  I have found that many pups do best if you engage in a bit of lullaby and cuddle time before bed.  Your goal is to quiet and relax the puppy, so soften the lights, turn off the TV, and relax yourself.  When the puppy is sleepy, slip him into his prepared crate near your bed.  Continue to sit with him until he falls asleep, then softly secure the door closed.  Be prepared for him to wake up crying in a couple of hours.  If possible, set your alarm and get the pup up and out for a potty trip before he wakes up.  Afterwards, calmly put him back into his crate and sit near him, without interacting with him, until he settles again.  You may also want to make a “sock puppy” as a sleeping buddy for your new puppy.

Setting the tone It takes about three weeks for a dog to settle into a new home.  During this time you are dealing with a small creature that doesn’t speak your language or understand your rules or expectations.  Therefore you must be extra patient in showing him what is expected while also being careful to set him up to succeed.  This generally means restricting his freedom to safe areas and watching him like a hawk.  The biggest mistake people make with a new puppy or dog is allowing them too much freedom too soon.  While your goal may be for the pup to have free run of your house, it can take months before that’s reasonable, possible, or recommended.  Set realistic expectations for your puppy.  They are not adult dogs in small bodies any more than kids are adults in small bodies.  I don’t expect puppies to have the mind/body awareness necessary for true house training until they are at least 12 weeks old (longer for the toy breeds).  Until that time, their success at being clean in the house is entirely up to you.  The more you are able to be calm, confident and consistent, the faster your pup will learn how to act in your home.


Reward behavior you like. Every interaction you have with your puppy is a learning opportunity.  If you make a point of telling the puppy all the good things he is doing you will be giving him attention (something all puppies crave) for the things you like.  Adding a tiny morsel of something yummy further rewards and reinforces his good behavior.

Ignore or prevent behavior you don’t like. This is the point of all that puppy-proofing.  It helps prevent your puppy from practicing unwanted behaviors.  If you calmly redirect your pup to an appropriate chew item when he’s investigating his world, he will develop good chew toy habits.  Remember he can’t think like we do.  Don’t give him an old shoe to chew on, thinking he will understand the difference between that and your new Ferragamos or Jimmy Chus.  Avoid getting yourself into the “no” habit.  Saying “no” is just another form of attention for the pup, and he may learn to be “naughty” just for the attention.  That’s why it’s important to be proactive and focus on, emphasize, and reward his good behavior, rather than being reactive to his bad behavior.

Be proactive. Puppies are curious and busy.  If we make a point of directing them into activities we like, we can avoid the common pitfall of chasing after them telling them “no” all the time.   Make it a habit to keep your pup busy and actively engaged in something rather than overlooking his good behavior and waiting for him to make a mistake.  Puppies are little learning sponges, so take advantage of this tendency and start teaching him right away.  Puppy classes are great for this and for the important social experiences (for the puppy, not you).

Be clear and consistent. While puppies learn quickly, we can help them by being very clear about what the house “rules” are and being very consistent in our responses to their behavior.  You will confuse him terribly and make your job much harder if you sometimes allow him to jump on you and other times get upset when he jumps on you.  So decide as a family what is and isn’t acceptable in your house and stick with it.  Along with this you will all need to use the same cues (words) to tell him what you want.  If one person says “down” to mean “lay on the floor” and another uses “down” to mean “get off the couch”, your puppy will be thoroughly confused in no time.  Dogs can learn lots of cue words but each word can only have one meaning.  It may help to make a list of the words you want to teach and what each word means.

Arm yourself with resources I encourage you to enroll your puppy in a positive puppy kindergarten as soon as possible.  This will help you learn how to communicate with your puppy and give your puppy some much needed social experiences.  If you haven’t done so already, get a couple of good books like The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller or How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks by Ian Dunbar.  Then join my Start Puppy Training list at Yahoo for help and support.

Puppies are adorable, exciting, and fun, but they can also be challenging, exhausting, and messy.  Don’t be discouraged; the time you invest in teaching your puppy good manners and proper habits will pay off for years to come as you enjoy a lifetime of love and companionship with the well-mannered adult dog your puppy will have become.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC