December is here, and for some it means time to shop for the perfect gift. There are many warnings and cautionary tales written about getting a family member a puppy for Christmas, but a lot of folks do it anyway. Let’s go over the list of dos and don’ts, so the puppy and the person its “gifted” to have the best chance of success.
1. Do your research. The purchase price of a puppy in no way reflects the quality of the animal. The best pure-bred puppy purchase comes from a responsible breeder, who has the friendly mother of the pups on site, can show you at least a three-generation pedigree, has raised the puppies indoors among people, will not let a puppy leave the litter before 8 weeks of age and can provide health clearances for both parents, such as hips and elbows certified free of dysplasia. Physically and temperamentally sound puppies are not found over the internet, or purchased out of state without the above information. Don’t support the puppy mill industry by making one of these purchases; doing your research can save you grief and money by ensuring you get a healthy and stable pup.
2. Do your breed profiling carefully. Although Labradors are very popular, the family pet type – the mellow, relaxed, easy going dog – is not what you will get when purchasing a Labrador retriever that is bred to work in the field. Many a dog fancier will tell you that field-bred Labradors have a very high energy level which can make owning them as pets a big challenge. The same can be said for many working breeds, including the German shepherd. Anytime a dog is described as a working dog, it generally means the dog has a very high level of energy, and needs a job to be happy and to prevent you from going nuts. So unless you plan on a high level of training and lots of time spent working the dog in his field of expertise, stay away from dogs with working descendants and working titles in the pedigree, and look for the family pet-bred dog instead.
3. Do look at other venues to purchase a dog. There are plenty of adoptable animals at our local shelter, and plenty of pure breed rescue groups with dogs looking for a forever home. Keep in mind that many older adoptable dogs do have baggage: they often have a few behavior problems to overcome. This isn’t a reason to opt out of adopting, but be prepared to seek professional advice when bringing an older rescued dog home.
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4. Please resist the urge to purchase a puppy of any breed or size for the elderly senior citizen in your family. It is heartbreaking for those of us who work with dogs to see these ill-suited partnerships. The dog is nearly always lacking the basic attention any exuberant puppy needs, and the senior is usually overpowered, overwhelmed and frustrated. Do the world of dogs and your elderly relative a favor – if you must surprise them with a pet, consider an older, more sedate dog that will be thrilled to take slow strolls and enjoy lots of cuddle time and relaxing in the home.
5. Do consider a mixed breed. Pure bred dogs are in no way superior to mixed breeds in terms of cuteness or the ability to be a great pet, but mixed breeds are usually bred unscrupulously, while dedicated and ethical breeders are dedicated to the quality of their breed which includes eliminating genetic abnormalities through extensive health screenings and selective breeding. It is a good idea to try to discern what a mixed breed’s genetic make up is, so you have an idea of how large the dog will grow, the coat length and care, and better predict it’s behavior. A border collie/beagle mix may take on the characteristics of either breed, and may have a lot of herding instinct, or have a loud baying bark and a superior nose.
6. Do not, under any circumstances, purchase two puppies at the same time. No matter how attractive a 2-for-1 deal might be, and no matter how much each of your kids beg you for a puppy of their very own, raising two puppies is double the effort. And every parent needs to remember that, once the novelty and excitement of having a new puppy has worn off, your kids will become interested in other things, and YOU, the parent, will be the primary caregiver to that puppy for the rest of its life, so plan ahead accordingly. If you do plan to get a puppy, put all of your raising and training efforts into just one, and later reap the rewards of your hard work by having a well-socialized, well-educated additional family member.
7. Finally, no money would be better spent than by giving the gift of education. Give the gift of training classes, or instead of purchasing a dog, give the gift of a consultation with a knowledgeable dog professional to help guide your family member in the quest of preparing for and getting the perfect dog – pure-bred or mixed breed, adult or puppy, from a breeder or the shelter – that will best fit in with their lifestyle and expectations.
Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.