Should You Surprise Your Kids with a Dog This Christmas?

Image via Kristen Zajac for EverydayFamily

Featuring our special guest, the author Kristen's Golden Labrador Retriever, Jerry.

Jerry: Hi Everybody! It's your lovable furry old pal Jerry, reporting live from EverydayFamily! Can you believe my mom is letting me help with this article? Woohoo! I am a one-year-old golden labrador retriever boy who hails from Miami, Florida. My family is very grateful to the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida (LRROF) for picking me up from Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department and changing my fate forever. I went from lonely stray into the loving foster home of the amazing O'Brien family. Stephanie and her kids showered me with so much love I flourished under their wonderful care. Meanwhile, little did I know, a family who would become MINE FOREVER had just moved into a house with a big backyard in Tampa, and they were searching for the perfect canine companion to call it home … ME! That was you, Mom!

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Kristen: That's right, Jerry boy! We're so thankful to Ronda Klassen, our proactive, dedicated, compassionate LRROF volunteer coordinator, who helped us search through all the available dogs at the Lab Rescue. When we saw your photo and biography it was “love at first sight.”

Jerry: I'll never forget the day Dad, you, and the kids drove eight hours round trip to come and get me. Woohoo! It was such a happy day, although it was a little bittersweet saying goodbye to my sweet foster family. I'm so thankful to them for rescuing me and helping me find such a fun home. Can you believe I have been with you for four months now, Mom?

Kristen: Hard to believe Jerry! We're so glad you are a part of our family and that you are celebrating your first Christmas in our household. I am hoping some other families might find it in their hearts to add a rescue dog to their families this year. What are your favorite things about being a part of our family, Jerry?

Jerry: I just love having enough food to eat and two WONDERFUL kids to live and play with! My very own little boy and girl! Can you believe it? They are loveable and kind. They pet me and hug me all the time. They give me lots of toys to play with, and they laugh a lot when I do funny things. Every day my kids play soccer with me in the backyard and throw me millions of tennis balls to chase! Yippee! I love playing fetch! Again and again and AGAIN! This is the life! When I am done playing soccer I like to sit in the bromeliads. (Sorry I crunched them all, Mom!) The kids say I am the “king of the bromeliads!”

My favorite pastime is going on lotsa walks a day with all of you. I just love getting my energy out. As you know, I can get into a lot of mischief if I don't get my energy out. Ha! I like to run and race and sit in puddles! By the time I am done walking I'm even frolicking and rolling in the puddles. Mom says then that I don't look like a Golden Lab anymore – but more like a Chocolate Lab. I just love splashing in the water. There is nothing better than that, except maybe chasing fish in that koi pond … Ooops. Woohoo!

Kristen: Most of the time we love going on walks with you too, Jerry! You bring up an excellent point, though, for our readers, Jerry.

tips for choosing the right dog for your family
Image via Flickr/ The Humane Society of Jefferson County

TIP ONE: If any of you are considering a dog as a Christmas surprise, don't make the choice on impulse; do your research and make sure you pick the size and breed of dog that is a good fit for your family in terms of temperament and exercise requirements.

Our last dog was a small dog and didn't require nearly as much exercise as our Labrador Retriever needs each day. Jerry is so young that he really needs 3-4 very long walks a day to be well behaved, and he also spends time playing in the backyard with our kids on top of that. If you choose a high-energy breed or young dog, make sure you are able to factor in the time to take care of those needs. If you don't have that amount of time to invest in exercising your dog, opt for a more laid back breed that is a companion dog, but more of a snuggler/couch potato. If you have any questions you can talk to your local rescue group, Humane Society, breeder, or animal shelter to get a feel for the temperament and exercise requirement of each individual dog you are considering for adoption. There is a good fit out there for every family, but it takes time to do the research so you make an appropriate match. Do you have any thoughts on this to share with families considering adopting a dog, Jerry?

Jerry: Yes, Mom! I have something really important to tell EverydayFamily readers. Our next tip …

age of adopted dogs affects training
Image via Wikimedia Commons

TIP TWO: I'm impulsive, but you shouldn't be! You've gotta think hard about the age of the dog you choose to adopt. There is a world of difference between what a puppy or young dog like me needs and what a middle age or older dog needs.

When I was a stray dog at the Animal Shelter, it made me soooooo sad that it was usually only the puppies and young one-year-old dogs like me that made it out, when some of my friends ages 3 and up didn't ever get rescued. The truth is they were much nicer, easier dogs to have in a home than us young dogs. They wouldn't have required any training. They weren't hyper. They were just ready to love and be loved. People shouldn't over look the middle age and older dogs, Mom. Remember how wild I was at first? Since I was a stray pup on the streets of Miami, I didn't know how to act in a house or how to greet people right. Remember all the times I almost knocked Grandma and Grandpa over just because I was so glad to see them?

Kristen: Jerry makes an excellent point. (Thank you for your honesty, Jerry, and don't feel bad – we wouldn't change our decision to adopt you for the world. We love you, wonderful and spirited boy! And with some training, you are now pretty well-behaved.) However, for our readers out there, if you have never had a pet or dog before in your household, I would absolutely recommend you choose a dog that is 3-4 years old (or older) as your first dog, especially if you are choosing a Lab. Sadly, they often don't make it out of the shelters as everyone wants the puppies and young dogs, and as Jerry pointed out, they are ironically usually the easiest and best-behaved dogs to add to a household.

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Our first rescue dog, Lucky, a rat terrier, was 5-6 years old when we adopted him. He required absolutely no training at all and fit right into our family perfectly. He never ate any household items or caused any trouble. When Lucky died at age 12 due to a heart condition, we were so heartbroken we chose to adopt a younger dog this time, our one-year-old Jerry, so we could enjoy his companionship for his full life span. We love our sweet Jerry boy and wouldn't change our decision for the world, but it hasn't been easy helping him make the transition. It's a good thing we're patient. If you're not or you have very little time, don't get a huge young dog, that's for sure. Jerry is becoming a fine pet, a perfect fit for our young family. Now, he makes my husband and me laugh over his funny antics and devotion to our six year old twins who love him so much and play actively with him, although truth be told, Jerry is a lot of work! As a one-year-old Lab, he is still very much a puppy with a lot of energy. As Jerry just mentioned, having been a stray, he had no previous training and due to his large size and zest for life, we decided he needed some training and so did we.

remember to plan for training your shelter dog
Image via Flickr/ maplegirlie

TIP THREE: If you choose a puppy or young dog, allocate money in your budget for dog training, especially if you choose a large breed.

We are so thankful to have found an exceptionally wonderful trainer, Becky Carlson, who came to our house for four two-hour sessions to help us handle our 65lb (now 85 lb) big baby boy. We are so grateful to Becky for training Jerry (and us) so that he could enjoy his new family and we could enjoy him without so much mischief! Before Becky came to the house, as Jerry said, he had a big problem joyously jumping on people as a greeting when they entered our house, which was not so good given his large size. He also playfully nipped and pulled very hard on the leash during his walks, especially when he saw a squirrel or another dog or person. Also, as he confessed, Jerry did try to eat things off the table and counter, and being a big boy his face was at table and counter level. We are forever grateful to our wonderful trainer, Becky Carlson, who taught us commands and training strategies, and was able to “civilize” our Jerry into a pretty well behaved boy.

Jerry: Miss Becky taught me sooooo much! I had to concentrate hard at first, but I also got yummy treats as I learned new commands. Miss Becky taught each member of our family the command words and motions too. She said it was very important for everyone to use the same words and approach so it wasn't confusing for me. She also helped us realize the same behavior people think is cute, appealing, or no problem in a small dog often gets a big dog scolded. Thanks to Miss Becky, visitors to our house really like me now! I am getting lots of compliments. Now that I am better behaved, I have also become a very popular boy around the neighborhood! All the neighbors love me and say what a beautiful and friendly boy I am! “Hello Jerry” they say and I just love it. My parents and I are really grateful to my wonderful trainer, Miss Becky, who taught me how to greet people without jumping on them! Ms. Becky ROCKS! Now I get so much love and hugs and petting it is amazing! I love you, Miss Becky, Merry Christmas!

Kristen: There is one thing I would like to add about training. There are some places that advertise you can “send your dog away to training” for a week or few weeks and they will “come back fully trained.” I would avoid those places. A lot of them have a more militant approach and break the spirits of dogs in the process. One of the best things about Jerry is his joy and enthusiasm for life. As our trainer Becky explained, he was jumping on us because he was so joyful. He had gone from being a stray dog to having a new home with a big backyard, and most important of all, having adults and kids who loved him; the dog equivalent of going to Disney or winning the lottery, Miss Becky explained in terms of sensory overload. What Jerry needed was some training, which worked beautifully, he did not need his spirit broken. He is now a much more well-behaved dog, but he still has his joyful, playful personality intact. Although there are classes to which you can take a dog, I recommend a trainer who comes to your house as he or she can help you come up with unique strategies for your particular house, family, and neighborhood. It is as important for the trainer to train you as it is to train the dog. That way you can continue the training on your own and maintain the behavior. Can you think of anything else our EverydayFamily readers need to know before adopting a dog, Jerry?

Jerry: Yes!

consider the costs when adopting a shelter dog
Image via Kristen Zajac

TIP FOUR: Don't forget to budget in money for dog food, treats, veterinarian visits, flea and heartworm preventative medicine, a crate (if crate training), chew toys, and a dog bed! Also make sure you are home enough to let us out to go relieve ourselves and take a walk (or make plans with someone to let us out when you can't get home on time.) We get sad, lonely, and miserable if we're left all alone every day.

Kristen: Thank you Jerry! I know that Santa is going to be bringing you some very special treats in your stocking this year as you have been such a good and loving boy. Santa is so glad you found your forever home, too! We feel so blessed to have you as a member of our family. You bring us unconditional love and affection. No matter what kind of a day we are having, you make us smile and lift our spirits. We love petting you and going on walks together. We have met so many more neighbors since we got you and we are all getting more exercise and getting fit. You are so funny, you make us laugh out loud. And it such a joy to see our children have a “best friend” who is always there for them, to play with, and to snuggle with. I wish every stray dog could find a forever home. Thank you for being so honest and brave in sharing your story with EverydayFamily readers so other families can prepare to add a dog to their family and ensure the match will last a lifetime.

Jerry: Thanks Mom! It is my dream that EverydayFamily readers will help more dogs find good homes! Please help adopt some of my friends! And next time you know someone who is looking to add a dog to their family, please share my story and encourage them to give another animal shelter or rescue dog like me a happy ending too! (And remember, don't forget about the middle age and older dogs out there too!) Wouldn't the world be a nicer, more beautiful place if everybody would open his or her home to a rescue dog? Please just remind everybody to do their research so that you and your friends pick a dog who is a good fit for your families. There is nothing sadder than a family adopting a dog and giving him or her back. That is what happened to one dog I know at the shelter. Please make sure you do your research and give your fur baby a forever home for life.

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If you aren't ready to adopt, there are a lot of rescue groups, like Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, who are looking for special families to foster dogs for a few months until they get adopted. Maybe that is something you can add to your New Year's resolution list this year- to help get dogs like me out of the shelter and into foster homes until they can find their home for life. Merry Christmas Everybody! I am wagging my tail at the hope the new year brings for me and all my friends thanks to good people like all of you.

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Should You Surprise Your Kids with a Dog This Christmas?

Kristen Zajac is a children’s author. Her published books include "The Veterans' Clubhouse," “Ebeneezer’s Cousin” (English and Spanish editions), and “Chasing the Spirit of Service”, winner of the 2011 Global eBook Award in multicultural fiction. Upcoming releases from Guardian Angel Publishing include "Grandma's Telescope" and "Taking Flight: Isabella's Aviary." Before becoming an author, Kristen worked at U.S. Central Command on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida writing thre ... More

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