…and what you can do instead.
Lots of well-meaning people plan on giving a puppy as a Christmas gift. Most often, it happens within the nuclear family unit, possibly after months of lobbying by a child. If you’re not sure if your family is ready for a dog, but you’re feeling the pressure to bring a dog or puppy into your home, or you’re simply considering a companion for yourself but aren’t sure if you’re ready, below are a few ideas that might help you get a better sense of whether you and/or your family is really ready for a new member.
Borrow a friend’s dog for a weekend to get an idea of the commitment level required. If the kids are putting the pressure on, make sure they have dog responsibilities during this time, and that you are closely monitoring when they interact with the dog. If your loaner dog is calm, well-mannered, and house-broken, you’ll have a very different impression of dog ownership than if you bring in a high energy dog that constantly wants to play or needs a lot of exercise, or a puppy that needs constant supervision and hasn’t yet learned where the bathroom is. This trial run can reveal some valuable information about yourself and your family. If you find from this experience that a calm, adult dog is a joy to have around, but you can’t imagine taking on anything more challenging, it might be advisable to abandon the idea of a puppy or a purebred Border Collie, and instead look to adopt an adult dog that has similar qualities to your polite house guest. If the placid pooch is boring and you’re looking for more adventure, you could consider a puppy or possibly just an adult dog with a higher energy level.
If this experiment involves children, observe how willing your kids are to help out, and how involved they choose to be. If you get significant resistance to the idea of scooping dog poop, or they prefer to come home from school and play video games instead of taking the dog outside to play, that’s probably pretty indicative of how they’ll behave with their own dog. And remember, as the responsible adult, you’ll be picking up the slack!
If you don’t have a friend or family member willing to fork over their dog, get a stuffed animal and play pretend, making it as realistic as possible for the dog or puppy you’re considering. For example, if you’re considering adopting a brand new 8-week old puppy, you’ll have to set up a realistic schedule that includes going outside with the dog every hour or two to see if he needs to potty (including when it’s very cold outside and it’s the middle of the night). Remember to stand there for several minutes since most pups don’t go immediately. Pups this age won’t sleep the whole night and will fuss in their crate (you’ll have to improvise), so make sure to set your alarm for every two hours or so to wake up with the dog. He will also requireconstant supervision if he’s not crated to ensure he doesn’t have an accident and isn’t chewing on something he’s not supposed to. Bonus points if you actually take a cheese grater to a leather shoe in order to experience the consequences of leaving your pup unsupervised. If you haven’t had a puppy before, it can be difficult to know what to anticipate. Talk to people you know who’ve raised puppies, or do some research online to get an idea of what puppy owners go through (try Googling “puppy problems” or “puppy potty training”).
Make sure to plan your monthly budget to include all the things your new puppy will need: dog food, several trips to the vet to complete his puppy vaccinations, a crate, bed, leash and collar, toys, puppy socialization classes, neutering, etc. The cost of owning a new puppy really adds up quickly (with a larger dog costing even more)—be prepared to spend between $500 and $1,000 in the first few months of owning your new puppy. If after a couple of days with your pretend puppy you start to wish it would just go back to being a fixture on your bed rather than a pseudo-dog, or you’re having a hard time making the checkbook balance, you may want to reconsider a puppy. An adult dog may still come with some hefty initial expenses, but after a (usually) brief adjustment period, they require much less supervision and settle in relatively quickly with a regular routine.
Become a Foster Family
It takes a special kind of family to foster a dog waiting to be adopted. You should want to be a foster for the “right” reasons, but fostering a dog temporarily also has the side benefit of helping you know if you’re cut out to be a committed dog owner long-term, and exposes you to lots of different types of dogs to find a breed/energy level/disposition that best suits you. Many homeless dogs do have behavioral issues that range from mild to more severe. The rescue group you work with will make every effort to place dogs with you that you feel comfortable handling. Fostering can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience since you are able to help many dogs instead of just the one or two that you would have otherwise adopted. It is not uncommon for foster families to adopt a dog they had been temporarily fostering, but felt a special bond with.
Become a Financial Sponsor
If you’ve decided that you cannot bring a dog or puppy into your home this Christmas, you and your family could still help an animal by becoming a financial sponsor for a dog or cat waiting to be adopted. You can do this locally through Animal Ark.
One Final Thought
If you’re pretty confident that a dog is in your immediate future, you’ve accepted that as the adult and/or parent in the home you’ll ultimately be taking responsibility for the animal and you’re okay with that. I’d still encourage you to wait until after the holidays.
December is a busy and “magical” time of year. We sometimes make well-intentioned but hasty decisions in the name of the holiday spirit. Just look at all the sappy engagement ring and car commercials that pop up every year around Thanksgiving time. Retailers know we tend to make less-than-clear-headed decisions during this festive time and they’re banking on it. Deciding to bring a dog into your home is something that should be done when you’re at your clear-headed, most down-to-earth realist self. It’s not a decision you want to regret later on, after the eggnog has worn off and the decorations have all been put away. You can sell the Lexus and call off the engagement, but a dog is (or shouldn’t be) so easy to get rid of should you regret having made an emotional decision in the middle of the holiday season.
Instead of getting a dog at Christmas time, pick a date on the calendar that doesn’t coincide with any holiday; June is usually pretty slow. If you’re still motivated to get a dog in June, it’s probably meant to be. If, when June rolls around, you’re less than enthusiastic, it might have just been a holiday whim. Get yourself a “June puppy” instead of a “Christmas puppy.” Bring your new family member home when you can give him your full attention and celebration.