Every year hundreds of thousands of pets are given as Christmas gifts. The vast majority of these pets will be expected and planned for, a welcome addition to the family. However, there will be some pets, particularly dogs, that end up in shelters or rescues in the upcoming months because people either didn't plan for the gift, didn't understand the responsibilities of ownership and training or didn't know how large or active the puppy would eventually grow to be.
There are some very good, responsible people that give pets as Christmas gifts. In general this is a wonderful opportunity if the person receiving the pet as a gift is aware of the gift and truly wants the puppy and understands the responsibilities of ownership. In situations where a parent or parents give a child a puppy for Christmas, those parents should be prepared to take care of the puppy and dog for its life, even if the child chooses not to. To do anything else is simply cruel and abusive to the dog; after all it is a living, caring animal, not a toy or a computer game that can be returned at a later date.
Many dog rescues will not allow the dogs or puppies to be given as gifts and tend to ask that question when adoptions occur close to the Christmas season. They require that the family or person ultimately receiving the pet as a gift come into the center and fill out an application themselves. This is for protection of the animal, since the shelter will need to be able to keep track of the dog or puppy throughout its life. In addition it also provides the new family or owner with the chance to see the dog or puppy before the adoption, which can be a big factor in decision making. Keep in mind that the dog that you think is best for the family or individual may not be the one that they would have chosen. By allowing the family or individual to select his or her own best match, there is a much greater chance that the dog will find his or her forever home.
One option is to notify the shelter or rescue about what you are interested in doing. You may even be able to go to the facility and look at what dogs or puppies are currently available. If there is a dog or puppy you think may be a good match, invite the family or individual down to the shelter with you and then allow them to fill out the paperwork if the match seems like a good one. You can still pay the adoption fee and allow the shelter to have all the necessary paperwork. This can also provide information to the family about the specific breed they are interested in. Sometimes after talking to the shelter staff about the reality of owning that particular breed, another breed may surface as a better suited choice.
This is also an option that parents can use if they have older children. It may be important to narrow down the selection to dogs that the parents approve of first to avoid the kids making a very emotional decision at the shelter or rescue. Allowing children to choose a breed and puppy or dog is not a good idea for a variety of reasons, unless there has been considerable discussion and research by the family prior to the choice.
Parents that decide on buying or adopting a puppy for the kids or a child for Christmas should also spend some time preparing the child for having a dog. This means having discussions about being a responsible owner and what that entails. It is also a great idea to have your child "babysit" a friend's dog for a few days or even spend time at a friend or family member's home if the child is not familiar with the responsibilities of owning a dog. The kids should learn about feeding, watering and exercising dogs as well as how to pet and play with a dog. They should also have a chance to ask questions about different dog breeds and also know about the reality of owning a dog.
There are some specific issues with choosing a breed of dog to give as a gift. Ideally it is important to choose a dog that the receiver wants to have, but that doesn't mean encouraging or promoting a poor combination. The person giving the gift should also do some research and know that they are creating a good match for the dog as well as the person.
An example of a poor match would be a large breed dog that has a high energy requirement such as a Labrador Retriever, Dalmatian or a Boxer with a very sedate person that lives in a small apartment in the middle of the city. An equally poor match would be a workaholic that wants a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a dog that definitely needs a lot of human interaction per day.
Allowing young children to select a dog breed for the family as a Christmas present or gift is never a good idea. This is because children look for specific characteristics in dogs and they are rarely a fair representation of the dog. For example, several recent movies have featured Chihuahuas, which are great dogs for a variety of families but are often less than ideal for families with very young kids. In addition many toy breeds are not safe around young children because they are just too delicate and easily injured, even with the children never intending to hurt the puppy. This type of reasoning is not what children do; rather they see a cute little dog they think of as a character in a movie.
Ensuring that the gift of a pet is welcomed and reasonable is really the responsibility of the giver. A great option is to also be prepared to take the puppy in yourself if, for some unseen reason, the dog does not match with the family or individual. When this type of backup plan is in place and you are sure the puppy will be well cared for and loved, this can be a wonderful holiday gift idea.