When you’re starting your family, there are several reasons why you might consider getting a puppy, such as:
–Your baby and your puppy can grow up together. Aw…
–You’re masochistic. Babies are a lot of work and you’ve heard that a puppy is too. Oh well. Bring it on!
–You got a puppy when you yourself were little and everything turned out okay.
–Your spouse/partner/boy or girlfriend is pushing for a puppy.
When my kids were munchkins, each of these pro-puppy reasons went through my head. Ultimately, though, we decided to adopt a kitten, Fritzy, who we still have. I’d always had a cat and, well, cats are easy.
Fritzy is the “Love Cat” of our lives. (That’s his nick name.) He is incredibly low maintenance. He doesn’t even use a litter box. He just goes outside (his idea). Looking back, though, I still wonder if we should have gotten a puppy. By now, we could have the “Love Dog” of our lives as well.
So I asked two dog owner/experts for their take on the puppy question, especially when you have an infant or toddler in the house. Should you just go for it—and get a puppy? Spoiler alert: Both experts said “No.” Here’s why.
“A puppy is a lot of work”
When your kids are infants or toddlers, you’ve got a lot on your sleep-deprived parenting plate. Adding a puppy to the mix could create total anarchy because puppies are as helpless as infants. “If you’re expecting your first baby, you have no idea what you’re getting in to. It’s easy to have the mindset that you can do it all. You really can’t,” “says Donna Chicone, author of Being a Super Pet Parent.
For one, there’s the training part, which is incredibly hard work. Initially, you’ll need to take a puppy in training outside to go every hour or two. You’ll also need to make sure your puppy gets plenty of mental and physical stimulation with toys and exercise. These needs don’t stop once your puppy gets bigger.
You’ll need to invest in a crate and learn how to crate-train your puppy too. “If used positively and not as a punishment, a crate becomes a private little room in the house, like your dog’s bedroom space,” says Chicone, who has two Portuguese water dogs, Jazz, 11, and Jive, 7.
If you’ll be going back to work outside the home and putting your child in daycare, you’ll need to invest in doggie daycare, hire a dog walker, or a combination of both. If you don’t have a backyard for your puppy to run around in, you’ll have to make frequent visits to a local dog run. “Puppies have an enormous amount of energy,” Chicone says. You’ll need to hang out with your puppy too. “Dogs require as many interactions as any relationship. You need to spend time with them,” Chicone says.
“A puppy is a big expense”
Another reason why getting a puppy at this stage in life isn’t such a great idea, especially if you’re on a budget, is that baby Fido can cost a small ongoing fortune.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the first-year cost of pet ownership exceeds $1,000, and well over $500 each additional year. “I think that number is spot on,” says Leah Ingram, owner of The Confident Spender blog and the dog birthday supply site, Pawsome Doggie.
Ingram has owned four dogs since 2002, two of which she adopted as puppies, starting when her youngest daughter entered kindergarten. “Puppies don’t come with manners. They don’t come knowing how to sit, stay or not jump on people. In the first six months that we had our puppies, we spent thousands of dollars on trainers,” Ingram says. “It was a cost we had never anticipated.”
There’s the expense of trips to the vet too. “With a dog, you have to give them preventive heart worm medicine every month, plus yearly check-ups,” Ingram says. And what if something happens, such as seasonal allergies, ear infections, a torn ACL or worse (each of which Ingram has experienced with her dogs)?
Each sick-pet trip to the vet can amount to hundreds if not thousands of dollars. And don’t forget the cost of food and cute stuff, such as a fun toy or a sweater. “You want to be able to enjoy your dog the way you enjoy your child and surprise them with a gift every once in a while,” Ingram says.
But “dogs are totally worth it,” Ingram adds. If you want to get a dog now, when you have a baby or toddler, Ingram recommends adopting an adult dog. They’re less work and you can probably skip having to hire a trainer. “Adult dogs know how to sit, stay and how to walk on a leash. They can be temperament tested too, so you can know if they’re compatible with children,” she says.
Chicone agrees. “It’s much more feasible to transition an older dog into a young family than a puppy,” she says. If you want to get a puppy, she also recommends waiting until your children are older, like around kindergarten age.
One caveat: If you’ve been around dogs all your life and know what you’re getting into, and you’ll be home fulltime after you have your baby, Chicone says it might be okay to get a puppy. Even still, when your puppy/dog spends time with your children, “they should be supervised,” she says.
If you wait until your kids are older to get a puppy or dog, one thing: Don’t expect your child to be the one to take care of the puppy/dog. “A 10 year old can handle more than a 5 year old,” Chicone says. “But as the adult, you’re the one who is going to be doing most of the work.”
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