This is the time of year when families might be considering a new pet for Christmas. Maybe you have visions of a yellow Labrador puppy with a red bow under the Christmas tree — just like in a movie. "I don't think it's a bad idea," says Dr. John Faught of Firehouse Animal Health Center. "It just needs to be thought out. It's not like a new PlayStation that you're not using a year from now. It's going to be a dog that's with you for 10 to 20 years."
Pick the pet that's right for your family. Do you want to ease into pethood with a self-contained pet like a goldfish, a hermit crab, a hamster or a gerbil? The goldfish is not a pet you can play with, but you can hold a rodent or a hermit crab or lizard. Just know these probably aren't pets that are going to play fetch. Kids might lose interest.
Faught warns not to make a snap decision on pocket pets. You might be in for more work and effort than you thought. These pets require keeping the cage cleaned and regular feeding. Sometimes they require grooming or cleaning.
Caged pets also have a short lifespan, which can be good because, if kids lose interest, your commitment is only a few years. But be prepared for a funeral and the tears that come with it.
If your family is looking at a cat, realize you're making a 15- to 20-year commitment. Like a dog, different breeds have different personality traits and you want to match the breed to your family. Some cats are independent and don't want to be messed with. Others like to play and are very engaging.
Also, there's a myth that a kitten doesn't require extra work. Although kittens are nothing like puppies, they still need socialization and litter-box training. You have to teach them how to be a cat and set guidelines about household rules. A dog is great for families who want a pet that needs interaction and who want to be able to take the pet on their adventures.
When it comes to a dog, you really need to know who you are as a family. "Look at your family and how active your family is and how much time you have to deal with your pet," says Steve Haynes, a dog trainer who owns Fidelio Dog Works. If you are thinking of a puppy, realize that a puppy is like having a baby. "Potty training a puppy and a 2-year-old at the same time, that's hard," Haynes says. Puppies take six months of training work minimum, and you want to train them early. Between ages 6 weeks and 16 weeks is the time to imprint on a puppy. Most puppies come to families at 8 or 9 weeks old, so you have to start working with them right away to have well-behaved adults.
If you're looking for a rescue dog, Haynes and Faught both suggest going through a reputable group that pulls dogs out of animal shelters and fosters them. It will know the dog better and can help you pick one that fits you.