Experts caution families to think carefully before adopting a furry family member.
Published: September 29, 2020
By: Sandra Gordon
When you’ve got little ones and more time spent at home due to the pandemic, now might seem like a perfect time to get a puppy — or maybe you already have. In fact, animal shelters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have never been emptier. Social media is teeming with images of new puppies and families like yours with the same idea.
We asked two dog owners/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 pandemic puppy?
Spoiler alert: Both experts said think very carefully about this decision, as in “probably not a good idea.” Here’s why:
What you’re signing up for
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 — coupled with the fact that maybe you’re working from home — 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 puppy 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. “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.
Top costs of pet ownership
If you anticipate eventually going back to part-time or full-time employment 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 park.
“Puppies have an enormous amount of energy,” Chicone says. You’ll need to hang out with your puppy. “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 in this uncertain economy, 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.
“That number is spot on,” says Leah Ingram, a personal finance expert and owner of the dog birthday supply site, Pawsome Doggie.
Additional puppy costs
Ingram has owned four dogs since 2002, two of which she adopted as puppies, starting when her youngest daughter was in 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 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 as well. “With a dog, you may 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 him or her with a gift every once in a while,” Ingram says.
How to make dog adoption easier
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 on 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.
But… if you’ve been around dogs all your life and know what you’re getting into, Chicone says, it might be OK to get a puppy now. Even still, when your puppy/dog spends time with your children, “they should be supervised,” she says.
And don’t expect your child to be the one to take care of the animal.
“A 10-year-old can handle more than a 5-year-old, but as the adult, you’re the one who is going to be doing most of the work,” Chicone says.
Sandra Gordon is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting and consumer issues.