Adding a Pet to the Family this Christmas? Food for Thought

December 2014

Among the wonderful visions, sounds and smells of Christmas often comes a scent guaranteed to turn any grown Mama into a cooing mess… it’s not baby powder, but rather, puppy breath. There’s something about an impossibly soft-eyed little tail-wagging bundle of puppy fur that can melt the heart of anyone. If you are considering adding a pet to the family this Christmas, we here at Simply Family are sure that you have done your preliminary homework.

For example…Have you figured out who will potty train your new furry little family member? This sounds simple when enthusiasm is high, but considering that many very young puppies need one or two trips outside during the middle of our Montana nights, realize that parental involvement will be high, at least initially. This may be a good reason to adopt or purchase an older animal, as well.

Even if your new family member is a mature animal no longer requiring midnight potty-runs, there are other things to consider. Like…Who will feed the pet on a daily basis? Will this type of pet require grooming? Is there a secure area to let them out if they need it, and who will handle that? Will they need daily walks? Who will handle the pooper-scooper, and how often? Will the dog need exercise, such as chasing a ball or stick?

Obviously the type of pet chosen has a great deal of impact on daily chores; cats are far less dependent than dogs, contain their business to a litter box, don’t do as well on leashes, and it is a rare cat that can be trained to retrieve a ball. Guinea pigs, hamsters, fish, lizards, hedgehogs all have different caregiving requirements, and smart families will prepare in advance for this impact.

Involving the kids

With smaller children, a chore chart should come in handy. This chart will have a little icon or description, depending on the child’s age, showing what needs to be done. Suggestions include feeding, checking water, playing with pet, etc. Some families find that starting with a simpler pet (such as a fish) and carefully observing a chore chart for a few months is a good way to build responsibility to end up with a dog or cat later.

Safety first

As you are bringing a pet in during the Christmas season, be aware of holiday hazards for your new pet. Kittens and puppies are inveterate chewers, and can find tinsel, ribbons and other indigestible items irresistible. Chocolate, that luscious and favorite Christmas stocking stuffer, can be deadly to dogs. Yes, Mama, you are doing the dog a favor by eating the chocolate immediately.

We love making our new pets happy, and slipping them treats from the supper table can be tempting. However, your new pet is undergoing a major life transition in coming to be part of your family, and their digestive systems are already at risk for some upset. Teach your children that the greatest kindness they can give their new friend is to restrict their diet to pet food and limited pet treats.

Training day(s)

Both children and pets will require some basic training. Kids can often resort to rough-and-tumble behavior with dogs, and while it is funny to watch a 5 pound puppy attacking a socked foot with ferocity, the same cannot be said of the same dog in six months when he has gained forty pounds and much more jaw strength. Dogs must be taught that play can never include putting their teeth on human skin. As well, dogs should be give their own toys to chew and cut new teeth on, and forbidden to chew on anything else. A good book on dog training will help you, your children, and your dog… if you are buying a full-bred dog, consider a training book tailored to that dog type (for example, training a Beagle is a far different process than training a Border Collie). Discipline while the puppy is small will result in fewer problems later.

Keep in mind with pets that they are as distinctive as human beings, with unique personalities and temperaments. It may take some time to work out the details of your new, furry family member, but the rewards are worth it.

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