Canine Master on Pet Life Radio - Episode #8
Thinking of Getting a Puppy for the Holidays?
What You Need to Know Before Adding 4 Paws
to Your Family.

Click here to download the PDF version of the transcript.

Are you thinking of getting a dog for the holidays? Well, today's show, we're going to discuss everything you need to know before you decide on whether or not it's the right time to bring a dog into your home. You know, what kind of dog is also best for you? And for the holidays or for any time of year, should you even be getting a dog? These are the things we're going to discuss today. I'm Chris Onthank, and welcome to the Canine Master radio show on Pet Life Radio. Today, on the show, we're going to talk about how to know if it's the right time to add a dog to your family and if so, how to determine which kind of dog is the best type of dog or even breed of dog for your family and how to prepare for that.

You know, the addition of a family dog can be one of the most wonderful experiences. I can't tell you... I mean, we love our dogs and we want to have dogs around us all the time. I can't imagine a family without a dog, but there are certainly people that decide not to get a dog, and that may not be the wrong decision. With proper thought and consideration and planning, you can make the transition of getting a family dog a good one. There's a lot to discuss and prepare for bringing a dog into your home, and also, picking the right dog for you should take as much thought and preparation as finding the right life partner.

Did you hear me on that? Finding the right life partner. How you go and your spouse or partner, the amount of time we put an effort into that. You know, most marriages these days don't even last 10 to 15 years. Well, you're going to have your dog for 10 to 15 years, so you need to spend a lot of time finding the right dog for you and your family. Many times, people spend more time with their dogs than they do with their spouses or partners.

So, it's something that we really need to give a lot of thought to because this dog is going to be your sidekick for the next 10 to 15 years. The holidays are a really popular time for everybody to consider adding a pet to their family, but, and there's a big but, this may be the wrong time. As a trainer, I all too often see the irresistible cuteness of a puppy's face lead to an impulse buy, which can turn into a total disaster when the people bring the puppy home. This bunch of cuteness becomes a dog that is barking and digging and chewing on furniture and can quickly turn to a lot of resentment towards the family dog. I just had a lesson just last week where this person got a dog and they're like, "This is not what we bargained for when we got a puppy." I'm saying, "Well, puppies are a lot of work," and people don't realize how much work they are.

So, pets are not presents for the holiday. I can't tell you how many times my older brother wanted to buy me a pet or my kids a pet for either the holidays or for their birthdays, and I totally disagree with this concept. People should not buy a dog for another family member. That family member needs to take a lot of time in researching whether it's the right time, whether it's the right breed and the right temperament for your particular family. So, buying a pet for someone else during the holidays is a really bad idea. After the holidays, I see a lot of dogs getting surrendered like six to seven months afterwards, and it's because these families weren't prepared for a puppy. They weren't prepared for the responsibility that comes with owning a new puppy. And if they had prepared, they probably would not have gotten the puppy during the holidays.

Most responsible breeders will not sell a puppy during the holidays. As hard as you try, "Oh, I want one for Christmas," Christmas is the worst time to bring a new puppy into the family. What are we doing at Christmas time? Well, we got lots of family members around. There's chaos or confusion. There's wrappers everywhere. Everybody's playing with their new toys and then all of a sudden, the puppy gets neglected. When you bring home a puppy, it should be about the puppy when you bring it home. It shouldn't be about, "Well, Grandma's upstairs and she doesn't like new puppies and this one's allergic, and this person's running and they're coming over for dinner." The holidays is the absolute worst time to bring a puppy home. So, I just want to make sure everybody understands that.

Bringing a puppy home and you bring it home and all of a sudden, it doesn't work out and then you have to get the puppy back because it's not the right dog, this could be a heartbreak for the whole family. How many times... I see people having to give back the puppy because it is the wrong time and it leaves your children devastated, and it's also hard for us. We start to fall in love with the puppy the minute we bring it in. So, owning a pet is a responsibility worthy of its rewards, but you got to take the time to evaluate whether it's the right dog, the right family, the right situation, and the right time for you before you make this decision. You need to be invested for life and ready to teach your dog the rules that will set them up for success. It takes a lot of training. Dogs come in all shapes and size and not all breeds are the same.

So, you go to a puppy store that's selling these puppies from puppy mills and you pick out a puppy. That's the wrong way to buy a dog, by the way. And you go in there and you buy a puppy because it looks cute, and it turns out to be a Saint Bernard. Well, Saint Bernard puppies are adorable, but not everybody can have a Saint Bernard. Not everybody should bring a Saint Bernard home. Most people don't have the yard or the attention and the time invested in grooming and taking care of and feeding and the expense. Some dogs need more exercise than others and some breeds may be predisposed to living with one person or a smaller family. Some dogs are great for apartments, and then some need so much space that they need to run all day long. So, you need to make sure you research the breed and the temperament before you bring your new best friend home.

So, let's consider everything. What are the things you need to consider before bringing home a puppy? Well, have you thought about the expense? Veterinarian bills for routine vaccinations, checkups, dogs get sick, can be expensive. House training. Are you guys ready to do all the house training? Every two to three hours, you got to be letting your puppy out to go to the bathroom. Are you prepared for training your dog? Losing your shoes to... Your favorite shoes to your new puppy who just grabbed them and made them a popular chew toy? How about your new roses got all dug up? That's going to happen. These things are going to happen. Even if you supervise your puppy, stuff's going to happen, I guarantee you. And then you try to go to sleep and you've got to go to work in the morning, but your puppy is up all night long because maybe he ate something wrong and has a little bit of diarrhea and he's keeping you up all night long and he's barking. He's begging when you're trying to eat. It's annoying.

Dogs do all these things. Unless you're prepared for that reality, you're really not ready to own a dog. So, here's some questions you should ask yourself before choosing what type of home or living space does this particular breed of dog need? Or even if you get it from a shelter it's a Heinz 57 mixed breed, take a look at him, see what he's made with his. Is he part Great Dane and part Labrador? That's going to be a big dog. So, what size dog are you looking for? How big is your yard? How much exercise is this dog going to need? Will you need to fence your yard or do you need to put a real fence up, which can be quite expensive? Or can you do an underground fence system? But if you do an underground fence system, is your dog too small to be outside with the coyote population you may have in your neighborhood or your environment?

How long should your dog be alone each day? Can your dog be alone for four hours? Are you prepared to have somebody come and let him out after four hours? Are you going to have to bring your dog to doggie daycare? Is there a daycare facility close by that you can bring your dog to? How active are you? Are you a person that walks every day, that exercises every day? You run every day? Well then, you should prepare yourself to own... You can have an active dog, but how often do you take a long walk or do you do exercise? Are you a kind of person that's kind of hanging out around the house and don't like to walk long walks everyday, or do you have a disability where you can't do so, you can't move around as much as you used to? These are all things that you need to consider.

Have you even owned a dog before? Do you know what the responsibility is like? Some breeds are better for people that are more experienced in owning dogs. If you're going to get yourself a Rottweiler or a Doberman, or you're going to get yourself a working breed or dog that's a hound breed, these dogs may need a more experienced dog handler than someone... Like a Havanese or a Cavalier King Charles, which are more of companion dogs that don't need so much of an experienced dog handler. So, you really want to think about that breed. Does anyone in your home have allergies? So, you got to be looking for that hyper allergenic breed. The worst thing is you bring home a dog and then all of a sudden, your partner starts sneezing and coughing. And you know what? Oh my gosh, I'm allergic to something. It's the new puppy. What a disaster.

Do you care about grooming? You care about long hair? Do you like the feel of long hair? Do you want a dog with short hair? Are you willing to take your dog to be groomed if he has long hair once a month, once every six weeks? Financially, can you afford that? So, these are the kinds of things you want to ask yourselves. The other thing is, what age would you like to get a dog at? In other words, I would say this, some people are more suited for puppies. And if you have small children, maybe getting a puppy to grow up with your small children is a better bet than getting an older dog that you really don't know whether that dog has had enough socialization with kids. Are you willing to go through the rigors of house training and puppy-proofing or was it better to get an older dog that's already housebroken?

The other thing is, how old are you? I always ask this to my clients. I say, "How old are you? Okay, so what I want you to do is add 16 years to your age." So, add that on to you and then figure out approximately how old you're going to be when the dog dies. That's a big chunk of our lives. So, are you at the time in your life where you are around the house, or are you the kind of person that's going to want to be traveling when the kids leave for college? So, these are the kinds of things that you want to think about. You really need to consider also the temperament and the temperament... Is it compatible with your lifestyle and compatible with the lifestyle for the long-term? If I have a dog that is a working Shepherd or a Border Collie, maybe I'm active now, but maybe in seven years I'm not going to be so active or I'm going to want to travel a bit.

So, these are the kinds of things you want to ask yourself before you just jump in and get yourself a dog. And are you strong enough now, and will you be strong enough in 15 years or 10 years to be holding that Great Dane and walking him down the street? So, these are things I would think about.

Another thing is we look at puppies, but a lot of people want to rescue a dog. Should you rescue a dog? Maybe. Or should you go to a breeder? I tell people if they have young children, that many times, rescuing a small puppy can be fine. We rescued Dave when he was only four months old and my kids were, I think, four and five or three and four when we got Dave, and it was fine because he was a puppy and I could work with Dave. For him, bite inhibition, and I made sure that Dave was the right temperament.

But when you go to rescue a dog out of the shelter, you better make sure that that dog is going to be good with all the people in your family, whether you have an elderly person living with you or small children. And are your children used to small dogs? Are your children used to a small puppy that's going to mouth and bite and go, "Ouch?" And are your kids scared of dogs? These are things that you want to think about. When you go to find a dog at a shelter, a lot of times, you really want to make sure that you've talked to the shelter. And if the dog has been in a foster home, that's even better. Get in with that foster owner and ask a lot of questions. Tell them your situation. Tell them how much you're home. Tell them about your piece of property. And if they turn you down, that's okay because that person should be looking for the right home for that dog. Nobody wants to home a dog out and then have to take it back three months later because it was the wrong dog for that family.

All right. So, while the intentions may be good, many times this is the wrong way to pick your new dog is just going to a shelter and go, "Oh, he looks lonely. Look at that face. Sweetie, look at him. Oh, he's got to be euthanized. We better take him out and save him." Well, you know what? Yes, that is something that weighs heavily on our heartstrings, but we also need to make sure it's the right dog for our family because it's a huge, huge commitment.

What kind of breed should you get? Well, we should look at breed characteristics. If we're going to go with a dog that's a dog breed and not a mixed breed, many times you're going to start to see characteristics of certain breeds, but don't think that all Labrador Retrievers are the same or all German Shepherds are the same. Even within one litter, if I have five puppies in one litter, all five will be very different, just like in one family. I grew up with three brothers. All three of my brothers are very different than I am. So, it really matters.

You got to get into the breed, find out about the breed characteristics. And yes, those can be important, but also look at the individual temperament of each puppy. And if you're picking out a puppy, a lot of times the Volhard puppy test, you can ask the breeder if they've done that test and you can take a look at the scores and actually go through with the breeder what those scores mean. So, it's the Volhard puppy test. Some breeders will share that test with you, and they should, and some breeders don't want to waste their time with that.

All right. So, don't generalize based on a dog's breed because, like I said, you can have five dogs in the same family, five kids in the same family and all five kids will be different. And if you have a litter of puppies, all five puppies will be different. So, I get wanting a specific breed. I am the kind of person that will seek out a breed of dog because it has the characteristics that I love, but some people love the dog so much and they want to go and adopt as well. Now, that's cool. Most of the breeds have what we call rescue groups, and these rescue groups are specific to one breed. And as long as you do your homework, most of the times, you can pick a really good dog out of a rescue group.

There are some great dogs available in shelters and foster homes, and if you ask the right questions, like I said before, you can get a good background information that'll help you decide if this puppy's right. You also want to spend as much time with that puppy. So, go ahead and take that rescue dog for a walk. Maybe even bring a canine behaviorist along with you if you really want to stack your cards the right way. I'd get yourself a behaviorist and say, "Could you come and help me make sure that this is the right dog for my family? I got five and seven year old kids" or "I got teenage boys. Can you come with me and do a little bit of testing to make sure that this dog isn't coming with any issues?" And remember, when you rescue a dog from the shelter, those first three weeks, that dog's try to figure out where he fits into your sort of family or pack, and that's the time to set the boundaries. That's the time to become a good leader to your dog so that he doesn't start any bad habits.

But again, you need to make sure you have assessed the dog correctly before you pull the trigger and grab them and say, "Yes, we're going to take this puppy home." Getting as much information beforehand about the past is very important. Sometimes the rescue organizations will let you talk to the past owner, and why did they give that puppy up? And that can be really a telltale of what's going on with the dog. And if you can finagle yourself right... You won't believe it. If you can finagle yourself right, you will get a lot of information about what's going on. And what I would do is if you're interviewing that owner, if you get to get that phone number, try to dig a little. Try to get into what was going on. Ask a lot of questions in a lot of different ways. Sometimes that person's going to try to protect what's going on. And other times, they may be very, very honest.

Ask about, "How was your puppy with other dogs? How was your dog in the house? Was he destructive? Did he have separation anxiety? When you left him, was he calm? When you went out of the house, how was his housebreaking?" All these kinds of things. There's a reason why that puppy was given up, and unless it's a real clear why the people... I was allergic to the dog is one thing, but generally, there's some deeper issues. And if you can find out what the issues are, are those issues that you feel you can work with? And are those issues things that you can live with? And if you can't live with them, is there someone to help you sort of deal with those issues to correct the problems so that dog doesn't end up back at a shelter again?

So, this is a great way to save yourself and the dog a lot of heartache. First and foremost, let me just tell you guys something. I am a dog trainer. I know this about puppies. They do not come pre-programmed. Are you willing to train a puppy or your dog? They don't come, all of sudden, when you bring them out of the box, they're all ready, all housebroken, and come when called and walk nicely on a leash and don't rip up your house. Puppies don't come pre-programmed that way. It takes an amazing amount of time and patience to teach a small puppy. It also takes amazing amount of time just to have a dog if you get an older dog. The foundation of having a puppy, that foundation needs to be built. I always tell people it takes a year to train a dog incredibly well.

And what do I mean by incredibly well? What I mean is, I can bring my dog downtown, put him on a down stay. He stays there while I go into Starbucks. I can bring them into a store. I can bring my dog anywhere. I can have people come over to the house. My dog doesn't jump on him. I can bring him to a field, he comes when called. He walks nicely on and off leash. That's what I mean by incredibly well trained dog. And if you have an incredibly well trained dog, boy, it makes such a huge difference to that dog's life and to your life. So, what I'm going to tell you is, if you're gonna get a dog, make sure that you have the time to train that dog and it becomes a great pet. You must control your dog's behavior at home, you got to control it when he's around guests. And if you have put the time and effort in doing so, you're going to find out that it just makes your life so much easier and better.

First of all, house training is first. A crate can be very useful. I'd also stock up on some Nature's Miracle or any of these... Urine Off and that kind of thing and a deodorizer because you're going to need it. You're also going to have to go to some group classes to learn about manners. I highly recommend that you work with some trainer. Even if you think you've done it before, it's always great, the stuff that most of the progressive trainers are learning. How do I find a trainer? Go to the APDT, Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and go onto their website and there should be a nice list there in your area, and then you should interview your trainers. Dog training is hugely important, especially with the medium to large size dogs. Again, when you're going to a class, guess who they're training. They're training mostly you to train your dog, and that's a great thing.

So, most behavioral issues I see everyday could all have been avoided with the proper training and socialization was done during that puppy imprint time. Puppy imprint, about five to 16 weeks is so vital, but then it continues on to about eight months. So, socializing is really important. Get your pup to a class when he's under three months of age. That's really important. And don't wait until the puppy has completed his full series of shots. Some veterinarians are going to tell you to do that. I'm going to totally disagree with them unless you're in an area where there's parvo is really problematic, but otherwise, most of the people bringing their puppies to puppy class that can afford a puppy class have vaccinated their dogs.

So, research is going to tell you that if you get your dog socialized before 16 weeks as much as possible, that makes for a really well socialized puppy and it can help with behavioral problems later on. When I talk about socialization, this does not mean taking your puppy to the dog park and setting them free. That's a bad idea because sometimes there's bad dogs at the dog park and that... Remember, we're in imprint time, and imprint is so important when you get a new puppy.

So, what I'm going to tell you right now is make sure that you're saying set up at home and ready to take on these responsibilities of getting a new puppy.

The next big question you can ask yourself is, can I even afford a dog? Here we are sitting here talking about it, whether it's right for your family, but in these economic hard times, a lot of people don't realize that the cost of owning a dog in the United States is a little over $2,000 a year. That's on average. And depending on where you live, certain areas of the country, it's even more expensive. People say to me... The average person in America figure that 10% of their paycheck goes to covering the cost of the first year. That seems like a lot. I guess it just depends what you make, but it is a huge chunk of change and people just don't understand it, especially if you don't have people at home to take care of the dog during the day and you've got to use doggy daycare and veterinary bills and all the costs.

It costs a lot for training and you want to travel and then the boarding situation. Now, you got to put your dog in a kennel or you need to get a pet sitter. Pet sitters cost between 20 to $50 a day. I've seen pet sitters cost up to a hundred dollars a day depending on where you live. The other thing is grooming. Is your dog going to any grooming? Does he have long hair? Your food, your treats. You got to buy a crate. You got to get some gates, the X-pens and the puppy gates to help with the house training.

X-pens, it's those puppy playpens, which are really useful when you have a puppy. You can sort of separate your puppy and make sure he stays out of harm's way around the house when you're not actually watching him. You got to get dog beds, you got to get crate pads, grooming supplies. You got to get a brush, you got to get a nail clipper, leashes and poop bags and pooper scoopers, and you've got to get some toys, of course. And gosh, it goes on and on. Teething rings and you've got to rotate your dog's toys every once in a while. And then of course, we talked about it before, but the fencing requirements.

So, there's so much expense. Are you're ready for that? So, no matter how much your pets cost, a place for a pet is actually priceless. I can't tell you. Pets can teach children to be responsible, responsible care givers and confidence. I will tell you my daughter, Izzy is always talking to her dog, Dave. It's the cutest thing, and she confides in Dave and they have such a great relationship. To me, it's the most wonderful relationship that a child can have if they can find the right dog. So, take your time and remember that owning a dog is a lifelong commitment and there's a variety of responsibilities that comes with having that dog. And if you can't meet those responsibilities, neither you or your dog will be happy. But owning a dog is wonderful and I can't imagine not owning a dog, but you got to do it at the right time, and it may not be the right time right now to get a dog. So, think about that.

And of course, a dog will make sure you get out and you get exercise. So, it's good for you, and living with a dog has been known to boost social skills and confidence with children and adults alike. There's so many, many things that a dog will bring and add, but again, it needs to be at the right time and in the right place, and it needs to be the right dog for you and your family. So, remember, picking out a dog is equally as important as picking out a life partner or spouse. Take the time to do your research and you'll never ever look back.

Well, here we are. Jaimee, do we have some questions from the audience that we have today?

Jaimee: Yes, we absolutely do. This is a very popular topic. Our first question is from Maggie from LA. She says her family's been wanting a new puppy. They need a hypoallergenic breed on the small side. They're very tempted to go to a puppy store they see in their local mall because of the ease. She wants to know how does she know if these puppies are from puppy mills and why would that be a mistake? How can you tell if a breeder is a puppy mill breeder?

Chris: Well, it's a great question. The first thing is you're looking for a hypoallergenic breeds. So, here's the thing is that a dog that doesn't shed isn't necessarily a hypoallergenic breed. It has to do with dander, and you really need to do the breed research to see if a dog is truly hypoallergenic. I know that there's certain breeds that you would think aren't hypoallergenic and there's certain brands that you would think are and they're not. So, again, researching the right dog and making sure that it's hypoallergenic and truly hypoallergenic is important. One of the things that you can always try as far as for people with allergies is dog saliva. You can go to the breeder and grab some saliva from a dog, one of the breeders dogs. Stick that saliva on a swab and put it on the pillow of the person who might be allergic to puppies. And if they seem in the morning to have an allergic reaction, then that dog probably is not the right breed for you.

So, again, doing your research is really, really important. And again, not all dogs that don't shed are hypoallergenic. The other thing is, how do I find out if my dog's from a puppy mill? That's really hard to tell. A lot of times, I will look at the states. Kansas, Ohio, your Midwestern states can be dogs that are from puppy mills, but that... You can't go by the states alone because there's some very good breeders in those states as well, but I will tell you is that you want to actually interview the breeder. If they're breeding all different types of puppies, if they're breeding different breeds, they're breeding many breeds during the year... If they're not associated with any of the breed clubs, the German Shepherd Club of America, the Doberman Pincher Club of America, The Dachshund Club of America, if they're not associated with a breed club, they're probably not responsible breeders because if you're a puppy mill, you can't get into the breed clubs.

So, Goggling the breed club of a specific breed on the internet and then getting a list of breeders, that's the best way to find a responsible breeder or at least that's a first step. And then of course, you want to interview the breeder as well. And if the breeder interviews you and gives you like, "Oh my God, they're asking me a lot of questions," that's a great sign. That means that breeder really cares where their puppies are going, and a person that doesn't even care, doesn't ask you any questions, then that's a red flag. I would be really cautious about buying a puppy from somebody that doesn't care, that doesn't ask you any questions. The other thing is that what about health guarantees? And you should also talk to people that have owned their puppies before. A puppy mill person is definitely not going to want to take that puppy back.

So, if you go to a pet shop, are those dogs from puppy mills? Well, I can't say 100%, but a lot of them are because very few breeders and very few breed clubs will allow you to be part of that breed club if you sell to a pet store. So, anybody who's selling a puppy to a pet store probably isn't a part of a specific breed club and probably is not a responsible breeder, probably. I can't say 100%, but if you're buying a puppy from a pet shop, chances are it's from a puppy mill. Any other questions we have, Jaimee?

Jaimee: Yeah. We got one more question. This one's from Josh from Colorado. He says his neighbor just had a litter of puppies. It was unplanned and most of them are going to end up in the shelter unless they're adopted. He's very interested, but he's not sure which puppy to pick. Is there a way to test their temperament as young as six weeks to find the dog that's best for him?

Chris: Well, you know, Josh, what I would do is... That's great. I mean, there's nothing wrong with grabbing a friend that's had a litter of puppies and taking one of their puppies. I would first make sure that you do like Lab mixes, and what's the lab mix with if you know that. The other thing is picking the right dog out of that litter. Generally, people test dogs at between 49 to 51 days. That's kind of the optimum time to test a puppy for temperament, but again, it's not foolproof because maybe the puppy just woke up on the day that you're testing the puppy. Maybe the puppy is not feeling well, maybe he didn't eat. You really need to maybe look at the puppies a couple of times, and I would first take the puppy away from the other puppies and put him in a small room where you can spend some time with that puppy.

Is that puppy shy and hiding? Is he running away from you or is that puppy running right up to you? I would be very leery of the puppy that is kind of hiding and is meek and is a little bit worried and scared. Even though he may be the cutest and you, "Oh, I want him. He looks so lonely." That's probably the wrong puppy to grab. The other thing is, do you live with any kids? Do you have small children in the household? I'm going to look at reactivity. I'm going to look for a little bit of more of a submissive puppy than a dominant puppy. So, that's the other thing I'm going to look for. And how do I know that? Well, one of the tests you can grab is you can grab the puppy in your arms, put him on his back and invert... Sort of lean to one side, leaning towards the dog's head and if that puppy looks away from you, meaning he diverts that eye contact, that dog is going to be a little bit more submissive than the puppy that stares right back at you.

Another test you can try is you can pick up the dog. I lock my fingers around the chest and I elevate the dog for a period of time, holding him up. And if the dog is struggling, struggling, struggling, struggling for a long period of time, that's a feisty dog. That may not be a dog that's going to be good with small children. So, these are the kinds of things. You can also Google the Volhard puppy test, Volhard with a V, puppy test, and you could try testing the puppies yourself using some of the things within that test. The instructions are online. I know you could probably find it, and that might be a good thing to do.

The other thing to do is talk to the person who's raising the puppies. They're getting really good insight. They're starting to see what that puppy is doing and how that puppy is reacting around other puppies. Those are the things that can be very important.

All right. Well, that's it for today and I really hope you found our show to be really interesting. I'd love to know your comments and have you join our conversation. You can always email me at [email protected]. Be sure to visit our website at That's C-A-N-I-N-E Click on "Ask the Canine Master" and leave your questions for me, and I'll do my best to get back to you. I may even have you call into the show with your questions. Send me your videos and your photos so I can see what's going on with your dog and help you fix your problem. Follow me on Twitter at @CanineMaster and ask me your questions with hashtag AskCanineMaster. That's hashtag AskCanineMaster. Bye for now, and see you next time on Canine Master radio where I will help you to continue to help you master the relationship with your dog. Bye for now.



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