This special was not originally intended to be The Simpsons pilot. Production problems, particularly with the first produced episode, The Simpsons: Some Enchanted Evening, saw the show delayed from its planned October debut until late December, thus dictating that this Christmas-themed episode, the eighth one produced, was the first to be broadcast. ("One Enchanted Evening" was eventually broadcast as the last episode in the first season).
DVD commentary revealed that the creators got letters of praise for heightening the awareness of the abandonment of racing dogs even though they didn't know it was a real problem when they created the episode.
First appearances (not including The Tracey Ullman Show) of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Principal Skinner, Waylon Smithers (just voice), Mr. Burns, Grandpa, Patty, Selma, Snowball II, Ned Flanders, Todd Flanders, Moe, Barney, Lewis, Milhouse, and Santa's Little Helper.
This episode was the eighth to be made for the series, as shown by the production code, but because the series was beginning broadcast just before Christmas 1989, logic dictated that should be the first one shown in the run.
The odds of Santa's Little Helper are ninety-nine to one. If the dog had won the race Homer and Bart would have won $1,287 dollars. Barney, on the other hand won only $130 after betting on the dog named Whirlwind whose odds were ten to one.