Be a responsible giver if you choose a dog

There’s isn’t a more endearing holiday image than the vision of a child sitting by the tree on Christmas morning as she lifts the lid of a brightly decorated box and out pops a fluffy, adorable puppy. The light in her eyes as she cuddles the pup is nothing short of magical, and worth every effort you spent in acquiring this most perfect of gifts.

Because of this very delightful mental picture, and because many children will plead all year for a furry friend of their very own, Christmas is a popular time to attain the family pet.

As a dog trainer, and a person who has never known life without at least one four-legged family member, I highly endorse the decision to include one as part of yours. The hours of companionship, and joy that you will have with the most true friend you will ever know will be countless.

As wonderful as I am making this relationship sound, it is just that — a relationship, and a commitment as well. Children under the age of 5 are really too young to understand how to behave appropriately with a dog, and also are not old enough to help care responsibly for the pup.

Research the breed(s) of dog that would fit in best with your family. Mixed breeds make especially wonderful pets. Do your best to determine the pup’s family tree, and examine the traits of each of those breeds. The humane society, as well as the animal shelter in your county are excellent places to inquire about adoptable dogs and puppies. Even if you prefer a purebred still consider the shelters, as 25 percent or more of their rescues are purebred.

As part of this relationship/commitment, beyond providing basic care, you will need to be willing to provide exercise, as a happy dog is a tired dog.

You must provide training. Dogs are canine, and therefore have absolutely no idea what is expected of them in our human world, and they don’t speak the language. A dog that doesn’t understand the rules can become destructive.

There are many wonderful books on understanding how dogs learn, and how to teach them what we need them to know, or you can consult with a trainer for basic obedience as well as any behavior issues you may encounter.

There is nothing like the bond between a dog and his family. The qualities we admire in our favorite people are there in abundance in the dog.

So, this Christmas, if you’re contemplating bringing one of those fluffy, adorable pets as a gift for yourself or someone you love, consider the fun and the joy they will bring to your lives, but also take into account the commitment.

If done with care and responsibility, it can be one of the most rewarding decisions you can make.

Deb Riccitelli

Peachtree City, Ga.

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