Why You Should NOT Get Your Child a Puppy for the Holidays

As a professional dog trainer, I deal with the potential physical dangers of kids and dogs interacting; which can range anywhere from a child being knocked down frequently by an untrained over-active pup to serious problems where the dog is not being child-friendly. But there is another potential danger: an emotional aspect of my job that oftentimes goes unforeseen by well-meaning adults until after-the-fact. One that seems to happen most often during the holiday season… and that is the ‘impulse’ purchase or adoption of a live animal.

On the one hand… who can blame you? Who can resist the sweet innocent fuzzy face of a puppy? The adoption ads online strategically place the cutest fuzziest puppies first. The puppy stores place the most adorable ones by the window. Maybe you grew up with a dog, and all those fond memories come flooding back to you. Or, maybe you always wanted one as a kid, but your parents would not allow it… and all of a sudden, you feel you just HAVE to get one for your child at home, so they don’t grow up ‘deprived’ like you did!

The problem with these kinds of decisions is that they were made by the heart… even the most rational-thought-minded person can find themselves falling prey to this. But after the first few weeks, the ‘novelty’ wears offs…. And suddenly, that cute little fuzz-ball is wreaking havoc on your once quiet and smoothly run home! I had one client call me in total frustration, saying, “I sent three kids to IVY league schools, and I can’t get this puppy to pee outside!” Or the other phone call, “I got a puppy this Christmas, and I am trying to get it housebroken, but the kids keep letting him out of the crate, he is chewing up everything I own, my kids are running away from it in fear…… this is SO not what I bargained for!”

I recently read an article that a friend of mine, Chad Mackin had written on this. He is a professional dog trainer as well as a fellow member of the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals) and someone that I have a great deal of respect for, and have learned a lot from over the years. I found his article so appropriate, I asked (and was granted) his permission to share it with you. So here is a link to that article……

Everything Chad talks about I agree with 100%. There are, however, a few things in particular in his article that I want to highlight….

1. Never buy or adopt a live animal as a surprise or a gift.

There is so much involved in puppy and dog ownership besides the initial purchase or adoption of the animal. There is the housebreaking process (which demands quite a bit of time, patience, consistency, and a bit of know how.) As a professional trainer, I always have the items needed on hand, but to get someone a puppy, wrap a bow around it’s neck and deliver it as a gift, and then expect the receiver to now buy the crate, exercise pen, food, dishes, leash, collar, training treats, stain and odor remover, paper towels, etc. is a lot. Then there is the total loss of all their free time. Long gone are the days when they could grab their coat and just go out. Now it is all about getting the pup on a routine. (Remember the comment I wrote about the client that complained she sent three kids to IVY league schools and can’t get the dog to pee where she wants it to?) And let us not forget the vet bills (boosters at 3 months, full set of vaccinations at four months, neutering or spaying at 6 mths to a year) and added expenses of boarding the dog while they go away, hiring a trainer, etc. For all of these reasons, surprising someone with a dog or a pup as a gift is never a good idea.

2. Plan for a dog…. not just the puppy.

The second thing I wanted to highlight that Chad mentioned was that he (and I) are not trying to talk you out of getting a puppy. It is a wonderful experience… but make sure you are ready for not just the puppy, but the dog. What we mean by this is to do your research prior to getting the dog. I can’t tell you how many dogs end up in a shelter a couple of months after the holidays because the family ‘just didn’t realize he would get that big’ or ‘didn’t realize it would shed so much’ or ‘didn’t realize so much was involved in the training!’ Dogs are not born knowing how to act and behave in a human’s world. They must be taught, and everything you do with a pup is molding it for who it will grow up to become. Where do you begin the research?

Look at your family and their typical dynamics. Are they:

  • Outgoing or shy?
  • Active or sedate?
  • Loud and boisterous or quiet and reserved?
  • Fearless or more hesitant?
  • Outdoorsy (likes camping, hiking, fishing, etc) or prefer to sit and read?

Also, what does your typical day look like?

  • Are you at home most of the day or out most of the day (e.g. working in an office, etc.)?
  • Do you like vacationing locally, and can include the dog or do you prefer to travel to locations that would mean leaving the pup at home (which would require boarding)?
  • Do you like things neat and tidy, or are you okay with a bit of mess.

Other factors would include:

  • Finances (Bigger dogs cost more to feed, board, vaccinate, etc.)
  • Are there any allergies?
  • Do you own a house or live in an apartment (A dog that barks may be an issue for neighbors)

Once you have answered the above questions, now you have narrowed things down a bit and can start researching different breeds based on your needs. Some great resource books for learning about different dog breeds and preparing to be a new dog owner are:

3. Make sure the entire family is involved in the final decision of which dog to get.

Why do I say that? I can explain this best by sharing a recent experience one of my sister’s and her family went through. The youngest had been begging for a puppy… specifically a Golden Retriever. My sister did not want a dog that large so they decided on a mix. She also was worried about the housebreaking process, so she decided she wanted one about a year old.

It didn’t take long for the on-line search process to derail. When they found one that was local (that they could visit) they’d find out it had already been adopted. After this happened several times, they got frustrated and went from a planned decision into an impulsive one. They found a dog that was out of state, and adopted it sight unseen. They never got the chance to see how it interacted with all the family members beforehand.

Even though it was made clear right from the start that this was to be a ‘family’ dog, (my sister has two other children other than the youngest) from day one, it was obvious that the primary owners were my sister and the youngest. And the dog followed suit. He growled and shied away from my sister’s husband and the middle child, and ‘tolerated’ the presence of the oldest. He was not adaptive to their lifestyle; where they are very friendly and outgoing, the dog was territorial of his home, and possessive of my sister and my youngest nephew. This led to several bites on friends visiting the house… some of which were the kid’s friends. Eventually my middle nephew got bitten. The dog had to be re-homed. End of story.

But now you’ll see the emotional toll it can take on an entire family; my sister and one child were in tears, my middle nephew was left feeling guilt that it was his fault, my niece had separated herself so much from the dog already that everyone assumed she just ‘did not care’ and my brother-in-law was furious! In their case, it effected the emotional, physical wellbeing, AND safety of not just their kids, but other children as well. Anyone visiting the house unexpectedly was in potential danger.

So, what went wrong? Let’s refer to the lists above:

  • They wanted a dog smaller than a golden, so they had decided on a golden retriever mix, instead of researching what other potential breeds would be good for them.
  • They made the decision that the timing was right for a dog, and they were ready for the commitment, but when they looked locally to find a dog, once they got frustrated, that carefully thought out plan was abandoned, and the dog from out of state that the youngest had found on-line was flown in. Instant connection with the youngest and my sister, but no real connection with the rest of the family was ever established, and in the end, all of them paid for it.

So now they are puppy hunting. And yes, it happens to coincide with the holidays, but that just happens to be luck. This time they’re doing things a little differently:

  • They’ve discussed their lifestyle: Outgoing, outdoorsy, social, and friendly. That rules out breeds that are aloof and weary of strangers (e.g. chow, ridgeback, etc.). So are breeds that are couch potatoes, not good with kids, and not good with other animals.
  • They have taken size into consideration, medical expenses, boarding expenses, etc. and decided which breeds would do well in this home.
  • The entire family is involved in picking out the puppy, and the entire family will make the decision…even if it means waiting a little longer. They’re choosing the right “dog” not just pup.

Need a bit of extra help deciding? My article What age should I get my child a dog and what should we get can give you quite a bit of information on which breed might be right for you and your family and also includes a link to a test that, based on your answers, can narrow down the choices for you a bit.

Just remember, any pup or dog you choose during the right time, the right circumstances, the right involvement by everybody, with the right research, may turn out to be the best pet you have ever had! Choose wisely, based on rational thought and not impulse, and every member of your family can have a wonderful bond with your pet for the rest of their lives. Trust me when I say it is so much better than the tears after-the fact!

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


10 Responses to “Why You Should NOT Get Your Child a Puppy for the Holidays”

  1. Dogs are Life says:

    Great article. At what age for a child, do you think they will be “old” enough to participate in selecting a dog with the family? We are currently having that problem now. We want our child to be a part of the planning, selecting, and naming process- as a real teachable moment for her. Our child is currently 2 years old. We want her to remember the experience forever (we are only getting one dog).
    Some say now is a good time, some say when our kid is 3 years old, others say wait until she’s 5 or 6 etc or when she is in 3rd grade.
    There is absolutely no rush in this yet. We have other pets at the moment (fish tank) But we would like her to be able to grow up with the dog!!
    Would love your opinion on a best age range!!! Toddler, preschool, kindergarten, early elementary, or wait til 3rd grade?
    Thanks for all your blogs. We are big fans!!!

  2. Jane says:

    ^^^^ Yes, exactly what the commenter above posted ^^^^^
    Would love a professional’s opinion! If you ask breeders or pet stores , all they would say is “now is the perfect time” for $$$ reasons.
    Would love your opinion, at least a general age range for kids

    • Hi Jane, thank you also for your response. I think I answered many of the questions you also had in my earlier response, but if you have others, or if there is some way I can help you better, please feel free to let me know!!! Very glad to hear you enjoy and get a lot out of my articles! That means the world to me!!

  3. Thank you so much for your response, and for your questions…. Which by the way, are great ones!

    You can find some of the answers to your questions and helpful links in my article “At what age should I get my child a dog, and what should we get” There were a couple of things you brought up…. But first I will start with you mentioned your daughter is only two right now, so I think it is safe to assume you are currently going through potty training with her? If that is correct, my first suggestion is to wait until that is complete. Take it from my experience, potty training two babies at once, especially one inside and one outside, can be very trying! If they both have to go at the same time, obviously your daughter will take precedence, and then you will be cleaning up a puddle on the floor from puppy. Add to that the fact that because you were busy with your daughter and did not see the puppy squat and pee, your moment to correct them was missed.

    It is also very important to remember that bringing a pup into the home is essentially like bringing another baby into the home. They must be watched at all times when out of the crate. So having a realistic idea of what you can and cannot do at this time is also very important for the successful training of your pup, and as a useful guide as to the right time to get one. Just like babies, pups require time, energy, patience, routine and consistency.

    So, moving on to your next comment, which was that you want this experience to be remembered by your daughter for the rest of her life….. there are two things I will say to this: The first is I would encourage you to add the word ‘positive’ to your sentence…. You want this to be a positive experience your daughter will remember for the rest o her life. Therefore, your being ready for this (including research into the right breed for you and your family, and maybe reading a few books on training prior to getting the dog) will ensure a much better experience for her. If you are not sure what to expect, you are bound to get more frustrated with the puppy more frequently. The second thing I wanted to offer to that question was a link I researched for you…. According to Wikipedia, school age children can maintain an episodic memory, which Wikipedia defines as “By school age, the typical child shows skill in recalling details of past experiences and in organizing those details into a narrative form with cohesion.” I looked this up on a few other sites just to verify the facts so I could give you the best answer. This is the link to that Wikipedia site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory_development

    It is also important to understand that children of different ages can perform different tasks with the puppy…. Starting from as young as your daughter’s age. For example, at two years old, a child can feed the puppy, providing Mom or Dad measure out the amount into a cup, and then hands it to them right next to the dog’s dish. Now all they have to do is dump the food from the cup into the dish, with little to no mistakes or mess. At three years old, they can go to the bag of dog food, scoop up that same measured amount (if you are using a plastic cup, you can draw a line in marker to show them how much to fill the cup) and they can walk it over to the dish and dump it in. By age four, they should be able to fill the water dish and walk it over and place it onto the floor for the pup. But I also want to remind you that this is not an exact science, where one child may have amazing eye-hand coordination from a very young age, another child may not, but may have excellent cognitive and verbal skills. So accessing your own child will be a key component as to what age your child should be.

    The final thing I will tell you since you want her to be involved in the decision as to what dog to get, the most important thing you can do is research the different breeds and figure out which ones are best for your family and their lifestyle. Now she can still be involved because you are giving her a few choices, but each one of those choices are dogs that you already know will work well in your type of family, and you can bypass the ones you know are not.

  4. Dogs Are Life says:

    Wow. Thanks Suzanne for your incredibly detailed & thoughtful tips and resources. Bless you!!!
    I think we will wait a few years until our child is maybe 5 yrs old or at least in grade school range. So she can have all the memories for a lifetime to come.
    We plan to do our research first based on breeds, and maybe get our child some kids books based on breed selection.
    Right now we have fallen in love with Cairn Terriers, Westies, and Cocker spaniels. We are definitely looking at the smaller breeds (but not the toy sized since,they are usually not recommended with kids)

  5. Dogs Are Life says:

    Thanks again Suzanne for all the info. One last,question.
    Do you recommend doxies/daschunds to families with younger children?
    There have been some articles/research that stated Doxies are quite aggressive breed and are more likely to bite.
    Plus,they have delicate backs etc. But they are super cute. I’m sure we can teach our kid how to properly care and pick up a doxie too

    • First, let me apologize for taking so long to get back to you…. I was away for the weekend… and lets just say my talent with dog training does not transfer over to electronics! I can’t figure out how to get emails on my phone! (I don’t have a teenager around to show me how!!! Lol)

      As far as breed choices, Cairn Terriers are great dogs: tons of personality, good with kids, lots of energy but not over-the-top, and although small, hearty enough to handle little kids! Their two draw-backs: They tend to be a bit on the yappy side (typical terrier… which can be a problem if you’re in an apartment building) and they can be nippy and like to jump on people. All three behaviors are easy to curtail with daily consistent training. Terriers that yap at everything are usually bored and do not have much mental and/or physical stimulation.

      Cocker Spaniels can be a bit on the ‘iffy’ side… meaning that good breeding is vital! There doesn’t seem to be a middle-ground with them… they’re either wonderful and sweet, or nasty. If you go this route, make sure you choose a reputable breeder and meet BOTH the sire (father) and Dam (Mother) of the pups. This will give you a better idea of their temperament. Also be aware that if you do get a Cocker, there are some health considerations and regular grooming needs that are a must. With long- eared dogs, there is not much air-flow to the inside, so they are prone to ear infections. Cleaning their ears once or twice a week is a must. They are also prone to heart defects, so make sure the breeder has health certificates on both parents before you purchase. Also, be weary of the overly shy or nervous pups… read up on temperament testing prior to purchasing. It’s easy to feel ‘sorry’ for these nervous nellies, but with a child at home, nervous ‘peeing’ is a minor thing compared to the other extreme….an overly fearful pup can grow up to be just as dangerous as an aggressive one. (Personally, there are many breeds I would choose before this one with kids… especially as a first time dog owner)

      As far as Dachshunds, I find the Mini Doxie seem to have a better temperament than the standard. Not exactly sure why, but I consistently find that to be true. And yes, you are correct…. You do have to be extra careful with their short legs and long backs. They think they are Olympic champions and jump from high places…. But it can be dangerous for them. If you don’t mind them being on furniture, I suggest getting the little pet stairs, as they can have a serious back injury just jumping off of the couch. Your daughter can absolutely learn how to properly handle them. The most important thing with them is when you pick them up, you want to ‘scoop’ rather than lift…. meaning one hand on their butt so you do not put pressure on their spine. Last thing to know about Doxie’s…. they are very social dogs…. So we trainers joke that they are like potato chips…. Nobody has just one!

      A few other breeds I could suggest you look into…. The Havanese… small but hearty, good with kids, smart, easy to train, affectionate and very few health concerns. The Westie (West Highland White Terrier) very similar to the Cairn Terrier…. Just a bit bigger. Miniature Schnauzer…. sweet even temperament, smart, affectionate, good with kids and another hearty small breed. Coton de Tulear (Pronounced ‘Ca-ton Day Two-lee-A’) is another great breed. And lastly, if you really like the Cocker Spaniel, considering their ‘iffy’ temperament, I would suggest looking into the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They are smaller than the Cocker, and you’ll have the same issues with the ears, but I describe this breed to people by saying it is almost like a miniature Golden Retriever. Very even tempered and sweet, smart, affectionate, etc… and best of all, as a baby, not as hyper as a Golden pup!!

  6. Dogs are Life says:

    Thanks again for all the info. Did not know that cocker spaniels had iffy temperments. Are cockapoos iffy in temp too, they seem to be very popular? And Are springer spaniels a recommended breed in your opinion?
    As for the doxies, is there a big difference in temperment between mini and standards? Can’t find any info on other sites. If we were to get a doxie, it would probably be a standard. The mini might be too small . And we are only planning to get 1 dog. Are dachshunds recommended in pairs?
    Thanks once again for all your insight. Hopefully others can see the comment section and their questions will be answered too.
    We are definitely looking at cairns, westies, maybe s Springer or doxie now.
    But probably won’t officially get a dog until our daughter is in kindergarten or so. But planning is key for sure!! Thanks again!!!

    • Cockapoos generally seem to be sweet tempered and good stable dogs…. and added bonus, less shedding, although they will need to be groomed. Springer Spaniels are also wonderful dogs, as are the Brittany Spaniels… but both are larger than the Cocker Spaniel. I think the Cocker Spaniel breeding went very much astray. They used to be great dogs, now…. sadly, not so much. I cannot give you an exact reason why the Standard Doxie has such a different temperament than the Mini, but I have seen it quite a bit. I have actually seen it in a few breeds…. while the Miniature Schnauzer is a great dog, the Standard and Giant are not as sweet and even tempered. And no, you do not have to have more than one Doxie…. just many people do because they fall in love with the breed, and also because they are very social. Another thing to consider…. you can find a Mini Doxie who will be on the larger side, or a Springer Spaniel that may be on the smaller side. They way you can tell…. contrary to popular belief that you can tell by the size of the paws (especially because Spaniels tend to have huge paws in general) is feel the overall body structure by the shoulders and down all four extremities. You can usually tell, even as a baby. If the bones are dense and larger, chances are they will be on the larger side when full grown. If they feel very petite, they will probably be on the smaller side when they grow up. Also, females tend to be a bit smaller than the males in most breeds.

  7. Dogs Are Life says:

    Thanks again for all the insight. Will definitely keep everything in mind when we decide on breeds.
    One other breed that interests us is the Lakeland terrier. Any info/thoughts on them?
    I’ve noticed breeders are rare to come by. Not too much information on them. I think they might be related to jack russels? I know Jacks are usually hyper though. We as a family are not super active but not super couch potatoes either. A happy medium, probably leaning a bit on the simple mellow type haha. But A friend recommended lakelands to us. But told us finding a good breeder is tough for sure.

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