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How to Introduce a New Pet on a Holiday

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It’s hard to top an adorable puppy for Christmas or kitten as a holiday present, and it’s one that many families will be getting this season. While common wisdom once held that giving a pet as a gift wasn’t a good idea, recent ASPCA research found there is no correlation between getting an animal as a gift and an owner’s love and attachment to the pet–even if that pet was a surprise gift for a first-time dog owner–and no increased risk of turning in a dog or cat received as a gift to a shelter. While that’s great news, it can be trickier to make the transition smooth when the household is more hectic than usual. If you’re ready to give a pet as a present to your partner or child, here’s good advice from Sarah Fraser, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants Co-Founder, Instinct Dog Behavior & Training, on how to make the process easier and even more joyful.

First, Identify the Right Pet: Dog or cat? Puppy or kitten? Dachshund or Retriever? American Shorthair or Siamese? Loving pets come in many forms. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when making the big decision:

• If you are a first-time pet owner, and/or if you have young kids, it will be important to select a dog or cat with a stable, friendly temperament, and one whose care requirements are not terribly complicated. Long-haired dogs and cats require more bathing and grooming; younger animals require more time and attention early on.

• What types of activities does your family enjoy? If your partner is looking for a buddy while jogging or hiking, keep in mind that a puppy will take some time to grow into this role. Consider the breed as well before selecting your puppy for Christmas. “English Bulldogs generally aren’t the best choice if you are looking for a running partner!” notes Fraser. On the other hand, if your teen lounges around on weekends, binge-watching YouTube, a cat or the right breed of dog could be an excellent choice. “It’s surprising to many, but rescued Greyhounds enjoy lots of low-key relaxing time in the house,” says Fraser.

• If you have a bustling household, with a constant flow of visitors, and especially if you are a first-time dog owner, research the breed you’re considering, as some are more likely to be suspicious of strangers. “Take time to learn about their general personality and behavior tendencies, and avoid selecting a breed just based on looks,” cautions Fraser.

Then, Find That New Friend: Once you’ve identified the type of pet you feel confident will be the best match, it’s time to bring your new pal home. “I recommend adopting from a great shelter or rescue group, or purchasing your pet from a responsible breeder that focuses on breeding healthy, stable family companions,” says Fraser. If you purchase your puppy for Christmas from a breeder, be sure to find one who lets you meet one or both of the parents. A good breeder will be enthusiastic about their breed, and will care deeply about their pups or kittens.

Welcome Home! This is the dicey part at the holidays. While we all love those commercials with a child opening a big, red-bowed box to be surprised with a puppy for Christmas who immediately commences licking his beaming face, the reality can be considerably less Norman Rockwell-esque. Trying to recreate that scene can be stressful for the animal and tough to pull off in the moment. Consider having the pet arrive prior to the holiday. Gift your lucky recipient with a series of small, pet-themed parcels leading up to the big day (The 12 Days of Christmas, anyone?). Or arrange for the pet to come home after the holiday. You’ll get to keep the element of surprise with this tactic. Consider having your loved one unwrap a box with a stuffed dog or cat inside, or a selection of pet supplies, and include a note announcing your gift.

If you really want the dog or cat to make his or her first appearance on the big day, “Provide a calm, quiet space away from the holiday excitement,” suggests Fraser. If you have kids, announce the gift before the introduction. “Even though the yelps of joy and the jumping up and down comes from a place of happiness, it can be scary for a new pet,” explains Fraser. With a dog, one idea is to have him waiting outside with a relative or neighbor, and bring your child out to meet him. Then take him for a walk as a family, and let everyone burn off some energy.

Setting Up for Success: Help your pet learn good habits right from the start, as bad ones can be hard to undo. Feeding table scraps is a common one, especially for a first-time dog owner. No matter how much those big puppy eyes melt your heart, resist that piece of turkey here or spoonful of lasagna there. It will encourage your dog to beg, not only from you, but from your guests. Worse, people food is meant for, well, people, and it can cause obesity in the long term or short-term indigestion. That’s doesn’t mean you can’t treat your new best friend. Just offer healthy dog treats or chews, such as Nylabone Puppy Chew Starter Kit Triple Pack Dog Bone Toys.

Make sure you to pet-proof your home and stock up on all the basic supplies, like pet food, beds, bowls and toys, before the big unveiling, especially since most stores aren’t open on holidays.