In the Dog House with Jill Showalter

Bring a New Dog Home for the Holidays

If you’re still trying to figure out what to get your kids for Christmas this year and are still a little apprehensive about committing to that new phone they’ll eventually use to ignore you over dinner, you might want to consider a dog. I know, there are numerous associations that try to steer you away from getting a dog for your family during the holidays, and many of them provide good reasons, but the bottom line is if you’re prepared, a tail-wagging addition to the house may just be the holiday gift of a lifetime.

I’ve grown up with dogs my entire life. I’ve raised them and fostered them. I left a successful career to follow my passion and work with dogs. They are present in all aspects of my life and their unconditional love has given my family years of happiness. But you can’t just get a dog on a whim. It takes planning. Think about the effort you put into buying a house. You look at the neighborhood, the commute to work, the families on your block, the schools in the area, the parks nearby and more. Dogs deserve the same considerations.

Above everything else, you really need to understand that owning a dog comes with a ton of responsibilities. This isn’t a wind-up toy we’re talking about here. It’s a living, breathing bundle of energy, wonder, fear, curiosity, mischief and joy. And guess what? You’re going to be the one responsible for that amazing animal, so be ready. All the “I-promise” conversations in the world with your children outlining who will do what once the new dog arrives go out the window after a few weeks. You’ll be responsible for the feedings, the walks, the clean-up and more. But it’s not an impossible role. In fact, you’ll find that it’s an incredibly gratifying use of your time.

Although we’ll cover the following topics and more in much greater detail in the future, here are a few things to consider before getting a new dog:

The dog’s role: Why do you want a dog? Are you looking for companionship or protection. Do you want an exercise partner. Maybe you’re looking for someone to provide a little after-work comfort after a long day at the office. If you can identify the reasons you want a dog, you can start considering the type of dogs that suit those needs.

The dog’s surroundings: Will your dog be in an apartment or house? Are there rooms that are off-limits? Do you have family members or pets who may not be too enthusiastic about a new housemate? Do you have a yard where he or she can roam or will you need to take the dog for frequent walks to help him burn some energy? You don’t need to over-analyze every detail but you should a good understanding of the benefits and limits of your new dog’s home.

The dog’s care: Find a good, local vet, a recommended groomer and a safe boarding facility. All can be key to a happy, healthy dog. Talk to your dog-owning friends, read online reviews and visit vets, groomers and dog daycare locations ahead of time to get a feel for their approach. You also may want to research local dog walkers, yard clean-up services, local dog parks and any other site or service that can enhance your dog’s life and simplify yours.

The right dog will enrich your life everyday. It will become a member of the family, a loved one that will outlast the latest tech trends and must-have handhelds. If you’re going to buy or adopt a dog this holiday season, do your homework. Put in the time now to make sure you’re making the right decision and you’ll enjoy the warm-and-furry feelings that only a dog can bring for years to come.

Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 10,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.

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