Now that the holiday season is in full swing, many parents are gathering lists to send to Santa, only to find out that top of the list for their children is a dog. If you’re riding the fence on whether or not it’s the right time to add a canine companion to your family, here are some tips to guide you through the decision-making process.
Is Your Family Ready for a Dog?
Bringing a dog home from the shelter is a very exciting experience for everyone. However, finding out that it isn’t going to work out, and having to return a pet is a potentially traumatic experience, particularly for children. To make sure you are making the right call rather than an impulsive decision, think through these three main areas: space, time, and budget.
Dogs need exercise to stay healthy and mentally balanced. For the vast majority of dogs (with the possible exception of senior canines) walks alone will not meet their exercise needs. Off-leash running and playing in a secure area is more or less a daily requirement.
Toy and small breed dogs may have their exercise needs met with games such as fetch and tug played indoors. However, medium to large dog breeds benefit greatly when they have access to a secure fenced yard for daily play.
Does your family have time to provide for the attention and training that a new dog will require? If the adults are working all day while the children are away at school, your new dog will be spending a great deal of time alone. While some breeds will tolerate being alone during the day (as long as they are getting plenty of training, exercise, and attention when people are at home), many will not.
Make sure you have some money set aside for the costs of owning a dog. These will usually spike in the beginning as you pay for an initial vet visit, buy the first round of preventative medicine (heartworm and flea and tick preventative), as well as getting geared up with a leash, harness, crate, bedding, toys, etc.
If the budget is already stretched due to gift-buying and travel over the holidays, it might not make sense to add a dog to the mix.
What Type of Dog Would Be a Good Fit for Your Family’s Lifestyle?
Take some time to sit down with the family, including the kids, and find out what kinds of personality traits you are looking for in a dog. Then, do a little breed research to find out what types of breeds would make an ideal fit.
For example, if you are looking for a dog that is going to be fine doing mostly lap duty and the occasional game of fetch indoors, then some of the toy and terrier breeds would be a good choice. On the other hand, if your family spends a great deal of time outdoors and you are looking for a friendly and trainable adventurer, then a dog from the herding or sporting groups may be a better choice.
While we are on the subject of fit, consider carefully before adopting a puppy. While they are as cute as can be, puppies require much more time and energy due to the fact that they need to learn everything, including house training. Although they’re adorable, they’re labor-intensive and require some basic training know-how in order to become the well-adjusted dog you’re hoping for.
Are the Holidays the Best Time to Be Adding a Dog to the Family?
Although the standard advice is that the holidays are a terrible time to add a new furry friend to the family, this isn’t always the case.
For example, if you are not planning to travel or host large groups of people, the holidays may be an ideal time. If the kids are home from school, then this is a great time to establish some routines, get the kids involved with care and training, and make sure your new dog gets plenty of attention in their first days in their new home.
On the other hand, if your holiday schedule is jam-packed with activities, travel, or guests, then it can create a lot of extra stress on the dog. Waiting until after the hustle bustle is over may be a better option.
What Are the Adoption Options in Your Area?
Before buying a puppy from a breeder, make sure to exhaust the options for adopting a dog in your area.
In addition to your local animal shelters, search for animal rescue volunteer groups in your locale as well. These organizations offer you the advantage of having knowledge about how your canine candidate behaves in a home with other animals and children. In addition, foster parents can tell you about any known behavioral issues or concerns. It’s one way to take the guesswork out of bringing a new rescue dog home.
Web search tools such as AdoptAPet are great tools for finding adoptable dogs in time for Christmas through vetted rescue groups. Using these types of tools helps you avoid accidentally supporting puppy mill breeders and puppy adoption scams, which are especially common around the holiday season.
Sharon Elber is a writer and received her master’s in science and technology studies from Virginia Tech and has worked as a professional dog trainer for over 10 years.