Archive for 2009

No Christmas Puppies, Please!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Copyright © 1993, Ruth Ginzberg

…in loving honor of my own dogs…
The following applies to both puppies and kittens:

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:


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.


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.


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.


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 in 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 incredibly much work it takes to raise and socialize a dog from puppyhood to that point 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 need 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 training and socializing Fido.

Professionals who deal with dogs regularly, call this common fantasy the “Lassie Syndrome.” That is, everyone hopes for that imaginary dog who has E.S.P. and who automatically knows how to behave in human company without needing any training. In other words, they want a dog like “Lassie.” But “Lassie” was a fictional character. “Lassie” actually was owned and trained by Rudd Weatherwax, one of the most hardworking and successful professional trainers of dogs in the history of US television and film. Rudd Weatherwax spent his entire lifetime training “Lassie” to do those things which looked spontaneous in the fictional story lines. No real, non-fictional dog is actually like that.

Real dogs not only must be housetrained – most owners are aware of that need; they also must be taught not to chew the furniture, taught not to jump on their owners, taught not to play-bite, taught not to bowl over the toddler, taught not to dig holes in the yard, taught to come when they are called, taught not to eat the homework or the woodwork, taught not to swipe food off the table, taught not to growl at strangers or bark at the mail carrier, taught to walk on a leash without dragging their owner down the block, taught to allow their toenails to be cut and their coats to be groomed without biting the groomer, taught not to shred feather pillows and down comforters, taught not to steal the baby’s toys, taught not to growl at their owner’s mother-in-law, taught to sit, stay, and to lay down when and where the owner tells them to, and to wait there until the owner says they may get up (absolutely essential commands for the dog’s own safety), taught not to escape out the front door or out of the yard or out of the car when the owner looks away for just a second … all of these things and many more are not “natural” canine behaviors; they must be taught by owners who are willing to spend the time and the effort doing so.

The reason I mention this is because lack of owner knowledge about the amount of work required to socialize, raise, and train a puppy, is one of the main factors contributing to a huge national problem: the problem of adolescent and young adult dogs being “given up” by owners within the first year or so of having acquired the animal. Untrained, unsocialized puppies might be “cute” and “natural” but they are tolerable only for a few weeks, if even that. Then they start to be nuisances. Then they start to be major problems. Sooner or later they become downright dangerous to themselves or to their families and neighbors.

It is often between the ages of 7-14 months that the dog (sadly, reluctantly) is brought to the pound or to the vet for euthanasia by a frustrated owner as an “uncontrollable” dog, or as a dog with “behavior problems.” Or perhaps it is taken to a shelter in the faint hope that it will be adopted by someone else. (Chances are almost certain that it won’t; nobody else wants an untrained, unsocialized dog’s behavior problems either.) By that age the untrained dog is a full-grown and unruly adolescent. It might have bitten a family member, or threatened a neighbor’s child, necessitating the involvement of a town animal control officer. Or the dog may have run away and been hit by a car. Or it may be adopted into a series of homes, one after another, none of which can adequately control it, until it finally winds up on death row at the pound.

These tragic dogs, those wonderful canines known to generations as “Man’s Best Friend,” never had a chance. According to statistics kept by the Humane Society of the United States, the majority of puppies and kittens born in the United States never reach their second birthdays, even though their natural lifespans should be many times that length. They die from being hit by cars, euthanized by owners, starving or being fatally injured in fights with other animals – including wild animals, some rabid in many areas – after having run away from their owners, or being taken to shelters, pounds or vets, where they are “put to sleep,” usually before the age of two. In other words, many, many canine deaths are squarely the responsibility of owners who did not understand what it would involve properly to train and socialize their puppy, or who did understand, but did not do the necessary work.


“Christmas puppies” often are impulse purchases, in a spirit of love and giving and generosity that goes with the season, but without the hard self-assessment that goes into asking oneself if one has the time and the energy and the inclination to give the necessary commitment to raising and socializing and educating that puppy. Better to get that new puppy at a less emotionally charged time of the year, when the decision to add a dog to the family is a less impulsive and more carefully considered one, uninfluenced by seasonal generosity of spirit, which might just fade a bit after the tree comes down and the lights are put away.

If you are absolutely set upon getting your family a puppy for
Christmas, consider this alternative instead: Purchase a leash, a collar, a good book on raising a puppy, a gift certificate for a veterinary checkup, a gift certificate for puppy socialization classes from one of the local obedience instructors, a book or video tape on the topic of how to select the right dog for your family (there are several, including even a computer program that purports to help you do this), or a gift subscription to one of the dog-oriented magazines.

Wrap these up and put them under the tree. As family members unwrap the various pieces of the “puzzle”, their delight and anticipation will grow. They will gradually understand what this present is! Then, after the Christmas tree is taken down and the frenzy of the holiday season is behind, the family can once again enjoy together the anticipation and excitement of discussing and selecting a breed, selecting a breeder, selecting an individual pup, and so on. This will increase the family’s mutual commitment to, and investment in, the well-being of the newest family member. It will be a project the family has done together, which is a wonderful way for any adoption to commence. This will not decrease the enjoyment of your new puppy; I guarantee it. It will increase it by many fold. And it will be a better start both for the puppy, and for the long-term relationship between dog and owner(s). A dog with a good introduction to its adoptive family is much more likely to become a long term companion rather than just another tragic statistic.

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The Benefits of Adopting From A Shelter

Monday, November 9th, 2009

When you’re at your local pet shelter looking at the animals, time your visit to watch for the dog’s personality. Get it out of the cage and interact with it and watch how it interacts with other dogs and people. There’s no rule that says you have to adopt today, so take your time to visit a few shelters and spend time with the animals before choosing the one that you will make part of your family. Remember, it’s a long-term commitment to add a pet to your family, so the decision needs to be taken seriously and with care. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find the dog of your dreams on your first visit to the shelter. Shelters receive new animals daily and they can put you on a waiting list and can call you when they receive the type of dog that you’re looking for.

Animal shelters have a great selection of both puppies as well as adult dogs, including about 25-30% purebred animals. Some of the reasons pets have been abandoned at the shelter include financial difficulties by the previous owner, a prior owner who didn’t have realistic expectations of the time and effort required to sustain a lifelong relationship with their pet and others. It’s sad, but almost half of the dogs in shelters end up being euthanized rather than adopted because not enough people are opening up their homes for these abandoned animals.

Animal shelters vary in terms of their rules for adoption. They will ask you questions about prior pet history, what type of living arrangements you have (apartment, house with yard, etc.), how long the periods are that you’re gone from home, and so forth. They may even ask you for references or establish a waiting period before you can take the dog home with you.

Your pet, if not already spayed or neutered, will have to have that done before you can take it home with you. Additionally, your new pet will require a complete examination and all required vaccinations before it can be released.

Adoption fees run anywhere from $40 to $125 plus the cost of spaying, neutering, shots, and microchip insertion, if requested. Shelter adoptions are much less expensive than buying a dog from a pet store or breeder. You should exercise some caution if you respond to an advertisement giving away free puppies.

The pet adoption experience varies at different types of shelters, so take the time to search ASPCA and Humane Society of the U.S (HSUS) websites for listings of shelters and humane societies near you. Shelters are generally limited-stay facilities, sometimes government-funded and may have fostering programs. Humane societies are private, non-profit organizations that generally include education, veterinary care, obedience training and other related programs in their mission. If you’re interested in a specific type or breed of dog or cat, consider looking for a rescue group. These groups specialize and often keep animals in foster homes.

Because they want animal adoptions to be permanent and not wind up with animals being abandoned for a second time, shelters often provide adoption counseling. They may even offer other assistance such as obedience training, behavior counseling, and medical services.

If you plan on bringing a dog home from the shelter, prepare your house ahead of time. Sort of like childproofing, you may need to dog-proof your house until your new pet gets settled in. Additionally, you’ll want to bring a collar, leash, and pet carrier with you in order to safely transport your new dog home.

Adopting a dog from an animal shelter can be a rewarding experience.

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Great ways to help support your local animal shelter!

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Normally a great cause. Many shelters are understaffed, underfunded, overworked and swamped with an overflow of unwanted, discarded animals and anything will help.

How can you help?

A good place to start is finding out what the local shelter’s policies are concerning volunteers such as; age limits, what the volunteers are allowed to do, hours they need help, signed parental permissions for minors. You can also find out what the material needs of the facility such as: old newspapers, blankets and towels, food and water, dishes, cleaning supplies, toys, over the counter medicines. Many shelters love and welcome fund raising aid, whether it’s manning existing functions and events or helping to create new ones. It is possible that it will take more than one phone call or visit to be able to talk to the person in charge of coordinating volunteers.

While you are looking into volunteer policies, be sure to ask about the shelter’s policies regarding the animals, and make sure their policies are ok with you and your personality. You may want to find out if they have differing practices and rules according to breed. If you have questions as to whether or not their practices and policies are something you can live with, find out more by asking. Either someone will be happy that you are concerned with the wellbeing of the animals and feel an obligation to your own moral compass or you’ll find out it isn’t a good fit for you before you’ve put yourself into an untenable situation.

Also, if the facility is one that euthanizes after a set time limit, be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you are ready to deal with having to come in and find a personal favorite animal is gone — but not adopted, simply because its time was up. Not everyone can handle that, but it is a great gift to give these abandoned animals some last hours of affection is great to give these animals.

Take time and decide if you’re ready to clean up after dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, to sweep kennels, hose down runs, shovel piles out of the yard, scoop litter boxes, disinfect cages and kennels, wash food and water dishes, shake out bedding, all the grunt work, That’s what volunteers are for. Maybe you get to do the walking of dogs and playing with cats. Walking the dogs is another helpful task volunteers perform in many shelters, but know your limits. If you aren’t comfortable with a large, rambunctious dog, don’t get in over your head. Not only can you get hurt, but it’s a situation where it’s possible for the dog to end up being called unadoptable and wind up being put down early.
Keeping an animal groomed and bathed can lead to helping them to find a new home. If you have grooming skills, professional or just learned to groom your own pets; you can make a real difference! If grooming is something you’re interested in doing as a career, it’s a great way to get good practice.

Clean and groomed animals need for people to see them before they can be adopted.

Some shelters have adoption fairs, but if yours doesn’t, maybe you can help get one organized for them, getting different facilities in the community interested in helping such as; any local dog organizations, breed clubs, sporting associations like agility or weight pull groups or businesses owned by pet lovers. Local newspapers are another source for getting the animals out for public to see. They will usually run a few pictures and brief descriptions, on a weekly or possibly a daily basis. If you’ve got a good camera and an eye for getting appealing shots of animals, take the photos, print them out, and go visit the newspaper and see if they will accept them.

And you can always support your local shelter by adopting from them. That’s a win/win situation.

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How To Keep Your Dog Safe During Halloween

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Halloween is closing in, trick or treaters, pranks, and general mayhem will be afoot, as well as just a whole lot of strangers dressed up in odd ways doing things that aren’t normally encountered in daily life. That’s awfully stressful on a dog. Dogs don’t like change. They don’t like strange, and they really don’t like strange looking and acting strangers.

Some dogs love the attention they get being dressed up and joining the ranks of children and adults out celebrating. If yours does, then by all means, get out there and have fun — safely. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, of children or other strangers approaching too fast and frightening your dog or putting him into protective mode. Use a reflective leash and collar and be sure to wear something reflective yourself.

Using a shorter leash is a good idea as well. Everyone who is out on Hallowe’en night isn’t there for innocent fun. There are always a few with darker intentions; people who will swerve to hit your dog if he’s on a leash that’s long enough to allow him to be farther away from your side, crazies who take pleasure in the pain of animals, or who would snatch a dog away from the owner just to cause grief to the stricken owner. Don’t make it easy for them.

As a general rule, don’t let the kids take the dog trick or treating. Kids are into the moment and the excitement and don’t always pay as much attention to the dog as is necessary. They also tend to give the dog more credit for being the brains of the operation, for having the job of looking out for them, and don’t realize they need to be looking out for their dog, not letting other kids swoop down on him to pet or thinking it’s fun to tease the dog and make him act like that big scary dog they saw in the movies. Tell your kids it’s their night to be kids and you’ll take care of the dog.

Unless your dog is unusually calm and a voracious social animal, he’s probably going to be a whole lot happier and safer in a quiet room with something to keep him occupied; a stuffed kong, raw meaty bone, or a favorite interactive toy, with the television or stereo on just loud enough to obscure part of the sounds of the evening. Even better if a family member stays with him for the duration, or you take turns.

If you want to let your dog get more used to strangeness (or show off his costume) from the safety of home, consider letting him stay in the front room while you answer the door, but leash him and attach the leash to something that will hold him or at least slow him down should he decide to make a break for it.

And whatever you do, put the trick or treat candy somewhere the dog can’t get to it, especially any chocolate. Having a bottle of activated charcoal handy wouldn’t be a bad idea, just in case your dog is more clever than you realized when it comes to getting into things he shouldn’t have!

Halloween, like July 4th and a few other holidays, is never a night to let the dog stay in the back yard, even if you have a secure and private fence. There are too many pranks, too many strange noises, too many chances for things to happen. Even if your dog prefers to be outside, bring him in for the night and leave him inside for the whole night, not just until you’re ready to go to bed. After all, you never know when a witch in need of dog’s toes for a potion might be passing by!

Provided by Sean Brown of a site where you can find great pet doors and dog tracking collars.

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