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Please Consider Not Surprising Your Family With a Dog This Holiday Season

Updated on December 5, 2013

Not much is cuter than seeing a puppy in a red bow, maybe the gleam in your child's eyes when they squeal "A Puppy!!!" And sometimes, things just work out and everyone lives happily ever after. But sometimes, they don't, and puppies are a lot of work. And sometimes you work extra hours come January to pay off your holiday debt and do not have the extra time you need to train a puppy. Sometimes our children come to think of the puppy as another inanimate object along with the other presents and when the novelty wears off, it gets ignored along with the other presents. And sometimes in February puppies are dropped off in shelters or abandoned in parking lots.

I don't mean to bum you out or burst your bubble, but deciding on a dog is something for the whole family to consider. More often this decision is made on impulse, so I'd like to remind you to slow down for a minute and hear me out. Not every dog is right for every family, very often there are signs of incompatibility within the first meeting. When you go to select your pet, wherever it is that you go, it's important to bring everyone. Watch the humans and the dog and see how they respond to each other. If everyone is making really good eye contact, some kisses are exchanged, and everyone is still smiling and not having an allergic reaction, that's a good sign, and you'll be assured of your decision.

The next step to consider is the expense and the responsibilities of pet parenting. Firstly, vet visits, grooming, gear, and food all cost money. Have you thought that out? It ain't cheap. Secondly, who will be walking, feeding, house training, and grooming this dog? I'd say, all of those things need to be done by a grown up. Children under 13 can assist in those duties, but from what I see, asking them to go solo on these tasks can lead to many failures. Children have shorter attention spans than grown ups do and I see many children finding a task (like leash training) daunting so they don't do it. They get discouraged and just quit. Adults should take the lead and then when a goal is accomplished, teach the child what you do. Hoping a child is just gonna be able to train a dog not to steal food off the counter or poop in the living room is silly.

"Oh, but I grew up with dogs, it'll be fine." Yeah. People also tell me that because they had brothers and sisters, they know how to raise a child. Being familiar with dogs is a bonus, for sure, but it's so different when all the responsibility for vet visits, food cost, and liability is entirely on you. When you were a kid and your dog got out and destroyed your neighbor's tulip beds, it was your parents that had to replace the bulbs and send a letter. Those are just flowers. You could have a dog get loose and destroy your neighbor's kid's face. As the adult, this is your responsibility, this is your problem (but if your dog is properly trained and cared for the probability that it's going to bite is low). So no, if you've never purchased a dog before, yourself, it's not the same. So read books, talk to other pet parents, and sign up for a training class.

Yes, go see a dog trainer before you've lost your mind. Whether you've had dogs before, or not, it's better to get some help from a professional. Also, dog training is affordable. If you've found a great trainer, they will stress the importance of a strong bond over a dog that knows 100 commands in German. Do it before problems start. Let a trainer help you lay the foundation so you don't run into problems like this one:

Guy- How do I keep my dog off the bed?

Me- What do you say to get him off the bed?

Guy- Get down.

Me- What do you say to him when you want him to lay down?

Guy- Down.

Me- ...

If you've taught your dog "down" and then shout "down" at him when he's on the bed, your dog is thinking "Why's that guy yelling, I AM laying down? I'm laying down right on this bed!" Just something to think about.

So, yes, I know you really really want a puppy to pop out of a box for your kids for Christmas because it's an adorable idea. But a better and still adorable idea is attaching a picture of a dog to a balloon in a box that pops out when you open it, and then put in the business card of the shelter or breeder your new puppy will be coming from.

Other gifts not to buy:

Aaaaaannnnd now that you have that puppy, it's time to train:


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