I’m often asked this question by my clients and fans. After all, pet ownership is a big responsibility and all too often pets are adopted by people who either aren’t ready for them or aren’t prepared to take on the responsibility. The end result is that those unfortunate pets end up in shelters.
This is an important question to ask because Millennials — people born between roughly 1981 and 1997 — now make up the largest group of pet owners in the U.S., and they’re also becoming pet owners younger than previous generations did. According to a Wakefield study, as cited by Purina, the average dog-owning Millennial first adopts when they’re 21, while the average age for Baby Boomers was 29. That’s an encouraging trend.
But does this mean that they should run right out and adopt a dog? As with anyone, the answer is always… “Maybe.”
Owning a pet right after you get out of college can be challenging because of the lack of time, lack of money, lack of stability, lack of space, and so on.
But I believe the benefits of pet ownership for Millennials far outweigh the negatives. I know dogs can help busy Millennials re-connect to nature. A dog doesn’t send text messages, doesn’t have social media and dogs can connect with people in a way that other humans can’t.
Whenever someone asks me for advice on which dog they should adopt, the first thing I tell them is to ask themselves whether they’re ready to have a dog in the first place. Are they going to have enough time to properly walk and exercise the dog multiple times a day, every day? Do they live in a situation that’s calm and stable enough for a dog? Can they afford food, toys, treats, medical care, and any unexpected expenses that come up?
There are a few unique challenges that Millennials face that previous generations did not.
For example, they are surrounded by technology. They have adapted to this technology like no other generation — which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
We all know the stereotype of the young adult who lives with their face buried in their phone and, while they’re not the only generation that can be guilty of that, they can certainly be more tied in to their technology than others. This connectivity can be great when it comes to staying in touch with friends and family, keeping up with the latest developments, and even joining and working for causes.
But it can be a very bad thing when it gets in the way of relationships with other humans or pets — if you wind up neglecting your dog because you pay too much attention to your phone, then you probably shouldn’t have a dog, no matter when you were born.
In a lot of ways, Millennials have the right temperament and compassion to be fantastic pet owners. They tend to do a lot of research on dogs before they commit, which is unique to their generation. They also tend to pamper their pets with food, treats, and accessories that are more expensive and higher quality and they shop with the dog’s wellbeing in mind — they are far more likely than previous generations to actually pay attention to the materials and ingredients in their dog’s food, toys, bowls, and shampoo, for example.
I recommend that busy Millennials try fostering a dog first. You’d be helping to save the lives of a lot of dogs during the time that you’re a foster and fostering gives you a taste of what long-term pet ownership is all about.
I love the idea that Millennials are so enthusiastic about pet ownership, but I also want them to start off with as few problems as possible. Ultimately, they’re the only ones who can answer the question, based on their own individual circumstances: Am I ready to have a dog?
Don’t be disappointed or frustrated if the answer is, “Not right now.” It’s better to wait a while and go ahead when you’re ready than to rush ahead unprepared and fail. Someday, a dog will thank you — limitlessly — for taking the time to make the best decision possible.