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Yes, puppies are cute, but Christmas is not the time. Alamy Stock Photo
VOICES

Dog behaviourist Why Christmas is the worst time to get a puppy

Suzi Walsh looks at the controversial Christmas puppy market and says it should be avoided at all costs.

CHRISTMAS IS ALWAYS a time that brings up the conversation of getting a puppy and why it’s ill-advised to make this decision at a festive time of year. 

Every year, we see animal welfare charities asking people not to get a dog at this time, that’s because they have faced years of unfortunate increases in the numbers of dogs needing to be rehomed after the Christmas period.

I understand it’s easy to get excited about seeing the faces of the children in your life as you present a new dog or other pet at Christmas. We all get carried away with the spirit of this season, but the old mantra of ‘a dog is not just for Christmas’ holds firm here.

Why not at Christmas?

Generally speaking, Christmas is one of the worst times to introduce a new pet to your family home. While it might seem ideal because you have time off from work often Christmas is a chaotic time in most homes.

At this time of the year, there is so much more to manage with a puppy. What if the puppy chews on the Christmas lights, eats a decoration, pulls apart presents or simply toilets under the Christmas tree?

One of the ways we help a puppy to settle into a home is puppy proofing the space they will live in and Christmas time isn’t the best time to do that. On top of that Christmas time can be very overwhelming for pups. They have no time to settle, adjust or bond with their new families in a calm space.

Pups also need a lot of hands-on attention and should not be left alone for long periods of time which may be unavoidable during the holiday season.

Buying a pup at Christmas time?

Firstly, another mantra of ‘adopt, don’t shop’ applies here. Charities take in so many gorgeous dogs in need of loving homes and it is advisable to start looking there. The best thing about charity re-homing too is that they can help you find the right dog for you.

By just going online to buy a dog you are stepping into a badly regulated area where systematic abuse of animals is rife. Puppy farms are an issue in Ireland so if you do insist on buying a dog, please do your research first on the seller and whether they’re reputable breeders.

Even if you have thought long and hard about bringing a dog into your home, you have researched the breed that is suitable for you and you are prepared to put in the time and effort Christmas is the worst time to buy a pup. Why? Well, no responsible breeders sell puppies at Christmas time because they really care for the puppies they raise and want to be sure a home is a permanent one.

It’s also very hard to time for a pup to be at the right age to take home Christmas week so often the pups end up being slightly older and therefore at risk of missing their critical socialisation period. Most people have no idea that you only have until your puppy is approximately 14 weeks of age to socialise a puppy.

Socialisation means that a puppy has to be exposed not only to people, children, dogs, traffic, handling, sounds and surfaces but also to positive experiences that make the puppy feel safe and not overwhelmed. This socialisation has to start while your puppy is with the breeder or rescue and that is why it is vital to choose wisely. 

Where do Christmas puppies come from then?

Generally speaking, Christmas pups come from inexperienced, uneducated breeders or puppy farms. These people want to make some easy money as that’s really all there is to it.

If your breeder is purely motivated by a monetary transaction it’s usually an indication that they haven’t socialised your puppy, they haven’t checked the genetic health or temperament of the parents nor have they thought about the implications of mixing different breeds of dogs.

This means that the consumer is potentially left with a puppy who is fearful and not ready for the busy world we live in and these are the dogs most likely to bite. We have a crisis in Ireland, a puppy crisis. The dog bite rate is increasing year after year due to social and pain-related aggression problems.

In Ireland, we still seem to think that it’s ok to legitimise commercial breeding establishments that house in excess of 200 breeding female dogs. Considering there is so much research on the topic of mass breeding and the detrimental effect it has on a dog’s behaviour and welfare why are we still allowing it to happen?

How can someone who raises pups in a shed or outhouse with multiple litters of pups possibly be catering for their developmental needs? The answer is they are not. They are not cuddling those puppies or preparing them for a human world of noises and over-handling. You can’t “wing it” when it comes to raising puppies, it takes time, patience, care and knowledge to ensure that you are raising confident, happy and healthy dogs. 

Many people believe that we have legislation in place to protect them from buying a dog from a puppy farm. While some laws are there they do not take into consideration the emotional needs of the dog but rather they concentrate solely on the physical well-being of a dog. This means when people visit pups that are kept in a clean facility they sometimes think that is a “blank slate” when this is so far from the truth. 

Should you surprise someone with a puppy this Christmas?

Although the idea of surprising another family member with a puppy may seem exciting, it’s definitely not a decision to be made lightly. Choosing the right dog for someone else and their lifestyle is very difficult.

All breeds of dogs have different requirements when it comes to the level of exercise and mental stimulation that they need. In fact, one of the main reasons that a dog is given up for rehoming is due to the mismatch between the human’s expectations and the dog’s needs so to make this choice for someone else is a big ask.

Before you find someone a puppy you first need to know if that person can commit to physically, emotionally and financially caring for that dog. Do they have the time needed to give the dog adequate attention for the rest of that dog’s life? It is always better to have the person who is going to be responsible for looking after the dog involved in the process of choosing their own pet.

Would you still like to have a Christmas puppy?

Why not have the promise of a puppy instead? Buy a collar, lead and bed and wrap it up under the tree with the plan to bring a puppy home in the new year from a well-researched rescue or breeder.

Puppies who have a good start in life and who come from caring responsible places rarely if ever bite people. It’s fear that causes aggressive behaviour, fear that is so easily prevented. You will have a dog for 10 years plus so you want to make the right decision on day one.

Bringing a dog into your home is one of the most magical experiences you can ever have and it doesn’t need Christmas to make it special. 

Suzi Walsh is an expert dog behaviourist and dog trainer. She has an honours degree in Zoology and a Masters in Applied Animal Welfare and Behaviour from the Royal Dick School of Veterinary. She has worked as a behaviourist on both TV, radio and has also worked training dogs in the film industry.

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