It’s that time of year again, when parents are searching for the best way to fill their children’s eyes with glee on Christmas morning. And more than a few are going to decide a puppy is the best way to accomplish that goal.
It makes sense. Puppies fill everyone with glee. Their little wet noses and perfect puppy breath combine with their tiny puppy bodies in this little bundle of perfection no one can resist. Everyone gets that jolt of serotonin when a puppy is around, and parents get to be the hero when they present their kids with a new forever friend.
But that only works if the friend truly is forever.
One of the very best decisions I have made in this year, when nothing has gone as planned, has been to volunteer for a local rescue to foster puppies for a few weeks at a time while they get spayed or neutered and then placed for adoption.
My daughter and I had fostered kittens before, but the puppies were another level of joy as far as I was concerned.
They were also about a thousand times more work.
But we were home anyways, nowhere to go and nothing to do in 2020. So taking care of puppies was an easy enough thing to say yes to. And I’ve loved every second of it.
What’s surprised me, however, is learning just how many puppies are returned to the rescue within only a few weeks of their adoptions. People decide they can’t handle the work puppies require. They realize they’ve taken on too much. And they call asking if they can bring their puppies back.
Look, I’m not here to judge. As much of an animal lover as I am, and as important as I believe it is to look at pets as a commitment you make for the duration of their lives, I know that this has been a hard year and that a lot of people have more on their plates than they can handle. I also get the impulse to do something that brings you and your family joy, without thinking through how much work might be involved.
But if you’re considering bringing a puppy home for Christmas, I want to know I’ve done my part to help you really think about what that entails.
Did you know, for instance, that most puppies can’t make it through the night without a potty break until they are five or six months old? Which means you can plan on your puppy interrupting your sleep to be brought outside for months on end.
Every dog is different, of course. My girl Gwen-Stacy was sleeping through the night by about 3 months old. But my boy Maui couldn’t make it through the night until he was almost a year. Trust me, I tried to make him wait it out on a few different occasions—I was rewarded with a kennel full of poop and pee (plus a dog covered in both) in the morning.
Not. Worth. It.
Then there’s the destruction. I have had dogs of every level of obedience—they all destroy things in puppyhood. That new piece of furniture you love? It’s bound to get some chew marks. The new carpet? Sure to be peed, pooped, and vomited on multiple times by March. And those shoes you splurged on for yourself at Christmas? Yeah, they aren’t going to make it a year.
Puppies chew on things they shouldn’t, they inevitably have accidents (even months after they are technically trained), and they find ways to be naughty whenever you make the mistake of looking away.
It’s just what puppies do.
Now, don’t get me wrong—puppies are still a ton of fun. There’s a reason I genuinely love having a revolving door of them through our house. But just like young kids, they require a lot of patience, love, understanding, and time (your time, mostly, because your kids aren’t likely going to take over the caring for and training of this pup) to grow into the dog you want them to be.
If you can’t commit to that, this probably isn’t the right year for you to bring a puppy home.
But if you can, here’s the advice I have to share—as someone who has had a lot of puppies to care for:
- Start with kennel training on night one. Your puppy is probably going to cry (unless I’ve fostered them—then they’re coming to you already kennel trained!) And that crying might last all night. But it’s important you don’t give in (or, if you do give in, that you only do so to take the puppy out for a bathroom break before immediately putting them back). Your puppy needs to realize as soon as possible that the kennel is for bedtime and that crying won’t get them in your bed (where they desperately want to be) if you ever want to sleep again. For the record, this is not a forever thing—neither of my dogs need to be kenneled anymore. But it is a crucial part of training.
- Invest in puppy pads. Again, this isn’t a forever thing—you eventually want a dog who will go outside for all their potty needs. But especially if they are just two to three months old, and particularly if you want to preserve your flooring, start by training them on the puppy pads first to keep inside accidents from becoming too frustrating. Once they’ve got the puppy pad training down at least 80 percent of the time, you can begin outdoor potty training.
- Start teaching bite inhibition. Puppies bite. This is inevitable. And their tiny shark teeth hurt. So you need to warn your kids to be careful. Then, you need to start teaching your puppy that no one likes to be bitten. You can do this by yelping loudly in pain when your puppy bites too hard. It should be loud enough that they stop immediately out of shock. That’s when you stand up and walk away, teaching you puppy there are consequences to biting—they lose your attention. It takes time to teach bite inhibition, but this training will help you dog learn how to safely play with his or her humans.
The most important thing about puppy raising is recognizing that the first year is going to be a ton of work. There will be days where you feel like you and your puppy are finally on the same page, only to have it all fall apart the following week.
But if you remain committed, your dog will repay you with years of loyalty and love. Unlike your kids, the dog won’t ever talk back or hold a grudge. And after that first year, if you’ve put in the time to raise and train them right, you’re going to realize it was worth it.
Sure, the puppy breath fades. But then you’ve got an adventure partner who will spend their days just trying to make you happy.
If you find you miss the puppy stage too much, reach out to a local rescue and ask about fostering. They’re always looking for people crazy enough to actually want to relive the puppy stage again and again.