So you got a dog for Christmas…now what?

Many people receive, and give, dogs for Christmas. And if you are reading this you may have received one. Maybe it was planned- as in a family gift- and maybe it was not planned. Even though the holidays have passed, here are few things to think about when gifting dogs, if you are considering it for the future, and tips for what to do now if you just received a dog.

Gifting Dogs

I’ll just say it- Christmas is the worst time to gift a dog. Retailers cash in on Christmas commercialism and tug on your heart-strings and stock their “shelves” with puppies. No reputable breeder will sell puppies at Christmastime so you can bet that these puppies are from puppy mills.

The first 3-12 weeks of a puppy’s life are critical to development, and as stated above, a reputable breeder knows this and will not sell puppies during Christmastime. The human-animal bond is forged, as well as important social animal-animal patterns. Fear patterns, potty training, and establishing a consistent schedule are very important in the first few weeks of bringing a puppy home. The holidays are anything but consistent, generally you can’t establish what will be the schedule for the new puppy, and chaos reigns.

For an adult dog, all the same rules apply. If you’re gifting a shelter dog, be aware that this dog has come from unknown and possibly bad conditions and you are inserting it into anything but a calm, stable environment to start its new life.

Also consider New Year’s celebrations. Many areas celebrate with fireworks. Reggie was already afraid of fireworks when he came into my life. Dogs that are not properly exposed to certain common triggers can be extremely difficult if not impossible to unlearn the fear response. According to John Bradshaw in Dog Sense, dogs whose first exposure was especially intense or who are particularly nervous types, and finding that they can do nothing to make the noise go away, can react more and more intensely with each exposure. At this point, even low levels will illicit a fear response. This is Reggie.

One last item, sadly many dogs are returned or turned in to shelters after Christmas (another testament as to why this is a bad idea). If you are gifting a dog, or getting a dog around the holidays, shelters are overflowing with dogs after the first of the year. You will have an excellent selection at this time to find the perfect dog for your family.

Receiving Dogs

Well, you got a dog now what? As mentioned above, if you received a puppy the first 3-12 weeks are the most critical time in the puppy’s life. You won’t receive the puppy until 8 or 10 weeks of age so it is so important to know the breeder and how the puppy is treated and raised in that short time.

For those first few weeks, you will need to establish consistent potty routines, training/discipline (no it’s not too early), crate training, and lots of love! Be aware of social patterns when meeting other dogs, habituation (the practice of gradual exposure to things that are common dog fears- the vacuum, fireworks, etc.) so there is no fear later on. A great resource is Perfect Puppy in 7 Days by Dr. Sophia Yin.

For adult dogs, particularly shelter dogs, establishing consistency is even more important. It is also important to not indulge the dog or be lenient because you feel bad because of where they came from or what their previous conditions may have been. Training is important, and customizing your approach to their background is critical, but spoiling a dog will have the same effect as spoiling your child. Pick up this great book by Patricia McConnell, PhD, Love Has No Age Limit. It is specific to training and adjusting a new adult dog into your home.

After you and your new dog are comfortable in your new routines, consider obedience or training classes. Even if your dog is a trained champ, many places offer advanced classes and this is a socialization and bonding exercise if nothing else.

With a few easy resources like books or DVDs and establishing routines early, your new dog will soon become a great family addition- and one you never thought you could live without!

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