While that may not happen very often in real life, families contemplating giving a dog — or any pet — as a Christmas present have much more to consider, especially when the gift recipient is a child.
Katherine Simkins, who owns dog training business Bark Busters in Reno, said giving a puppy or a dog as a present should be carefully thought out to be sure the family can commit to caring for a canine companion.
“We just want to make sure everybody’s on board and (the pet) matches with their lifestyle,” Simkins said. “For instance, an older couple wouldn’t necessarily want to get a German shepherd or a herding dog because they need a lot of exercise. … I’ve got a dachshund and even though she isn’t a working dog, she’s considered very active. If there’s little children, (the family) should be thinking about not getting a dachshund.”
Determining whether a child is ready for a pet, Simkins said, should be based on whether parents believe their son or daughter can be a “pack leader,” someone who will be firm enough to command the pet, especially if it’s a dog.
“There are three characteristics to be a pack leader,” Simkins said. “They’ve got to have the body language, the voice tones and the consistency. Those are key to being a pack leader and most children do not have those three traits.”
Simkins said most children develop those qualities at 12 and older. Even then, planning, communication and consistency become key in training up that puppy or dog.
“You cannot take the puppy out of the dog,” she said. “It takes a lot of work. It’s like bringing a baby home. You have to make sure the family’s on the same page.”
If the owner has no firm hand, the dog is not likely to take them seriously, she added.
“If it’s a bigger dog and (the child) is a 5- or 6-year or 7-year-old, they’re not going to pay attention to that kid,” she said. “(Dogs) consider (children) puppies and they have no status in the pack.”
Simkins said just like every dog is different in personality, so is every child and they need to be guided on how to properly train and correct their dogs.
“They really do look to us for leadership,” she said.
Simkins said she’s never encountered a situation where a family had to give up their pet because they couldn’t take responsibility for it. The families who go to her for her advice are dedicated to keeping that pet, she said.
“I just worked with a couple, and what a household, where there were four dogs, four adults and four kids and one of (the dogs) was stranger aggressive,” she said. “By the time we did the door manners (session), the owner couldn’t believe the difference. … You see changes within two hours. That’s what we do. We speak dog; we communicate in a language that the dog is going to understand and it’s all without treats or being physical.”
Simkins said a pet can affect a family’s lifestyle, so taking on an animal should not be considered lightly.
“Dogs are a big responsibility and it changes the dynamics once a dog enters into a home,” she said.