I have to admit; the
image of a six year-old kid sleepily opening a vented, wiggling box
under the tree and seeing an eight-week old pup pop out is, well- a
charming one.  The look on the kid’s face is always one of
pure astonishment, a sincerity of satisfaction unmatched anywhere in the
civilized world.  It’s a scenario played out for 50,000 years, one which cements our primeval, lasting bond with our closest partner on earth.  A
kid and a dog, on Christmas, under the tree, Bing Crosby singing, magic
Santa, camera flashes, the start of a new chapter for the family.  It’s a nice thought.

The reality of it isn’t always so nice.  Holiday
pets are often impulse buys by parents who want their kids to
experience the magic of a puppy, something they likely did years before.  The
impulse buyer often purchases a puppy at a local pet store in the mall-
a business that more often than not retails for puppy mills, who puke
out thousands of poor-quality pups every year, born of bitches who start
breeding at seven months and quit when they can’t stand.  Not a good thing to support.

Even when the pup is acquired from a reputable source, the end result can be problematic.  The
acquisition of a puppy should be a well planned out endeavor, and not
an unexpected surprise for a child who might lose interest in actually
owning up to the dog by the end of the week.   The novelty
wears off and the parents are stuck with the feeding, walking, and
training, while the child spends all of ten minutes per day
roughhousing, playing tug-o-war, or something else to short-circuit the
hard work of the parents. 

Breeders of quality dogs often don’t even sell puppies during the holidays, because impulse buyers often make unreliable owners.  That
leaves unscrupulous breeders selling sub-par pups, who often get dumped
into a local shelter sometime in March, when owners realize what a
terrible mistake they made.

Christmas is also a bad time to focus on a new pet.  Family
activities, mess, lots of potentially toxic/dangerous materials lying
around, hectic activity- it couldn’t be a worse time to bring a puppy
into the home.  You need quiet time for a new pup.  You need focus.

That said,
it can of course be done, if it’s well planned out, and if the children
are old enough, and disciplined enough to grasp the responsibility.  That’s a parent’s job, not the breeder’s or shelter’s. 

I tell clients to first look for an alternative gift, while forming a puppy plan well in advance.  Some options might include:

  • Giving a donation to a shelter in your family’s name
  • Buying your child a few books or DVD’s on pet ownership
  • Buying
    a collar and leash as a teaser, or a stuffed animal with a gift
    certificate attached for the real thing at some later date

I also tell them to wait until a child is old enough to walk a dog.  If the child can’t immediately begin to take responsibility for the pet, it’s too early.  And
I advise them to have their children sign a "pet chores" contract, and
make their allowances dependent on fulfillment of this. 

Yes, it’s a real Norman Rockwell moment.  But moments wear off, and the dog stays, or ends up in a shelter or worse.  So think it out, and remember that the spirit of the holidays, one of unconditional love and giving, applies to dogs too.  And after all, they’re better at that kind of stuff than we are anyway.