Originally published on Medium on October 27, 2018
“Can we get a dog? Please, please, please. PUHLEEEZE! I’ll take care of it. I PROMISE.” Sound familiar? Before you give in, Mom, Dad, think about this: do you have time for a part-time job? Do you want to spend about one year of college tuition over the dog’s lifetime? Significant money and time considerations could change your mind about getting a dog or give you some concrete discussion points when you have the yes-dog or no-dog conversation with your kids.
Time — it’s a part-time job
Very young puppies need lots of overnight care and attention — frequent feedings, trips outside to pee and poop, and comfort when it misses the presence of its mother and litter mates. Someone in the household should be able to handle these duties. College, new job, young children in the house who also need care and attention — this is not a good time to get a dog.
2–3 hours of daily dog care adds up to 14–21 hours a week, that’s a part-time job! Daily tasks include:
- walks twice a day of 45 minutes to one hour
- teeth brushing,
- nail filing (weekly is okay if using a nail cutter)
The walk is the most important, most neglected thing. “Walking your dog is a primal activity. It is hardwired into her brain to migrate with her pack…Every cell in your dog’s body is crying out for a walk,” opines dog psychology expert Cesar Millan. “The walk is the foundation of your relationship. It is also where a dog learns to be a dog.” The walk is important for a healthy, happy, more obedient dog. An under-exercised dog can become depressed, destructive, neurotic, overweight, and aggressive to family members and other dogs.
Other dog tasks include baths, vet visits, dog socializing with other dogs, and flea, tick, and heartworm treatments.
The Reality of Kids and Dog
After picking up Jake from band practice and Sammi from soccer practice the drive home takes 30 minutes. When you open the front door the smell that assails you says it’s been too long since Benji went out to poop. As you clean it up Sammi calls out from her room, “Mom! Benji chewed up my back-up cleats and made a big hole in my pillow!” “Mom, Benji destroyed my game controller again!” wails Jake. “I told you to put it away, remember?” you respond, sighing deeply. Benji stands in the living room wagging his tail and barking, happily anticipating dinner and excited his people are finally home. You remind Sammi to close her door when she goes out. The next day the entrance rug has been chewed up but you got home in time to take Benji outside. Maybe he can stay in the yard during the day instead of in the house. Then you remember the last time he stayed in the yard all day he dug several holes and ripped out your Gerber daisies. Now, you have to prep dinner, check on homework, start a load of laundry, and prepare for the next day. Whose turn is it to walk the dog?
If your kids are not spending their extra 2–3 hours a day on devices or watching TV, they are doing homework, sports, or playing their instrument — and you are driving them! If everyone is gone all day, working and schooling, the dog is alone for 10 hours or more, bored, and lonely. Why did you get the dog again?
A 14-Year Part-Time Job
This part-time job taking care of the dog will last its entire life, an average of 14 years. Every day, through flu season, job changes, moves, and vacations, dog owners get zero days off. No skipping walks or teeth-brushing. It takes all four people in my household to do all the doggy tasks. They would rather pet and play with her than walk and brush her teeth.
Just You Wait
I suggest waiting to adopt a dog until the kids are old enough to walk the dog on their own and brush its teeth. It makes a difference when these daily responsibilities are shared rather than heaped on one person. If you choose to wait, you can use this article to discuss your reasoning with your kids. Yes, you can even blame it on me. But if you are still set on getting a dog, read on.
Pet Deposits and Rental Restrictions
Housing is another consideration. If you rent your home, make sure the landlord accepts dogs the size your dog is expected to grow and make sure you can afford the pet deposit (usually one month’s rent in addition to the regular deposit). Be prepared to pay for damages the dog does to the property. There are fewer rental properties that allow dogs and many of them only allow small dogs. Once you become a dog owner your housing options are limited. We saw countless listings with “No pets allowed” when we needed to move.
Your Forever Family Member
Many one and two-year-old dogs are returned to animal shelters because their humans moved. Your dog gives you her love and trust, she deserves to be considered a part of your family and not a sofa to leave behind when you move. Your travel plans should include any animal transportation fees charged by the airline or dog-friendly motels on the road. Once you adopt, you commit to finding a way to keep the dog.
- Topical flea and tick treatments $100 per year
- Dog food $100-$300 a year
- Misc.: dog shampoo, crate, brush, leash, collar, chew toys, food and water bowls, dog bed, choke chain
- Basic dog obedience class $40–60
- Boarding expenses if you go on vacation
- Vet visits after the first year are $500-$1000 annually, even more for the puppy year.
Purebreds sometimes need special diets (pricier dog food) and have breed-specific health issues requiring more vet visits.
- $1,400-$4,300 average yearly cost
- $115-$350 average monthly cost
- $3,085 puppy’s first year with extra shots and start-up supplies
- $19,600-$60,200 total cost over a dog’s average lifetime (yearly totals above x 14 years avg. lifespan)
The range depends on healthcare, quality and quantity of dog food, type and amount of dog treats and toys, dog clothes, grooming, obedience training, etc. This amount is comparable to tuition and books at a community college or tuition, room, and board at a pricier university.
A dog helps a family become:
- more responsible
This is a big, life-altering decision. If you still believe that you and your family can fully commit to caring for a dog, good for you and good luck!
Save a Life
Two teens, my husband, and I piled into the car, picked up Grandma, and sped off to the Humane Society to spend more than three hours looking at, petting, and walking dogs. Grandma had a lovable, intelligent pit bull so we first looked at pit bulls and pit bull mixes. But they were so strong and so happy to be free of their kennels they walked us. We finally settled on a smaller, younger pit bull-terrier mix that we could mold and control. That twice a day run/walk helped moderate the energy and rascality of our nearly 50-pound beast. Having kids old enough to walk her, brush her teeth, and file her nails saves my sanity and makes them more responsible.
Once you decide to adopt, visit the Humane Society or a rescue shelter with your whole family. Set aside the entire day to visit with several dogs. I prefer mutts to avoid purebred health issues and frankly, they just look needier, sadly wagging their tails, knowing they’ve already been abandoned once.
There are many purebred dogs in shelters, if that is your preference. Some dog breeds are more emotionally attached to their humans than others, so tying it to a rope or leaving it alone all day is psychologically harder for them, e.g., Labradoodles, boxers, and golden retrievers. Other highly intelligent and energetic breeds can be destructive or aggressive if inadequately exercised, e.g., Australian shepherds and German shepherds. The dog should match your family’s lifestyle and energy level — slightly less than yours.
Do Your Homework
Read or listen to at least one of Cesar Millan’s books before adopting. I recommend Cesar’s Way. My parents have owned dogs nearly my entire life, but Millan still had much to teach us about what dogs need vs. how we want to treat them. Understanding dog psychology helps owner and dog be happier. Taking care of the dog will take a lot longer than reading the book so every member of your family should try to read it. You can even listen to the audiobook in the car while you are all together.
Please, please commit to two more things that will make the world a better place:
AKC Staff. “How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Dog?” American Kennel Club, May 19, 2015, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/did-you-know/cost-to-raise-dog/. Accessed August 18, 2018.
Millan, Cesar and Melissa Jo Peltier. Cesar’s Way. Harmony Books, 2006.
Stregowski, Jenna, RVT. “Costs of Owning a Dog.” The Spruce Pets, June 13, 2018, https://www.thesprucepets.com/the-cost-of-dog-ownership-1117321. Accessed August 18, 2018.