Just think of it: it's Christmas morning and you're being dragged out of bed by your excited children. They bound into the living room and while they're distracted, you go out to the garage to get the present of the year: a brand-spanking-new Puppy. Or maybe you're surprising your partner with a squirming little pup hidden behind your back. The dream sounds perfect, and you're excited to put your plan together. You think, "It's just a Dog, how hard can it be to take care of?" But it turns out it's a lot more complicated than that. Dogs can be a big commitment, especially if they're brought into a busy or frequently traveling family.

There are several things you need to consider before diving right in.

Choosing your puppy

Let's start at the beginning. It's much better to adopt a dog from a shelter than to buy from a breeder. Acquiring dogs at places like puppy mills can also come with medical problems for your dog due to inbreeding (which can be expensive for you down the road). It can cost you thousands of dollars up front for the breeding rights, as well as travel fees to put the dog on a plane to your city. Also, choosing to buy from a breeder of any kind means the puppies at the animal shelter are more likely to eventually be euthanized if no one adopts them. You should consider buying an adult dog if you have a busy family life.

If there won't be someone at home to potty train your puppy, it may be easier to buy an adult that can already go outside to do its business.

Caring for your puppy

We've all heard the "since it's your puppy I expect you to care for it" line in movies. The truth is, more often than not children will not keep up with caring for the dog no matter how much they wanted it in the first place.

You will need to be able to train your dog, feed and water it (making sure you get the right kind of food for its age and size), brush it and bathe it, and generally keep it company. The dog will need to be played with, so you will need to buy them some toys and preferably a bed of some sort. You will quite literally be responsible for this animal's health and happiness - you don't want to be one of those families that dumps a dog off at a shelter when it's not a puppy anymore - so be certain that you will be there to take care of it.

If your family frequently travels it can be expensive to get a sitter or put them in a kennel. Also, if you already have a pet of some sort, you'll want to test it around a friend or family member's dog before getting one of your own, to make sure it will get along well enough with your new pup.

If you're careful about buying/adopting your new dog and know the risks and responsibilities, I'm sure it will make a wonderful present. Enjoy your new pet!