Deck the halls, chase those balls! 'Tis the season to get a puppy!

Right? Wrong.

Thanksgiving kicks 'em off, and they build through Christmas, finally calming down sometime after the second serving of leftovers. The warm and fuzzies. They're enough to make you want to do something rash — like get a puppy on a whim.

There are serious do's and don'ts to consider.

Do: Wait until after Christmas. It's too much stress on the little guy to have to acclimate to a new home with 20-something unfamiliar people milling around, music, raucous merriment, oohing, aahing, picking him up, putting him down, contributing to his general confusion.

Don't: Surprise someone with the gift of a four-legged furball. Dogs shouldn't come home in boxes tied with bows. They should come home in crates, along with a blanket, a few soft toys, a plan for teething and housebreaking, and the training books that you decided — after thorough research — best aligned with your personal philosophy on dog training. Either that or the phone number of a professional who fits that bill.

Do: Know who's going to be the dog's primary caregiver and be sure everyone in the household wants the dog. The last thing you want is to have to choose between your husband and the dog. You shouldn't put your family or yourself in that position, and it isn't fair to the dog, either.

Don't: Spend time hanging around that part of the mall where the pet store is located. First of all, there are millions of dogs in shelters — dogs of all ages, breeds and temperaments — that need, want and deserve loving homes. Secondly, if you put yourself in temptation's path, you increase the odds of succumbing. That puppy in the window is cute! You'll want to take him home. That's why they put him there. But dogs should not be impulse buys. They should be thoughtful, planned additions to your family. Much like a child.

Now, for those of you who already have dogs and are wondering what Rover might like for Christmas, here's a letter Santa forwarded to me, thinking it might be of some use to my readers:

Dear Santa,

I don't like to complain, because I really do love my people and everything they do for me ... especially long walks and fetch. Boy, do I love fetch! Tearing after that ball, the wind through my fur, the taste of that sunny yellow felt in my mouth ...

But back to the point of my letter.

Last Christmas was terrible! There were people everywhere — which I understand, but do they have to put their coats in my area? My dog bed, blanket and toys are all kept in one small area of one of the rooms in our house. Well, I came in from the back yard looking for a quiet place to lie down and escape the chaos, only to discover people traipsing in and out of the only room where I could be alone. Coats, scarves and bags all over the big, soft, warm human bed — which I stayed off of, by the way. Personally, I think I was a very good dog for not chewing on any of their stuff.

But back to the point of my letter.

Santa, do you know that shiny stuff they wrap around those big, colorful trees that show up in living rooms when it starts to get cold outside? Or sometimes they dangle shiny strands of it from the tree's branches? Well, I ate some. It was the worst experience of my life! How could I know it wouldn't taste good? It sure looked pretty. Anyway, it got tangled up inside me — wrapped around my intestines, according to the man who gives me shots once in a while. We had to get in the car and make an emergency trip to his office. That really ruined the day for everyone.

The problem is, Santa, there are just so many temptations! And everything that's bad for me looks and smells so good! My people have a coffee table about my height in the living room, and they keep filling this small bowl with some really sweet-smelling stuff. There are shiny wrappers all over the place that I hear aren't good for me; chocolate treats that they say will make me sick; glass ornaments I shouldn't chew on because they'll cut me; candles I shouldn't get too close to because they'll burn my nose or catch my fur on fire; and these beautiful red plants they call "poinsettias."

Santa, why do they bring all this stuff out and put it where I can get to it if they know it's so bad for me? I want to be a good dog, I really do. But sometimes it's so hard.

This brings me to the point of my letter, Santa. All I want for Christmas is a warm, quiet spot to call my own, especially when all those people come over. Then, if they'll just keep the candy, chocolate and poinsettias high enough so that I can't sniff them, I think we'll be OK. I know I'll stay away from the shiny stuff! Just wish I hadn't had to learn the hard way...

Oh, and maybe a new yellow ball and a nice long walk after everyone goes home!

Thanks, Santa! Merry Christmas!


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.