Puppies as presents? No, No, No!

A social media storm has been raging since Sunday, when the Independent newspaper published an account of a journalist buying a Christmas puppy as a present for her husband. As it happened, the long term situation for the dog in question seemed to work out reasonably well, but at a time of year when dog rescue groups keep repeating the message that pups should not be given as presents, it has upset people that a national newspaper seemed to endorse this practice.

The fact that the puppy was a trendy “designer breed” (a Labradoodle), found over the internet and bought from a commercial breeder ticked all the wrong boxes for many irate animal lovers. The correct approach to take, in their eyes, would be to wait until after Christmas and then take on a rescue pet that needs a home. And that’s what a responsible national newspaper should be writing about.

A Dog Is For Life, Not Just for Christmas”  must be the most successful slogan ever in the animal welfare world.

When the phrase was coined nearly 40 years ago, around 20% of dogs were given as presents. The figure is now down to less than 2%.

What’s wrong with giving a puppy as a present?

If someone wants one, why not given them what they want during this gift-giving season? The reason is simple: in one or two month’s time, the problems will start.

A pet in an inappropriate home makes life causes serious problems as it grows older and more boisterous. For the life of a young dog to go smoothly, you need to choose the right breed, train the dog properly from the start and set up a regular  predictable daily routine of exercise.

If a dog is given as a gift, people are not properly prepared for what needs done, and problems are far more likely. If you choose a new dog yourself,  you select an appropriate breed or type, you plan necessary training from the start, and you know your own daily timetable,so you can work out whether or not you can fit in exercise.

Another issue with the “pup as a gift” concept is that – almost by definition – it pushes people towards choosing a puppy-farm type “cute and cuddly” creature. Yet if you talk to experienced people in the dog world, you soon discover that it makes far more sense to take on a rescued dog from an animal welfare centre. It’s better value (the new animal is spayed/vaccinated/microchipped/wormed already), and you get experienced advice and support from the rescue group.

Many people have misconceptions about rescue pets: they assume that they will have serious physical or behavioural issues that caused them to be rejected by earlier homes. In fact, most rescue pets are abandoned for random reasons to do with human factors rather than for anything specific about the animals themselves. I’m often astonished at the placid, gentle, faithfulness and companionship shown by many rescue pets: given their history of rejection by humans, you might not expect this.

The main aim of rescue centres is to find new homes that work out well: it’s not in their interest to place a dog in a home that does not work out. If you want the right pet for your own situation, a detailed discussion with a good rescue centre is often the best way to find a new friend.

Still tempted to give a pup as a present? Give a dog basket or bowl instead.

Listeners asked:

  • Could I ask Pete if he has any advice for coping with canine cognitive dementia . My fifteen year old terrier diagnosed yesterday . Thanks. Glenda Hayde . Balbriggan
  • My almost 17 year old Jack Russell is losing her hair in little tufts over past few months, getting worse. What can I do? Her liver X kidney state means she’s on a special diet (low fat etc). Nuala
  • My partner works during the day and I work nights so we’re looking to rescue a dog. Does it matter which rescue centre we go to ie ISPCA vs Dogs Trust?
  • Adrienne says “I have a 4 mth old Jake Russell called Milo, his nails are quite long, very thin, do you advise getting them cut, or will they were down naturally from walking him?”
  • We have a 7 year old Bichon that has developed cataracts in his eyes. We don’t think his eyesight is currently affected but wondering how long will it be before he goes blind & what can be done? Niall, Galway

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