You thought it was a good idea to get a puppy for Christmas? Right, well now it’s time to shape up because you have just become responsible for a life. You’ve done the jokes – “A dog is not just for Christmas, with a bit of luck there’ll be some left over for sandwiches on Boxing Day” and you thought you’d thought it through – after all, everybody knows it’s just a dog – they basically look after themselves don’t they?
Except they don’t. This little pup has just become your total responsibility. You decide, by the way you treat him now, how he is going to turn out and cope with the rest of his life. His whole life. And, let’s be honest, it’s not a great start to be a present, because Christmas is at once the best of times and the worst of times to be an adopted pet puppy (I just hope he wasn’t in a Black Friday sale or picked up from a van on the motorway services).
Why is it the worst time to adopt a puppy? Because it is hectic. Everybody stresses about everything from the temperature of the turkey to where to hang the mistletoe (is on a wire above your head a jolly jape or does it simply smack of desperation?). There are visitors, parties, large quantities of alcohol consumed and food lying about – your first visit to the vet shouldn’t have to be on Boxing Day because pup has scoffed twenty-six mince pies full of poisonous raisins or the whole box of Baileys chocs, or New Year’s Eve because drunken uncle Nobhead has just stood on him during an impromptu jive.
Nobody has time to concentrate on a little pup who has just learned that the best place to pee in this new place is behind the sofa: “I thought you were watching him!” “I thought you were, I was answering the door!” “Where is he now? Have you left the door open?” (cue sound of screeching brakes).
The best of times? Because if he can survive this mayhem physically and mentally unscathed he’s made of strong stuff and might just make it to adulthood without major behaviour problems.
But either way, you’ve got him now and he’s yours to mould and shape into the best pet he can be. But how? Well, for a start put that turkey leg down, you’ve got some looking after to do. Somebody has to watch this little guy every second of the day, and if not you, then who? Forget dropping off in front of the Queen’s message, or popping to the pub for a swift half, or becoming so engrossed in your game of strip charades (now there’s a mental image you’re not going to erase easily) that you forget where he is. Watch him. What is he going to do next? (Not “what is he doing now” because that’s too late.) Is it appropriate? If not, provide him with guidance – give him a chew (not turkey bones you idiot!), a stuffed Kong or a warm water bottle wrapped in a blanket to curl up on.
Has he already been crate-trained? If he has, send the breeder a bottle of brandy as a thank-you, because that is a god-send (or in an amazing anagrammatic twist, a dogs-den). If he hasn’t, set up your crate in a quiet corner, out of the way but still in the family room, so he feels safe and at the same time not shut-out. Make it comfortable with blankets to burrow into and especially the blanket you’ve brought with you from the breeder with his home scent on (you didn’t get one? Stop the bottle of brandy!!). Plug in the Adaptil nearby and use the herbs, flower remedies, crystals, homoeopathy and any other placebo you can lay your hands on – it is important he feels secure. When he’s wrecked, pop him in but don’t close the door – later you’ll need to teach him it’s OK to be on his own, but not now. With havoc all around he needs to feel some degree of control and the abilities to hide or escape should be there as options.
And still watch him, because when he wakes up, he’ll want a wee, so you have to take him out – and wait with him in the snow until you are sure he’s finished (if it’s cold for you, just think which bits of him are nearest the ground when he has a wee – no, not them, his tiny paws). He’ll also need a toilet break after eating and about every two to three hours if he hasn’t been, so it’s hardly worth taking your wellies and coat off.
What about cuddles? Of course you should cuddle him – but not everybody at once. Yes, he’s cute, but he’s a living being with feelings, not a toy. Children can wait their turn to sit quietly and have pup on their lap, where they can stroke him gently down the length of his back (1 stroke per second for relaxation) and maybe offer him tiny pieces of turkey as you sit next to them (if you’ve adopted a giant breed you might want to sit on the floor next to him as an alternative). Nobody picks him up or hugs him without your permission, and no giddiness indoors!
He won’t have had his jabs yet, so when you take him out you’ll have to carry him – and you do have to take him out. This is the time he gets to see his new world from a safe vantage point. Socialisation without traumatisation is the key to a balanced future – take him everywhere with the family and spread the responsibility around everyone old enough to appreciate the care that needs to be invested now. Share him, but under your obsessive supervision. Do not make a mistake.
If all this seems a bit intense, it’s because it is. If you can’t hack it, take him back to the breeder (with a bottle of brandy and a huge apology for wasting their time and pup) to let someone who cares enough look after him.
Otherwise think that you have the chance to build a being – a living breathing bundle of joy and happiness that has the potential to enrich or enrage you. Get it wrong and you will make both him and you miserable. Guide & Control him in the right direction and this fluffy, chewing, slobbering pee-and-poop-machine can provide companionship, unconditional affection, exercise, pride, a reduction in your blood pressure, an ice-breaker (great for pulling male or female – 101 Dalmatians wasn’t fiction you know) and make you both smile every day for the rest of your lives.
Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year