Let’s face it, it’s a beautiful fantasy - the kids in their pajamas opening the big box, and out pops a fuzzy puppy with a big red bow. Awww, how adorable! But, this isn’t Hollywood, and puppies aren’t props. So let’s explore the idea from a more practical viewpoint and see if a Christmas puppy really makes sense for you and your kids.
- How old are your kids? Young puppies and young children are not always a match made in heaven. Kids squeal and run. Puppies bite and jump. Completely normal behavior for both, but it can be a challenge to meet the needs of both human and canine babies in a way that keeps everyone safe and happy. I believe it is best to wait until children are at least 6 years old before trying to raise a young puppy. Despite your best intentions and efforts, some dogs are not really fond of small children; even a puppy raised with kids may not enjoy them. So what is a reasonable compromise solution? Find an adult dog that is accustomed to and loves younger children - a smart choice with a better chance for harmonious success.
- What is your house like during the holidays? Do you have lots of visitors, parties, and excitement? Will you still have the time and inclination to focus on caring for the puppy, or will your other activities completely fill your day? In most cases, it’s better to plan to bring a new puppy home in January after the excitement of the holidays has passed. This time is more like your “normal life”, and generally better suited to raising a puppy. You can still provide an exciting Christmas for the kids by giving gifts associated with caring for the puppy – a crate, leash and flat collar, some toys, books about dogs, like Puppy Training for Kids by Sarah Whitehead – and a “gift certificate” for the puppy. Anticipation is exciting for kids, and you can channel that enthusiasm by getting your kids actively involved in choosing the puppy, which will ultimately increase your chances of a successful adoption.
- Owning a dog is expensive! The purchase price is often the smallest cost. Before adding a dog to your family, consider the annual (and lifetime!) cost of food, grooming, veterinary care, training, and supplies for the puppy. Choosing an inexpensive or “free” puppy without knowing any history can end up costing you far more in the long run, as it may have health and behavior problems of which you were unaware. There is a reason why puppy mills have a bad reputation, when their concern is breeding and selling puppies regardless of genetic or other underlying health concerns. And what do you know about the dog that “accidentally” had a litter of pups by some unknown male? Ask yourself, if there are problems (and even if there aren’t), can I realistically afford to own a dog for the next 10-15 years?
- Young puppies are a LOT of work. It’s very much like bringing home a new baby. They require a dozen or more potty trips outside each day. They need to be fed three times a day. They explore the world with their mouths, so there is lots to do to teach them what are, and are not, appropriate chew items, including how to keep their teeth off humans. Raising a puppy requires patience and consistency, and in most cases, you’ll be sleep deprived while doing it. So it’s important to make an honest assessment of your home, family, and lifestyle before committing to raising a puppy. In many cases, you may be better off adopting an older puppy, young adult, or even a senior dog. As cute as puppies are, getting through the first year of their life can challenge even experienced dog lovers. And let’s be honest; if you’re not up to the task, who ultimately is the one who suffers most? That’s right, it’s the dog. Plus, a failed adoption will negatively impact your kids as well.
- Regardless of the season, choosing a puppy for your family should involve some mature decision-making and preparation on your part. Do your homework! Everyone in the family should have a chance to express their thoughts and desires and then, as a group, come to a decision about the type of dog that would best fit your family. Admittedly, this does not make for a good surprise, but you’re about to take on a big responsibility. This is not a sweater you’re getting, which if you don’t like the color, you can simply go and exchange for something else. You’ll want to consider factors like adult size, exercise requirements, grooming needs, activity level, and basic breed characteristics. If you, your children, or frequent visitors have allergies you'll also want to consider what type of hair the pup has. Many dogs are re-homed every year due to unexpected allergies. Websites such as Breed Match and PetNet can identify and recommend suitable breeds based on your answers to key questions you may not think of on your own.
- If you have never owned a dog before, it's wise to educate yourself beforehand so that you may care for your puppy properly, thus increasing your chances of having the puppy become a happy, well-mannered addition to your family. As a starting point, please download your free copy of Ian Dunbar’s fantastic book Before You Get Your Puppy.
- Another honesty check… who is going to be the primary caregiver for that new puppy? Who will walk the dog 3-4 times a day once puppyhood is over? Many kids promise they will “take care of it,” but school work, sports and other activities often take precedence. Even with older, very responsible kids, the bulk of the dog care is likely to fall on mom. Dads work hard too, but moms, typically being the nurturers, can’t avoid picking up any slack. So it’s important for mom to have a special say in whether or not the time is right to add a puppy to the family!
If you’ve made it through all of this and can honestly say that the time is right and you are ready, willing, and able to give a puppy a loving, forever home, then go on to Choosing A Puppy.
Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC