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NO CHRISTMAS PUPPIES, PLEASE!
To many people, a puppy is the perfect symbol of the true spirit of
Christmas. A puppy represents wonderment innocence, exuberant energy, unconditional love, hope for the future. These are the sorts of gifts that many of us wish we were able to give one another. And that is a good thing.
In an increasingly violent, horrifying, mind-numbing and impersonal world, Christmas time reminds many that there are more important values, that there is hope and love, that joy comes from giving of oneself more than it does from taking. To many people, these values bring to mind the loyal, loving, uncorrupted, hauntingly simple innocence of a puppy.
Indeed, many advertisers and artists have noticed this connection. Images of cozy family Christmas mornings often include scenes of floppy-eared puppies peering innocently out of a colorful gift box, their eyes wide with wonderment and awe. As the scene continues, the puppy stumbles preciously over mounds of gift wrappings, to the great amusement of delighted children who rush to hug the youngster and receive big wet puppy-slurps in return. Mom and Dad smile knowingly in the background as the true meaning of life is celebrated before their eyes. What could possibly be wrong with this picture?
Nothing. As art, as fiction, or as advertisement, it captures a lot of the symbolic spirit of the Christmas celebration perfectly. The appeal of this scene is like that of Norman Rockwell's paintings. As advertisement, it works. It sells products, even those totally unrelated to dogs or to Christmas. As fiction it warms people's hearts. What's wrong, though, is what happens when real people try to re-enact this warm loving scene in their own homes with a real, living puppy playing the role of a prop in this mythic family life-drama.
I am not against dog ownership. I have two dogs myself, and I think the world would be a lot better place if more people had meaningful relationships with dogs. My concern here is with the future of those living beings, those adorable puppies with child-like eyes who show up as gifts on Christmas morning. While images like the one I described may look irresistibly appealing in pictures, art, advertising or fiction, the future for those real-life puppies who start out under the Christmas tree, in all probability, will turn out to be fairly grim. Groups as diverse as, and often at odds with one another as, the Humane Society of the United States, canine behavior experts, the American Kennel Club, PETA, Animal Rights Activists, breed rescue groups, veterinarians, obedience training instructors, and most reputable breeders of sound, healthy dogs, are in strong agreement that live puppies should not be given as Christmas gifts. Here are some of the reasons:
THE ATMOSPHERE OF CHRISTMAS MORNING
People who study canine development and behavior have found that puppies, like children, go through developmental stages. The first fear/avoidance period in a puppy's development occurs roughly between 7-12 weeks of age. However this is also when the puppy is developmentally best capable of leaving its litter and beginning to form bonds of attachment with its new family. Most breeders agree that this is the right time to send a young puppy home with its adoptive family. However, it is also extremely important not to over-stress or unduly frighten the puppy during this vulnerable time. Fears learned during this first fear/avoidance period can be very, very difficult to overcome later, even with the very best training or behavior modification techniques. In other words, traumatic experiences at this point can have a permanent impact on your puppy's personality as an adult dog. Your puppy's experiences of leaving its mother and litter-mates, and its arrival in its new home and introduction to its new family, can permanently affect its ability to bond with and trust humans. The puppy needs to be introduced to its new home and family during a relaxed and quiet, gentle time, with a minimum of loud noises, flashing lights, and screeching children, ringing phones, visiting company, and other types of general hub-bub. Christmas morning is absolutely the worst time, in terms of the puppy's developmental needs, for introducing this newly-weaned youngster to its new family.
THE TIMING TEACHES CHILDREN THE WRONG VALUES
Many families who value pet ownership do so at least partly because of what children can learn from the family pets in terms of care and responsibility, love and loyalty, and respect for other living beings. But think of what happens to the rest of the toys and gifts that start out under the Christmas tree. By Valentine's Day, most of them have been shelved or broken or traded or forgotten. The excitement inevitably wears off, and the once compelling toy becomes something to use, use up, and then discard in favor of something newer. A living puppy should not be thought of in the same category as a Christmas toy. Children need to learn that a living puppy is being adopted into the family - as a living family member who will contribute much, but who will also have needs of its own, which the rest of the family is making a commitment to try to meet. A puppy who makes its first appearance as a gift item under the Christmas tree is more likely to be thought of by children as an object, as a thing-like toy rather than as a family member. This will not teach one of the most valuable lessons there is to learn from a puppy, which is respect for living beings and concern for others in the form of attention to their needs.
A GOOD BREEDER WILL NOT SEND A PUPPY HOME
Responsible breeders - those who guarantee the health and temperament of their puppies, and who are abreast of current knowledge about canine health, genetics, socialization and development - already know these things and will not send a puppy home with its new owner on Christmas morning. If you were to be able to obtain a puppy from someone who actually let you have it on Christmas Eve so that it could appear under the tree on Christmas morning,that should tell you something. It should warn you that you would be getting your puppy from someone who does not know enough about canine behavior and development to be in the business of breeding or selling puppies. You would be much better off acquiring your newest family addition from a breeder who knows enough about dogs, and who cares enough about the particular puppies that he breeds and places, to insist that you take the puppy home under conditions which would be best for the puppy. If your breeder does not insist on this, you are purchasing a puppy from a breeder who does not know or care enough about his "product," to be in that business, and you should acquire your pup from someone else instead.
THE PUPPY GROWS UP AND HAS NEEDS.
Many people have a somewhat romantic view of what dog-ownership is like.
This romanticism can become exaggerated by the warmth and loving kindness
associated with the Christmas season. People who have not had dogs before,
or who have not had dogs since they were themselves children, or who have
recently had a dog but one who was a canine senior citizen trained and
socialized to the family's ways long ago, often are completely unaware of
how much work it is to raise a puppy from infancy into a good adult canine
companion. They may have mental images of happy times romping with the dog
on the beach, or curling up in front of the fireplace, of playing frisbee
the park or of hunting with a loyal companion. All these are things they
might well eventually enjoy with their canine companions. But they may have
temporarily forgotten, or perhaps not ever really have known, how
much work it takes to raise and socialize a dog from puppyhood to that
of mature canine companionship. Unlike cats, who generally do not need
extensive training and socialization, dogs require a huge commitment from at
least one person who is prepared to teach the dog what behaviors are
expected of him, under a wide variety of circumstances.Adults may believe
that they remember a Faithful Fido from their youth who seemed never to
training; Faithful Fido always seemed to "just know" what was expected of
him. But those adults were children at the time, and they did not
necessarily see all the work that their parents and others put into
and socializing Fido.
I am the author, and I hereby grant permission to any obedience instructor
obedience club member to reprint it to hand out for educational purposes,
including any public education activities, newsletters, or other forums in
which you see fit. Please, if you reprint, reprint in full, and do not edit
remove individual parts.
Copyright © Bogart's Daddy, Inc.
Jan Rifkinson, webmaster
All rights reserved
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