Puppy in red bow
Brad McMillan stars in Lucky Dog
Presented By
Lucky Dog

What To Consider Before Giving Your Children A Pet For Christmas

Before giving your children a pet as a holiday present, think long and hard about if your kids are ready for the responsibility and if you’re willing to pick up the slack.

Updated on 12/13/22 by Benjamin H. 

Are you considering surprising your kids with a dog as a Christmas gift? More importantly, are YOU (as the parent) will to be an unintentional pet parent, as well, starting this holiday season?

A new pet for Christmas might be the most popular holiday wish for animal-loving children all over the world. In reality, pets are very good for teaching children about responsibility and can help them cope with feelings of stress and anxiety. Through their unconditional love and companionship, pets can help increase your child’s confidence and decrease feelings of loneliness. Pets also encourage children to play and exercise with them, which ultimately helps kids lead a healthier, more active lifestyle. And as a bonus, you can pass on a tradition of having a dog at a young age, turning your kids into dog lovers for life! 

Obviously, there are many pros to fulfilling your children’s wish of owning a new dog or cat. However, as the parent, it’s your responsibility to consider the consequences of how your child’s gift may impact you before you decide to move forward with adopting a new pet. For example, parents need to be willing to take care of the pet when children forget or are away at school, and be able to pay for pet supplies and veterinary care. A pet is supposed to be a life-long commitment, but year after year animal shelters see a spike in “holiday presents” being surrendered around early January. If you aren’t prepared to care for your new animal for the next 10-20 years, now is not the time to adopt no matter how much your child may want a new pet. 

On a recent episode of “Lucky Dog,” Dog Training Expert Brandon McMillan helps a lovely couple prepare to bring home a new puppy for their young son, A.J. Brandon asks important questions of A.J.’s parents that all prospective pet parents with young kids should consider. For example, Brandon asks how comfortable A.J. is around dogs, and wants to make sure A.J. understands at least the basics of how to care for a new pup. He also inspects the family’s backyard to point out possible escape routes or hazards that need to be fixed by the parents prior to the new pup’s arrival. Watch their eye-opening conversation in the below video to learn more! 

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You likely also noticed in the video that the dog Brandon and A.J.'s parents have in mind is a small puppy named Flash. Since Flash is still teething, he has an inherent need to chew on everything. While training Flash, Brandon gives the puppy a lesson in what’s safe to chew and what’s off-limits. Since puppies are a lot like furry toddlers, they’ll put almost anything in their mouths (not just treat snacks). If they swallow the wrong thing, which is quite possible in a house filled with toys for small children, you could have a very expensive vet visit in the near future. Therefore, it’s also the parents’ responsibility to make sure their child is supervising the puppy properly, and to make sure the dog is properly trained. While the child can be involved in the puppy’s training, the parents will need to be the ones to enroll the dog in obedience classes, contact a certified pet trainer, and ensure the child practices the desired commands or behaviors with their dog.

Do not get your child a pet unless you are willing for it to be your dog or cat, too. 

We know we’ve already said it, but we can’t stress this enough. Do not get your child a pet unless you are willing for it to become your responsibility. If you are willing to take responsibility for the care of your child’s pet, you are giving your child a priceless gift full of love, companionship, and valuable life lessons to be learned. The bond a child and his dog or cat share can be truly special. However, children don’t have the income to care for a dog financially, nor can they handle the same responsibilities as adults. That said, the parents have to be willing to pay for the pet supplies, cover veterinary care and grooming, and ensure that the pet is cared for properly. That said, the child should absolutely be involved in caring for the pet. Simple tasks that children can usually remember to do (with the occasional prompting) is make sure their pet always has clean water, brush their pet’s fur, feed their pet before and after school, and clean up after their pet. When adults notice their children slacking on their pet care duties, the parents either need to remind their children or pick up the slack themselves. 

Be sure your children are ready for a new pet. 

Many children ask for pets, but it’s ultimately up to the parents to decide if their child is actually ready for a furry friend to join the family. In order to evaluate this, parents should consider how well their children handle their existing responsibilities, such as chores around the house. For example, does the child usually do their chores without much prompting, or do they always forget and protest once reminder?

In addition, parents should consider how much exposure their children have had around dogs or cats. Some children who haven’t interacted with pets much like the idea of a new puppy or kitten, but get scared when they actually interact with a dog or cat. You may want to consider asking a friend, family member, or neighbor to allow your family to petsit their dog or cat for a couple of days so you can do a trial run. This will give you a chance to see your child’s comfort level with the animal and ensure they know how to interact with the pet correctly. For example, some children are accidentally too rough with pets and could scare or injure a pet because they simply don’t know better. Always supervise your child while they are with the dog or cat and show them the right way to treat the pet if they don’t know already.

Include your children when you pick the new family pet. 

There are countless viral videos of children opening gifts on Christmas morning, only to burst into happy tears when presented with a new puppy or kitten dressed in a holiday bow. While those moments are beyond precious, they aren’t necessarily the most practical. Instead, we encourage you to include your children when you visit shelters and rescues to pick the pet. This will give you a chance to make sure your child and the animal are comfortable with each other and will be a good match. Just like some kids are scared around pets, some dogs and cats get nervous around young children. The key takeaway is that including your children during the pet picking process (what's the right dog breed, do they want a pup, are we ready looking for active dogs) helps ensure you choose the right animal for your family. This eliminates the heartache of finding out the pet you surprised your children with wasn’t the right fit and has to be rehomed

If you still want some element of surprise on Christmas morning, consider surprising your children with a pet they have already interacted with on a previous animal shelter meet-and-greet. Alternatively, you can use Christmas eve or Christmas morning as the time to announce that a new family pet will be coming soon. For example, consider giving your kids a custom “gift certificate” that tells them they get to choose one pet from the animal shelter. You could also gift them a new collar, a leash, or a dog bed for their room as a way to give them something tangible when you tell them they’ll be involved with picking a new pet soon. 

Consider the costs of pet ownership

Now that you've paid a breeder or shelter the adoption fees and are now a proud dog owner, note that the monetary commitment does not stop there! While a dog as a Christmas gift sounds like a great, one-time cost like most presents, like children, they will need constant care, a variety of dog toy gifts (like a kong classic), a medley of treat snacks daily and more to sustain their health and happiness. And don't forget the medical costs to maintain the wellbeing of your pet, which includes a regimen of shots, pills and hygiene. It is said that the cost of owning a dog annually can change from $400 to $4,000 a year, so make sure your finances are considered before making a Christmas puppy surprise on Christmas morning! According to a report by Pettable, the cost of owning a dog in New York can cost north of $2,300 per year

Are you still considering getting a Christmas dog for the dog lover in your family? Let us know on social! 

Get more holiday inspiration, great ideas, and pet parent tips on Dabl! Check our Dabl TV schedule and find out where to watch Dabl TV.