Please, no gifts of puppies for the holidays

I have one of my roommates to thank for this topic as she pointed out that holiday shopping will begin soon and, invariably, some naive parents will think that a tiny puppy in a box is the perfect family movie moment. You come down and there is a big box with holes in it that is rustling and the kids are all curious until they hear a yip and then they race over and tear the lid off to find a Golden Retriever puppy. How beautifully quaint. I know I am about to ruin the cherished tradition of a puppy under the tree, but hear me out as I explain to you why that little golden puppy is a bad idea.

First of all, chances are that dog will be out in a year. Oh yes, that puppy is adorable, it can get away with anything. Look at it chewing on the pillows—how cute. I do not like that it chews up my shoes, but look at its face. People are likely to live with these behaviors because they become attached to the tiniest face. But unlike a human baby, if you do not address these behaviors immediately, in a year they will be ripping up your house as a nearly full grown beast. This may seem obvious, but shelters are chock full of one-year-old dogs who got their lanky, teenage body and the boot from their home. Every behavior that a dog learns is from the owner – that is how we bred them. Whatever we let slide in a dog’s mind is like a permission slip to do it, so it is our job to correct behaviors that we don’t want in our house. If you don’t do this early enough, any dog lover can tell you that you are looking for your dog to destroy every piece of furniture, clothing, etc., that is near and dear to you. Positive reinforcement in countless animal species is also proven to work, so there’s really not much of an excuse. Bad behavior in a dog is always a human’s fault, never the genetics.

Speaking of genetics, let’s get back to that little Golden Retriever. If you are responsible enough to do all the work and train that little sucker into the perfect dog, you can expect a lot of vet bills. See, dog breeding does not equal healthy specimens. One pug that was tested had the genetic diversity of twenty individuals and bulldogs all have to have c-sections because their puppies’ heads are too big for the birth canal (they can also have ingrown tails, just let that sink in.) That fluffy retriever is prone to eye problems, joint problems, cancer and a whole host of other issues. Look up any breed followed by the words “health problems” and you will find a list just as long. Because we wanted specific traits, purebred equals inbred, plain and simple. Maybe not now, as there are plenty of responsible breeders, but the damage has been done. Parents will look for that good ole “family dog” puppy and buy from a breeder, spending hundreds of dollars for a dog that will most likely just continue to wrack up those bills. Practically and ethically, that purebred is just a bad idea, especially when rescues exist for specific breeds if you’re wedded to a breed of dog. Even then, are the health problems really worth it?

I promise this is not all doom and gloom. I have two solutions if in the future you have kids and still really want this movie moment to happen. First, talk with your partner and get on the same page about training and daily tasks. Are the kids old enough to do any of that? Are you hiring a trainer, going to classes or using YouTube? Second, skip the breeder and the pet store and head to a shelter—there are always adorable puppies looking for a home. Puppies in pet stores are from puppy mills that keep their puppies and breeder dogs in horrific conditions. There is a high chance that the puppy will make it home with you and die very soon after. Puppies from breeders will live longer, but, as previously stated, they will destroy your wallet (figuratively if not also literally). Maybe I’m biased because I have never had a purebred, but I can tell you our mutt lived seventeen years and had only two major health scares. She was a lovely dog and a pain for my mom to train, but the effort was worth it. I love dogs and a lot of people do. But a lot of those well-intentioned dog lovers are also still human and we are all prone to stupid mistakes. Just try to learn from the ones that have already been made, and think twice about that puppy.