Dear inquisitive readers:

With the holiday season here, Poncho and I thought it would be an appropriate time to bring up the topic of giving a pet as a holiday gift.

As a dog mom and certified professional dog trainer, I know there is little that compares with a relationship that provides true unconditional love. Poncho and I know what that connection means. And we understand that you or someone you know may feel the same way. While it can be easy to get caught up in the spirit of spreading joy during the holidays, it’s crucial to keep a realistic perspective of what it means to be the primary caregiver for a pet.

We highly recommend that before making a life-changing decision such as adopting a pet for yourself and especially for someone else, you ask yourself the following questions, answer them honestly, then use this information for making a well-informed and responsible decision.

Things to Consider Before Adopting

» Why do I want a new pet? Or, why do I want to give a pet?

Those are by far the most important questions, and two with so many answers. Although the loving relationship between a dog or cat and his or her family is like no other, it’s not a decision to be entered into lightly. A concrete decision, and one of unity, is best.

For more information on deciding whether a new pet is the right gift for the holidays. including alternatives to giving a pet animal, see my dog training blog.

» Is this the best time in my life to bring a puppy home?

Daily socialization, physical and mental exercise and training are all essential components for building a strong, loving and healthy human-nonhuman animal relationship we all strive for. While we believe it’s possible to work dog training into real-world scenarios and daily activities, raising a healthy pet is still a major lifestyle change.

Remember, if you’re thinking about giving someone else a pet dog or cat, ask if it’s a good time in his or her life.

» Are there any foreseeable life-changing events in my/our family’s future?

Although we aren’t able to predict the future exactly, including changes in employment, marital/relationship status and children in your home (either currently or in the future), all of these elements should be factored into the decision.

» Can I afford it?

You will need to take into consideration supplies such as leashes, collars, a bed, a crate, food and vet bills. The cost of owning a pet can be high. Even the basics add up. You will then want to multiply that by the number of years the animal is likely to be part of the family. Remember that for dogs it could be from eight to 17 years; for cats and birds, it’s much longer.

» What type of animal do I want?

Know your animal, know the species-specific traits and know your breed. There is a multitude of dogs and cats from which to choose.

We find it best to match yourself with a pet in the same way you would match yourself with a person. Who would you want to be friends with? Who would you be “attracted” to? Although we’re talking about dogs, cats or other domestic pets, you are still forming a relationship.

Educating yourself about normal behaviors of a particular animal can help you plan and prepare.

» Answering the following questions can help you make a more informed decision and set you up to be a responsible pet guardian. Do I travel? If so, would I need to make arrangements? Am I allowed to have this type of pet where I live? If something happens to me, who would take care of my pet? Am I physically able to take of this pet? Am I willing to meet his/her mental and physical requirements? Does this particular pet match my lifestyle?

Pet guardianship requires a lifetime commitment, a responsible attitude and the willingness to make the occasional compromise. We hope that these questions have assisted you in making a well-educated, informed decision. If you decide to adopt, we wish you all the best for a lifetime of happiness together.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified pet dog trainer and dog behavior counselor. Her column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and founder of The Inquisitive Canine. She and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Joan offers training and behavior consulting services both in person and online, dedicated to strengthening the human-canine bond. If you are feeling inquisitive and have dog training questions, email and click here for more training tips. The opinions expressed are her own.