What's the best way to bring a puppy into your family?

A Puppy for Christmas

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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A Puppy for Christmas

My husband and I are considering adding a puppy to our family this Christmas. The kids have been asking for one, and we think the time is right. We don't have a lot of money to spend and haven't decided on a breed. Can we find a healthy puppy at a shelter? Or should we plan on trying to find a breeder? How do we know that the puppy we're getting is healthy? It would be a shame to get our kids a puppy and find out that we can't afford the vet bills. What advice do you have for us?

Adopt a Shelter Puppy

It saves a life. They get a free check up. It's a win-win situation. We have adopted two, and it has never been a bad choice.
Sandra (via Facebook)

A Puppy May Not Be the Best Option

Many times a young adult is better to adopt than a puppy. A one- to two-year-old dog has already gone through the chewing stage and should be house broke and kennel trained. For many people, they are a much better option.
Dana (via Facebook)

Move Thoughtfully and Cautiously

Like children, pets require a lot of money to keep them healthy along with food, toys, etc. They also require a lot of time and you cannot depend on young children for their needs. My suggestion would be that you and your husband educate yourself on different breeds before committing yourself. My dachshund is the most loving dog, was easy to housebreak, and loves everyone, especially children. But he has had a lot of back problems and surgery was expensive. Some dogs are hard to groom, and it's not cheap to get it done. If finances are an issue, you both need to have an honest discussion and decide what things in your budget can be eliminated. Shelters are full of puppies that were initially bought for children, but the owners found they didn't have the time, desire, or money for the commitment.

Animals Should Not Be Gifts

I've bred dogs for 35 years. Animals should not be gifts. Do not surprise the kids with a puppy under the tree! You can, however, discuss the idea of getting a pet with the kids, no matter how young they are. Talk about how an animal will add to the family (love, affection, loyalty, and fun) but also stress that a pet's life and health depends on the people who care for it.

Puppies need a great deal of care and training. The holidays are a time when there is so much activity that a puppy's needs may not be fully met. You can apply to a shelter for a puppy (it takes a while) or visit a breeder. Take time to let your kids help exercise dogs in your neighborhood or volunteer at the shelter (and show them how to clean up after the dog). Offer to care for someone's pet for a weekend. Get books on dog care from the library and read them together. Go to local dog parks and talk to the owners. Be sure your whole family is ready to welcome a dog before you bring an adorable puppy home. Your future pet will be happier and so will you!

Sometimes people get a dog for the holidays and then decide it's wrong for their family. You can then give that puppy the home it deserves. Just be cautious about answering ads for "re-homing" puppies from a stranger. This can be a scam or worse. Shelters will take dogs back, as will any reputable breeder.

Consider Going through a Rescue Group

I'd recommend going on Petfinder.com and looking for a puppy from a rescue group. They often get adoptable pets from shelters. The adoption fee for a rescue group will be higher, but our adoption fee was considered a donation and therefore tax deductible. And since they are often already in foster homes, they'll be able to tell you more about the health and personality of a given puppy.

Another option is to ask a few local vets for a shelter recommendation. We got two kittens from a local private shelter (not the county shelter), and our vet indicated that the healthiest rescues he sees come from that shelter.

We also adopted a dog that we found on Petfinder.com and then contacted the local rescue group, and we were able to find exactly what we were looking for (size, breed/mix, age, and personality). We have been very lucky with our adoptions, and I feel good knowing that our awesome pets were rescued and given a second chance. Recycle! Adopt a used pet!
Deborah in San Diego

Can't afford a pro? Give do-it-yourself dog grooming a try.

Save Two Lives

You absolutely can get a puppy from a shelter that is healthy and well adjusted socially. I suggest you start going to a shelter now, as some of them require long application processes and even home visits.

Depending on the age of your children, you may want to get an older puppy or young adult dog even so that you get more of an idea of what type of personality the dog will have. I think the best part of rescuing older animals is being able to pick and choose the type of personality you want in your pet.

Keep in mind that pure breed dogs and rescue mutts can all be very expensive over time. I suggest you research some breeds to see which ones require the most exercise and maintenance that will work for your family. Are you a high-energy family? Do you tend to be more home bodied? Some dogs require a ton of grooming and others do not. Some dogs are predisposed to certain diseases or conditions and some dogs have rather short (5-7 years) to rather long (18-22 years) life spans.

When you rescue a shelter pet, in reality, you are rescuing two pets because you give the pet you take home a wonderful home and you free up a space at the shelter, so they can take in another.
Heather G.

Wait Until Summer

Don't get a puppy at Christmas time! Winter is the worst time to try to "potty train" a puppy. Would you want to go outside every hour or two in the cold? Didn't think so! Neither does your puppy. But, that is part of what is required when teaching a puppy to do his/her business outside. Summer is a better time, especially if you have kids out of school that can help put the puppy outside and have the time to participate with obedience training.

Yearly Vet Costs Between $500 and $1000

Shelter dogs can be wonderful additions to your family. In fact, many dogs in show business were adopted from shelters! However, if vet bills are a concern, I strongly advise you to review your budget. Yearly vet costs (after the first puppy year) usually run between $500 and $1,000. It can be higher as your pet becomes a senior. You can sometimes avoid high vet bills by taking care to provide quality nutrition and regular exercise. Keep in mind that good high protein food costs more than regular store brands. And you should also factor into your budget things like boarding (if you vacation), toys, etc. I certainly don't want to discourage a loving family from getting a dog. I just don't want you to have any unexpected (and unpleasant!) surprises!

Check with Your Local Vet

Our vet takes in stray animals rather then have them go to the pound. He often advertises on his sign that he has an animal in need of a good home. Since your getting it from a vet, they should be able to tell you whether the animal is in good health and what future bills might cost.

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