Dogs as Gifts?

Good advice for any time of the year
By Amy Robinson, November 2009, Updated March 2021
Photo by Rhaúl V. Alva on Unsplash

Photo by Rhaúl V. Alva on Unsplash

It’s that time of year. Cute images are hitting us hard: precious puppies with big bows, and overjoyed children playing with their new best friend on Christmas morning. With the holidays approaching, master marketing forces beyond our control are getting under our skin like a hungry tick. We know we’re being manipulated, but why not bring a new dog home for the holidays?

Should you surprise your family with a dog?

A puppy or dog can be a welcome addition for those well prepared for the new arrival, but know your recipient. Older children and spouses may be able to help with care and training, but will they? A recently widowed or divorced parent may seem like they need company, but just because they shared life with a Lab as a newlywed doesn’t mean they want to take on that responsibility in their golden years. Your four-legged gift may be seen as just another burden or chore, especially when the puppy chews the fringe on the Oriental rug. Examine your motives: Are you getting a puppy for your own enjoyment, or for the recipient’s?

Here’s one way to surprise someone and have that feel-good moment that’s so much a part of holiday gift-giving. Buy a crate and fill it with toys, chew bones and a food and water bowl. Include a gift certificate or brochure from a local shelter. If a specific breed is favored, download photos and breed info from breed rescue websites, or research a reputable breeder in your area. Do a little homework on local boarding facilities, veterinarians and groomers, and ask your friends for referrals. Having these resources at hand will help the recipient feel like there is a support system, instead of being tossed in the water with no life vest. If you are really carried away by the holiday spirit, offer to care for the dog when the new owner is traveling.

Another option is to forego the surprise in favor of involving the gift recipient early on in the process. Children, especially, are surprisingly opinionated and educated on the subject, thanks to the proliferation of television programming devoted to all things dog. Older folks will praise your forethought, and may appreciate having some control over this new development in their lives.


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You can elect to wait until after the holidays to approach the gift recipient, when the pressures of holiday gift-giving have subsided. A dog or puppy is, of course, a living, breathing, needy being who is not returnable with proper labeling and a receipt. A dog as a gift heaps responsibility on the giver as well as the recipient. Be prepared to graciously accept “No, thank you” and offer a donation to a favorite animal charity as an alternative.

If you are the gift recipient, well, shock and awe may best describe your initial reaction. Well-meaning friends or relatives bestow a furry bundle on you, and even though you really weren’t looking, he sure is a sweet little pup. Your gift-givers depart and “Good luck!” rings in your ears. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but your new arrival is overwhelmed, too, and looking for guidance. Start right away to shape the behavior you’d like to see as you both move forward. Establish a realistic housetraining schedule and write it all down. Redirect play-biting by offering toys and chews. Encourage retrieving by bouncing a ball against a wall and praising the pup for picking it up in his mouth. Read books, watch videos and enroll in basic training class. Although the new arrival represents limits on your personal freedom, there are no limits to the emotional rewards. After all, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 57: Nov/Dec 2009

Photo by Rhaúl V. Alva on Unsplash

Amy Robinson is a certified dog trainer living and working in Vero Beach, Fla., with her husband and adopted dog, Mac. She teaches classes in canine commands and good manners, and her Drool School DVD for kids and dogs earned a Parents Choice Award. Visit her website for more training tips