The readership of Saturday has increased drastically in the years since I have been writing this column.
Just the other day I had another woman approach me (sometimes I feel like a minor celebrity!) and say that she and her co-workers cut out all of my articles and pass around to their dog-owning friends to introduce them to new techniques. Many people have mentioned they thought the Saturday paper was just ads until they were introduced by word of mouth to the content not found in the daily paper. Welcome new readers!
For that reason, and because I have had the busiest December ever with new puppies and dogs, I have decided to reprint this article, with a couple additional points. The white stuff isn’t hitting the ground enough for my taste yet, but it’s snowing puppies!
Picture an adorable puppy dog wrapped in a bow under the tree, then the sheer delight on the face of recipients as they discover their gift. It’s an irresistible recurring image at this time of year, complete with visions of snuggling by the fire or playing in the snow with the new furry family member.
But is it a good idea? Yes and no.
Every January I get calls from “gift” recipients whose holiday present: 1) is chewing the sofa … or the kids’ arms; 2) doesn’t know what going “outside” means; 3) thinks the cats are dinner; 4) clawed a hole in the wall from separation anxiety; 5) acts like Cujo to their friends; 6) eats poopsicles; 7) ate the remote control in the middle of a big game; 8) knocked Grandma over; 9) runs away and won’t come when called; and 10) sometimes, all of the above.
Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.
The reality is that having a dog is a big responsibility. The owner needs to be prepared to train and care for this puppy or dog for 10-17 years depending on age and breed. As cute and loving as they are, an animal should not be an impulse buy, and responsible breeders do not allow Christmas Eve gift purchases. Getting a puppy for the kids may teach them responsibility when they “promise” to clean up after it and take it for walks, but you’ll be the one getting up in the middle of the night or taking it to the vet when he eats the socks and toys they left out.
And getting a puppy for your widowed aunt is a noble intention, but all the required care may have her wish she got another sweater for a Christmas present instead.
But, as a dog-lover and trainer, I don’t want to sound like Scrooge and discourage getting a dog this holiday season. Dogs are awesome, and provide unlimited fun, a great excuse to exercise and unconditional love and companionship. There is surely something extra-special about the human-canine bond that is unlike any other relationship. My very favorite activity is snowshoeing in the woods with my dogs; it’s a spiritual experience for me.
So when is a gift of a dog a good idea? When the recipients are ready to take on the responsibility and the breed/age/temperament is a good match for the person or family.
If you want a dog for your children, wait until they are 5 or 6, or get an older dog. Young teething puppies or rambunctious adolescents are not a good mix with toddlers, nor are toy breeds.
Many people do not realize that the most active and challenging time of a dog’s life is adolescence, which can be from 5 months to 3 years, depending on breed. I can’t help you deal with your human teenagers’ selective hearing, but it is very possible to train a teenage dog with loving guidance and patience, or you can avoid this age by adopting an older dog.
Because of the economy, many wonderful pets have been surrendered to shelters and rescue organizations. Aunt Martha may love that 8-year-old Maltese who just wants a warm lap, or the kids would adore that lab mix who misses her original family.
Here’s the best idea if you want to gift a puppy or dog: Buy a dog care and training book, wrap it up and enclose a gift certificate for them to pick out their own dog at the humane society, rescue organization, Petfinders.com or a well-researched breeder.
Let person and dog choose each other; now that’s magical!
Patty Crichton is a holistic dog trainer and behavior specialist with a training studio in Petoskey. She teaches clicker training for basic behaviors and manners, as well as for behavior modification, including aggression. She believes in treating all dogs with kindness and respect, and that the best form of control is teaching a dog self-control. For more information on training programs, visit www.northwoodsdogtraining.com or call (231) 439-0365.