The holiday season is a magical time when a dream someone has been dreaming all year – or for several – may come true thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of a family member or friend. One such gift common to this time of year is a dog. Do you have a good friend that could really use a loyal companion? Has your child or spouse worn you down and now seems like the time to get that dog?
Before you head to the nearest animal shelter, there are a few things you must keep in mind. Remember that a dog is a living creature and your new pal Howie deserves your careful thinking. Shelters report intakes increase after the holidays as people who thought giving a dog was a great idea suddenly change their minds. Don’t let that happen to you. Here are some important things to think about before you sign those adoption papers.
• Remember that a dog is a big commitment. Howie can live 10-15 years, so you or your friend needs to be ready for that long-term relationship. The sad fact of the matter is that the number of homeless dogs out on the streets and in shelters is not due to something that’s wrong with the dog. In most cases it’s because the human who took that dog home changed his or her mind. Be sure you or your friend is prepared for the amount of work and money it takes to be a dog owner.
• If you really want to give your friend a dog and you’re sure that she is ready for the commitment, don’t pick the dog out for her. Make a decorated handmade certificate stating your intention to get her a dog. You can also give start-up items such as a leash and collar or food and water bowls. You can go with your friend to pick out a dog, so you’re still involved with the selection process. But, by letting your friend pick Howie out for herself, you’re ensuring that owner and dog are a good match.
• It’s great to fall in love with a dog and want to give it to your friend, but be sure to keep your friend’s personality and time commitments in mind. Will she be able to handle Howie if he needs a lot of exercise? Will she be able to walk him and give him the attention he needs or will her 60-hour a week job make that impossible? Would she be able to handle a puppy with all of its energy and potentially destructive behavior? Is she prepared to train Howie? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself about the dog and your friend before you give a dog as a gift. By working these out before hand, you’re better able to prevent behavioral problems and emotional strain for both pet and human.
• Think about the environment you’re going to be putting the dog into. Let’s say Howie will be coming home to your family as a gift for your four-year-old daughter. If Howie is still a puppy younger than six months old, keep in mind that dogs have sharp claws and teeth. If neither puppy nor child is old enough to respond to commands or make good decisions when interacting with each other, an older dog may be a safer bet. You also might not want to get a dog that is very small, such as the various ‘toy’ breeds, as they are fragile and prone to injury. On the flip side, if your elderly mother lives with you, you’ll want to be sure the dog’s energy level is not so high and the dog is not (or will not be) so large that Howie could accidentally injure your mom if, in his loving enthusiasm, he accidentally knocks her over.
• Remember that dogs need a lot of care and attention (considerably more than a cat requires), particularly if the dog is young. Howie can’t be left alone outside all day without interaction at some point. If the new dog owner’s schedule is a full 8-5 work day, the dog will do best with morning interaction before work and evening interaction after work, plus additional attention on the weekends. If you ignore the dog’s needs, behavioral problems such as jumping, barking, destructive behavior and aggression may result.
Dogs can be the best kind of companions for many years. There are few other pets that promise the love, loyalty, and dedication that a dog does, so giving one to someone as a gift could be the most memorable gift they have ever received. However, you have to think it through and make sure you’re making the right decision both for the dog and the recipient. If things are rushed into, it can result in emotional strain for everyone involved. If careful thought is put in and good decisions are made, then you will be giving someone the gift of a lifetime. Choose wisely and the recipient will be thanking you for many years to come.