Should You Buy a Dog After College?
hould you buy a dog post-grad? I can’t give you a definitive answer to that question. However, I can talk through some pros and cons of taking on a furry friend after graduation.
If you are familiar with the conception of It's Mich, you would know that the summer before my senior year I felt overwhelmingly lost (if you are new here, hi welcome! check out my about section). I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. I felt like I had no career orientation or goals to work towards. The only true goal I had for myself was to save money for a dog.
That one goal kept me going through my senior year when I was struggling to find a career path. Low and behold, in May of 2020 we went to pick up our 8-week-old Bernese Mountain Dog, Remi!
In light of this month’s theme of adventure, I thought I would talk about the new wave of adventures Remi has brought for Austin and myself… good and bad. So if you are thinking about buying a dog in the near future, here is an honest “review” of sorts after the first year of owning a pup.
Let’s start with the good...
Irrefutable pros to owning a dog
Duh. The best. There is nothing better than coming home to a fluffy, cuddly dog.
Unconditional love and companionship
If you leave for five minutes or five days, you will receive the same level of tail wagging no matter what. Post-grad life can feel lonely sometimes and it has always been nice to know that I have a living thing that loves me unconditionally. Dogs are so in tune with their owner’s emotions, it is astounding sometimes. With a dog, sick days mean bedside company. Sad days mean increased hand licks. Work from home days mean under the desk foot warmer. Love, loyalty, and companionship are the unmatched perks of owning a dog.
Something bigger than yourself
This comes with positive and negative elements, but shouldering the responsibility of another living thing gives you a sense of purpose and accountability. Remi fully relies on us regardless of if we are having a good day or not. Having a tough time getting out of bed in the morning? Well, your dog needs to go to the bathroom so you need to get up to let them out. Feel like you accomplished nothing in the day? Well, you did feed, walk, and care for a living puppy so there is something. In these lost and sometimes directionless years, it can feel good to have something bigger than yourself.
Dogs don’t like when you aren’t paying attention to them. If they’re sitting next to you, they want you to pet them. If you are playing tug of war with them, they expect your eyes are not on your phone. Interactions with your dog keep you present and grounded. They make sure of it. I often struggle with staying present in my daily life. Remi brings me back to the real world and prevents me from living inside my head too often.
Dogs need to go outside every single day. Bathroom breaks, morning walks, backyard lounging, etc. Which, lucky you, means you must go with them. Dogs force you outside which is fantastic for your overall well-being. I appreciate all of the fresh air I take in each day that I wouldn’t have experienced without a dog.
Dogs are hilarious and do strange things all day long. Life is seldom boring when you have a dog in the house.
Appreciation for life
Everything is exciting to a dog. Even long past the first snow, every winter snow is met with tail-wagging excitement. I have a newfound appreciation for the mundane through the eyes of Remi. Picking up a $5 toy at the grocery store can be the highlight of the week. Our travels feel more exciting and special. Glancing back and seeing Remi with her head out the window while driving through the Colorado mountains was pure bliss.
Practice patience and responsibility
Do you think you want kids one day? Try a dog. Now I know they are not the same thing, but learning to exercise patience and strengthen responsibility are valuable and transferable skills. I.e. should I put “did not give my teething puppy away when they chewed through my running shoes” on my resume??
Some not fun things to consider
A living thing relies on you
You don’t get to check out for a day or two when you have a dog. It’s not like that succulent you forgot to water for a month. A dog needs your energy and attention every single day. As I mentioned, this can be very rewarding. But it can also be very inconvenient and mentally draining. You are now fully responsible for keeping an animal alive that relies on you entirely for food, attention, veterinary care, walks, training, entertainment.
It’s hard to leave the house, especially when your dog is a puppy
Puppies have puppy bladders. They can’t be left at home in their kennel for more than 4-6 hours. If you work in the office, do you have someone who can let them out in the middle of the day? If you want to go on vacation, do you have someone reliable to take care of them while you’re gone? Can you afford to pay someone to watch a puppy when you’re not around? If you are out at the bars and end up sleeping at a friend’s house, who is going to let your dog out to the bathroom?
I am not saying it’s impossible to have a life during the puppy phase. But it certainly takes a lot more forethought to leave the house. Living with a puppy is the opposite of carefree.
Teething, training, and the helion phase
Pictures of Remi at 12 weeks send shivers down my spine. I honestly shouldn’t complain. She was a great puppy. Fairly low energy. Potty trained quickly. Great in the car. But the teething…
She was a miniature land shark whose only mission was to destroy all hands and chew on every piece of furniture in sight. We tried every training tactic in the book, but we couldn’t get her to stop nipping. It was so frustrating. Eventually, she grew out of it. But Remi’s puppy phase was NOT fun.
Training is a constant in a dog’s life, but it is especially important during the puppy phase. Stubborn pups test your patience and it feels overwhelming to constantly identify training moments and produce a well-behaved dog.
Dogs are expensive. The expected costs aren’t ungodly, but they do exist and are by no means cheap. It doesn’t end after you buy the actual dog (which is expensive in itself). There are the upfront costs of a kennel, leash, collar, harness, dog bed, toys, etc. But then there are also the monthly costs. For example, here is roughly what we spend on Remi every month:
- Food ($50)
- Vet plan ($40) - includes spay, vaccines, check-ups
- Vitamins ($20) - required by breeder
- Treats ($10-$15)
- Apartment fee ($50)
And that is in a perfect month 🙂 …. There are add ons like $100 grooming biannually. Or puppy training courses around $120. And then there are the unexpected costs...
The unexpected costs
It’s not enough to just anticipate the expected monthly costs of a dog. Dogs are living, breathing creatures with needs that are not always timely or expected. We have been lucky that Remi has been fairly healthy and accident-free, but there have been some inconvenient unexpected costs.
For example, random bouts of diarrhea that require a vet visit, fecal testing, and medication (let’s ballpark $100). This has happened twice since having her. After our big road trip to Utah, Remi somehow developed pink-eye. So, naturally, it was $40 for the vet to test the cornea for ulcers and scratches, and then another $40 for the ointment to treat the eye :’)
Not breaking the bank, but certainly not fun costs! As I said, we have been lucky there have not been more serious emergencies. When you look at your savings and emergency fund, bear in mind not only your own costs of living but also your dog’s expected and unexpected costs as well. If a trip to the vet for a broken leg or torn ACL is going to put you under, it is probably ill-advised to take on the responsibility of a dog in the first place. You cannot predict or control when they will cost you money.
With all of the previously mentioned unexpected vet trips comes a whole host of inconveniences. Spontaneous diarrhea? Let me tell you that this doesn’t just happen outside of business or sleeping hours. If you find yourself in this delightful situation, you just might be wiping dog doo-doo off your apartment stairs at 2 am on a work night. The dog did not intend to inconvenience you, but that doesn’t make it any less inconvenient!
Dogs fully rely on you for all of their needs. They don’t care if you are too hungover to take them for a walk or if you are in the middle of an important zoom meeting when they need to pee. They need you no matter the level of convenience, all day every day.
Big dogs can happily live in apartments, but it is not without its challenges. Some things to consider if you live in an apartment and want a dog…
- Does your apartment have a weight limit or breed restriction? Many apartments have a 30lb or 50lb weight limit for dogs. Given that Remi was pushing 50 lbs by 5 months old, we knew we had to find an apartment without a weight limit. A lot of apartments also don’t allow certain breeds like German Shepherds, Huskies, Chow-Chows, Pitbulls, etc.
- Are you willing to take the elevator or stairs every time your dog needs to go to the bathroom? Even if they are just faking you out to get fresh air? Potty breaks are far less convenient in an apartment setting. I cannot wait for the day that I simply open the back door to let Remi out to go to the bathroom.
- Do you have the time to give your dog space to play? Remi starts getting angsty if she doesn’t leave the apartment for a while. The balcony helps her get fresh air. But weekly doggy play dates are also essential. She is not much of the walking type, but other breeds of dogs require daily walks.
So what should you do?
Owning a dog is far more work than I could have ever anticipated. I don’t regret getting a dog at all (trust me there were moments during the helion months…), but that doesn’t change the fact that it has been much more difficult than I thought it would be.
Things that have helped
- Having another person (Austin) to share responsibility and costs.
- Living a predictable & stable post-grad lifestyle. I love routine and I love spending time at home. These aspects of my lifestyle fit well with the needs of a dog.
- Taking dog friendly vacations (like our Utah road trip versus flying to somewhere tropical).
- Getting a puppy during the summer months before I started working.
- Putting in the front-end work of training.
- Researching and choosing a breed that matches my lifestyle. I personally don't have enough time or energy for a high-energy breed like a Border Collie or Husky.
- Hosting friends at my place when I was unable to leave puppy Remi.
- Knowing it gets better. The puppy stage is the most difficult time. It seems like it will never end, but it does.
Deciding if you should get a dog post-grad is completely your decision. It comes down to having an honest conversation with yourself about your lifestyle, finances, and level of responsibility. Owning a dog requires the personal sacrifice of time and money. But if you are willing and ready for these sacrifices, having a doggy companion is incredibly rewarding. Remi is my best friend. On days that Austin is busy studying, she keeps me company and comes with me everywhere I go.
The decision is all yours to make, just don’t forget to ask yourself the hard questions first. If you have any dog-related questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!