Fort Lauderdale, Florida, November 18, 2009—Cute and cuddly and oh-so-sweet, puppies are eternally appealing. And while a darling puppy might seem like the perfect gift choice for your child, remember that many such presents end up at animal shelters. A 2007 study at an animal shelter reported that 54% of the dogs surrendered to the shelter were six months to three years old and 15% were less than six months old.
“Be absolutely certain the gift recipient wants a puppy or a dog,” said Robin Edwards, dog behavioral therapist. “A pup is not some battery-operated toy you can play with, then store away in the closet.”
If someone on your gift list wants a dog, consider giving a gift certificate for one instead. Wrap a can of dog food or a fancy collar and include a note saying a puppy (or dog) of the recipient’s choice comes with the gift.
Adding a puppy to your life is, on average, a 15-year responsibility. Raising a happy, well-balanced puppy requires an enormous time commitment and so a young pup is not a suitable choice for every dog-lover. Dogs of other ages also make perfect companions. For example, most senior dogs tend to be calmer, have more predictable behaviors, and are already housebroken.
If the intended recipient seems ready for a puppy, be sure s/he is also ready to participate in training and managing all aspects of the responsibilities of dog ownership. “If it’s your child who wants a puppy, you as parents must be realistic and acknowledge that the bulk of dog care will invariably fall on you, not the kids,” said Edwards. Most children are simply not ready to apply themselves to taking care of a dog until they are of high school age.
Whoever ends up taking care of the puppy, give your pup the best chance for a long and happy life with his family by following these tips.
- Do your homework. Learning about what to expect during a puppy’s stages of development over the first 12 months will help you understand and manage his—what may seem as—strange behaviors.
- Understand that a puppy needs leadership, boundaries and consistency—all to come from his human family members.
- Hold a family meeting to discuss house rules about caring for the dog. Decide together how your family will integrate him into your home.
- Plan a budget. Food, veterinary care, training and other necessities can add up quickly.
- Use a crate. A crate is an invaluable tool for housebreaking a puppy and keeping him safe from household hazards. It also provides your young dog with a sense of security when you are busy or away. Your dog will welcome his crate as a safe haven throughout his life. Note: A puppy should not be crated for more than 5 hours at a time; his small bladder may have trouble holding on for that long.
- “Puppy-proof” your home. To keep your curious canine from hurting himself during his explorations, move out of his reach household items such as electrical wires and outlets, plants, and anything cherished or breakable. Also, lock away toxic items such as antifreeze, fertilizers, detergents and tobacco products.
- Use baby gates. Baby gates are a smart training tool to block off restricted areas of the house to help your puppy learn what areas are off limits. Gates also prevent his access to dangerous places like pools, balconies and open doors.
- Give dog-appropriate toys. Toys like the puppy-sized Kong™ are best for your little chewing pal. Never give old clothing or shoes as toys, because a puppy cannot differentiate between old and new items.
- Start training early. Dogs are pack animals and seek authority and reassurance from the pack leader. Providing this leadership is key to managing a dog’s behavior. Plan to participate in puppy school and other training from a qualified trainer such as Bruce and Robin Edwards from Home Dog Training of South Florida.
“You owe it to your new puppy to give him every opportunity to develop a long-lasting, loving relationship with his family,” said Edwards. “Be prepared, patient and consistent. Puppies learn through experience and association. The more consistent you are, the faster your puppy will learn and the happier he—and you—will be.”