Most of my favorite Christmas commercials include a fluffy Golden Retriever popping out of a wrapped box and into the arms of a child squealing with delight. Who wouldn’t want to recreate this for their own family? As a veterinarian, I want you to know that no puppy wants to be put into a box and that the reality of this situation is rarely shown in the commercial. This picture-perfect moment comes with a lifetime of care, cost, and commitment that requires a lot of careful thought and planning. Here are my top 6 tips for anyone planning to give a Christmas puppy present.

1 – Think it over – I highly recommend giving a leash, collar, crate, and picture of the dream dog for Christmas. Next, you can spend your holiday engaging your loved ones in the planning, preparing and dreaming of your new family member. If you go along with my plan, you will sacrifice the 5 minutes of unequaled dreamed of bliss when you present the puppy with the red ribbon around her neck. This delayed gratification will pay off in unimaginable ways.

Your new dog will begin adapting to the home that you bring it into right away. The reality of the Christmas season is that your house is chaotic, full of unsupervised food on coffee tables and countertops, unusual objects to chew and destroy, and danger and annoyance around every corner. And, you and your family are overextended, exhausted and off of your normal routine. Christmas might be the worst possible time to bring a new dog into your house.

Responsible breeders know all of this and very often will not time the breeding of their dogs to coincide with going home for Christmas. The puppies available at Christmas time are more likely to come from people more motivated by easy cash than by breeding quality puppies.

2 – Choose a breed that fits your lifestyle. So many times we choose a dog that we like to look at and give no thought to what it is like to live with that dog. Hop online and search the behavior traits of your favorite breeds. For instance, a French Bulldog will not make a good running companion and an Australian Shepard is unlikely to be happy left home alone if you work long hours. You want your new family member to be happy in the home and lifestyle that it is reasonable for you to provide.

3 – Consider a shelter dog instead of a puppy. Shelters are often overflowing with dogs after the holidays. An older, housebroken dog might suit your family better than a puppy. And, the shelter staff has spent time with the dogs and may have a good idea of what dog would be a good fit for your family. 

puppy for Christmas

4 – Go to the veterinarian before taking your dog home – and before falling in love. Plan to take your new dog to the veterinarian before you step foot in your house. Puppies can have congenital birth defects and health problems that can be expensive or impossible to fix. Most puppies come with a health guarantee that will allow you to return the dog for a refund if there is a problem. You will begin to fall in love with your new dog instantly, so it is better to know what you are up against while you can still think straight. Your vet can also diagnose and treat fleas and other parasites before you bring them home to your kids and other pets. 

5 – Plan your puppy class. You will have a happier and healthier dog if they are properly socialized as a puppy. Ask your veterinarian for references to a puppy kindergarten class. There, your puppy will be socialized to other dogs in a controlled environment and you will begin to learn how to communicate with your dog to begin a positive training process. Training should revolve around positive reinforcement. There is an abundance of research that positive reinforcement training works better than any other method. Training your puppy should never involve scaring or hurting your dog. Stay away from prong collars, choke chains, shock collars and physical punishment of any kind. 

6 – Get health insurance for your new dog. Ask your friends and your veterinarian for their recommendations. There will never be a cheaper time to get insurance, as they will not cover any pre-existing conditions. As your dog ages, you are likely to face expensive medical conditions. With insurance, you can make decisions based on the best interest of your dog, and not based on limited funds.

Wags and Purrs,
Dr. Liz Bales

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine graduate, Dr. Liz Bales, has only ever wanted to be a veterinarian. She has such a passion for her job, that she says if she weren’t a vet, she would be studying to become one. She loves “helping pets and the people who love them be happy and healthy!  Helping people translate complicated medical information into practical tips on how to care for, and connect with their pets is the best part of her job” Not just a veterinarian, Dr. Bales shares her passion through writing, giving speeches, and appearing on shows such as Fox and Friends, ABC News, and Cheddar. She has even started her own company, Doc and Phoebe, and invented a revolutionary cat product—the Indoor Hunting Feeder.

Dr. Bales’ favorite quote reflects her love and compassion for animals: “When a human dies there is a bridge they must cross to enter into Heaven. At the head of the bridge waits every animal that human encountered during their lifetime. The animals, based on what they know of this person, decide which humans may cross the bridge…and which are turned away.” With this in mind, Dr. Bales tries to live every day by her grandfather’s advice: “These days are precious. Don’t waste them.”