As a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, during the Pawliday Season I hear this every day: “I’m going to get the kids a puppy for Christmas. What do you think?”
Hmm … where to begin … I’m thinking SO many things. Instead of bursting anyone’s “Hallmark moment” bubble, I just smile, giggle, and agree that having a puppy – or adult dog, or cat, or …– is magical. There really isn’t anything like the love and joy of a furry friend … trust me!
But when it comes to buying a puppy for someone else, even if it’s within the same household, I encourage people to really think hard about this type of “purchase,” from both the giver and the recipient(s) point of view.
The following are questions posted by a journalist through a friend of mine:
- Is a new pet a good gift to a child or loved one for the holidays? This is a “yes” and “no” question. If the person on the receiving end is an adult who is expecting one, then I would say it would be a great gift. If it’s been discussed and planned out then yes. If it’s for a child in the family, then I would want the entire family to agree to welcoming the new pet, and realize that everyone will be involved, one way or another.
- Should the giver ruin the surprise by asking if the recipient wants that pet and breed before giving it? Resoundingly yes! Because the recipient not wanting such a “gift” could be a bigger surprise! An alternative would be to give someone items related to the pet they intend to give: books, pictures, or toys along with a “gift certificate” good for “shopping” together. This way if the person really wants this pet, it can be a shared experience, which can be more meaningful.
- What are the dangers/risks/drawbacks of giving an animal as a present? The biggest one is the person doesn’t want it, and the innocent animal has to be returned. It can be very traumatic for all involved. The person may want it, but then doesn’t realize the responsibility that’s involved with owning an animal. It’s the pet that ends up suffering the most if it ends up in a neglectful home, even if unintentional. It can also damage the relationship between the giver and recipient if one feels imposed upon or slighted, and neither feels comfortable talking about it.
- What is a more appropriate vs. a less appropriate pet gift to give a child? It really depends upon the child, how involved they intend to be, and how responsible they are. It also depends upon what the parents expect of the child. Parents should investigate different types of animals that can be kept as pets, and the needs of that particular animal. Then match it to what the child can do to participate in its care. There are also many toys and virtual games that help build responsibility in pet care.
- Are there any special things the gift giver should do or consider before giving the pet as a present? For example, should they ensure that the pet has all its vaccinations and is microchipped? Assuming that it is a welcomed gift, taking care of the initial health care needs and requirements is always nice. The gift giver may also want to include: a carrier, crate, bedding, proper collars, leashes, car seat-belt, walking harness, food, treats, elimination box if necessary, elimination bags, ID tags, licensing fees, a gift certificate for a veterinarian wellness visit, training class if it’s a dog, a few toys, books or other information about the specific pet.
- Where should a gift-giver try to get an appropriate pet, i.e. a reputable breeder or shelter? What sources should the giver avoid? When it comes to adopting a pet or buying a pet, it’s really up to the individual. There are reputable Web sites that can help the decision making process. With millions of shelter animals being killed every year because of an unwritten gold standard for breeding, less than ideal ownership, and a host of other “reasons,” shelters are certainly a good choice. However there are responsible breeders as well, and should be considered if that is the person’s desire. The American Kennel Club has information on helping people choose a breeder.
- Is it a good idea to research and suggest a reputable veterinarian/animal hospital in the recipient’s area at the time you give the pet gift? Yes. This would be a nice gesture for the new pet owners. I would investigate, then provide a list of a few names, allowing the recipient to make the final choice. A “gift certificate” for a wellness exam would be nice, too.
- Any special tips in terms of how to actually present the gift? Any creative ideas that won’t threaten the animal’s safety? A client of mine gave their son a puppy last Christmas. She placed the puppy in a large stocking for the presentation. Very cute. Attaching a fabric bow to the collar is sweet, and shouldn’t endanger the animal. A large basket on the floor with the animal nestled in can be cute, but it may jump out, so you need to be careful. You can also gift-wrap all of the accompanying goodies.
- What are some good alternative gifts to giving a pet animal, things like membership to the zoo, donation to an animal-friendly cause or shelter, a virtual reality pet game, etc.? All of these ideas are good. If possible, the person can get involved with the local shelters. They always need volunteers. This way they can get the “pet fix” without the extra added responsibilities.
- Any other thoughts or recommendations on this topic? Pets are an absolute joy to have as part of any family. Unfortunately, they are still considered property. With that, folks sometimes treat them like inanimate objects, and not like the living, breathing, individual beings that they are. If they don’t want it, they can’t just stick it in the back closet and ignore it. A puppy or adult dog is also very difficult to return. Giving someone a pet as a gift is similar to giving someone a baby. It needs constant care and attention, and not just for a year or two. Adopting a puppy means having a dog for around ten years or more – plus, they don’t move out. Parents buying a puppy for their pre-teen kids means the parents will still be taking care of the dog once their child heads off to college…unless the child continues to live at home. There is also a financial responsibility. I’d say before buying someone a pet as a gift, make sure the recipient really wants it, and knows the responsibilities that go with it.
So, is a pet a good gift? Yes, but only if the recipient not only wants it, but is responsible enough to take care of it, for the lifetime of the pet.
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