There’s a mounting crisis among millennials. It’s not alcohol or drugs, obesity, or even some misperceived cultural crossroads (even though The Chainsmokers continue to top the charts). According to the Washington Post, 3/4 of Americans in their thirties have dogs. While that number might sound high (it is based on a single survey), other sources note that some 57 percent of millennials own pets — and there is ample evidence that dog ownership is rising in double digits among the age group. But here’s what you should really know: If you’re under 40 and are about to buy a dog, take pause. And then don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, having a dog is an excellent thing for your health. They can add years to your life by getting you moving, lowering your stress, and even improving your gut health by diversifying your microbiome. In fact, dogs are a smart choice for many people in their twenties and thirties, especially for those suffering from depression, obesity, or anxiety (ample studies of their benefit to trauma victims and soldiers with PTSD bear this out). But for the rest of you otherwise healthy individuals, enjoy the freedom you have from a leash-free life.
The problem is that your dog quickly becomes an excuse for you to stay home, or at least remain close to home on that lame two-mile loop that you repeat every day. Even parents — we’re talking people with biological humans — don’t skip as much travel or a vacation as you dog owners. Ok, if it’s Las Vegas or Mardi Gras in New Orleans and you have a six-year-old, you’re probably out. But besides a handful of age-related restrictions, you can generally travel with kids.
Many owners will argue that having a toddler is just as limiting as a dog. I hate to break it to you, but your animal is a perpetual toddler, with strings attached. “Pets are becoming a replacement for children,” Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me told the Washington Post. “They’re less expensive. You can get one even if you’re not ready to live with someone or get married, and they can still provide companionship.” But unlike children, they’ll limit your AirBnB options to the bottom 10 percent, with worn-down houses on the outskirts of town. Then there’s the fact that you can’t do anything on a whim. Want to change up plans after the hike and try this awesome-looking restaurant? Sorry, gotta take the dog back first. Staying for one more drink? Nope, Hamilton will tear apart the living room if I stay another hour.
A big part of the limiting factor of dogs is that so few people properly train them. I have a sizable circle of dog-loving family and friends and still I’ve met a total of three dogs in my life that were truly, thoroughly trained — acting more like 13-year-olds able to babysit themselves with a little oversight than the jumpy, coddled pups most people raise. All of them were trained by my grandfather, a WWII veteran, hunter, and no-nonsense dog owner (his authority with any canine is a sight to behold). Most of us are not my grandfather — or Cesar Millan, for that matter — and the younger you are, the less stable your work and home life, the less time you’ll have to train your dog, the more of a hindrance Bailey will be on you.
My parents are dog people. They’re on their third yellow lab now, and each and every one of those dogs has been an integral part of the family, providing companionship and stories and a spiritual encounter that (I believe) only dog owners understand. And when they tell me they have to get a house out of the way for summer vacation or have to head back a day early to the dogs, I see the sacrifice and realize that, especially at their age, it’s well worth it.
But when you’re in your twenties and thirties — when you should be backpacking in Thailand and biking centuries and staying in super-nice hotels — the world is your companion. Make friends with it. Then, later, settle down and get a dog. You’ll both love each other a lot more for it.