10 Things College Students Should Know Before Adopting a Dog

College is an amazing experience: a chance to further educational goals, start a foundation for a lifelong career, and meet new people – but it’s also a lot of pressure. College students hem and haw over class schedules, pledging to fraternities and sororities, and which extracurricular activities may fit in their busy lifestyles. Even with all those demands, some students discover that there’s a dog-shaped hole in their heart, and find themselves staring wistfully at people walking their dogs near campus. Should a college student get a dog, despite having nearly all their free time booked up? Here are ten things they should consider before embarking on a journey of canine ownership:

1) Is Dog Ownership Allowed In The Dorm Or Home?

Even before the pros and cons are weighed, the very first question that should be answered is whether a dog is allowed to live with the student or not. Housing instability is the last issue a stressed-out student needs to deal with mid-semester, so the concept of asking for forgiveness being easier than asking for permission doesn’t apply here. This question should be considered whether the student is living in campus or private housing, and there are two important points to bear in mind:

  • Most dorms and official off-campus student housing will not allow pets: This is largely due to the potential for damage – door scratching, indoor potty accidents, chewing on shared furniture, individuals with allergies, and so on. In colleges, liabilities are also a concern: if a dog bites another student, introduces fleas or parasites, or triggers allergic responses, the college can find themselves on the wrong end of legal action.
  •  Emotional support dogs and service dogs are not the same: While both dogs are important and beneficial to their owner/handlers, only service dogs enjoy widespread legal protections. Self-declaring a dog to be an emotional support animal – or using ESA documentation purchased or discovered on the internet – won’t supersede housing rules that only allow for service dogs.

2) Do All Roommates Want A Dog?

Whether a college student has a single roommate or several, the next hurdle to clear is to have a house-wide consensus on a new pup. If two roommates agree but a third is staunchly against the idea, that’s setting the stage for uncomfortable friction later on. Depending on leasing and subletting terms, it could also be causing a problem of the legal or financial variety as well. 

3) Will Shared Housing Equal Shared Dog Responsibility?

A dog has a number of daily and periodic needs: he’ll need to be walked at least twice a day,  alone be responsible for these tasks, or will roommates agree to pitch in to take care of the new canine companion?

If the dog is slated to be at least temporarily a communal pup, a schedule or some sort of easily-referenced chart should be set up. This will make sure he isn’t overfed or likely to have an accident because his walk was skipped, and help spread out the burden of his everyday care across several people.

4) Is The College Student Ready To Make The Dog A Priority?

Dogs have different needs at different ages, but whether a college student is considering an older dog or puppy, that dog needs to be a priority. That means that attending all-night parties or “crashing” over a date’s house isn’t really a possibility, unless a roommate has previously agreed to care for the dog. Arrangements will always have to be made for long test days, back-to-back classes, holidays and vacations, and so on – taking on a dog can be very similar to taking on a human child, so they’ll need to schedule around him.

5) Can The College Student Afford A Dog?

Once the basics are ironed out while weighing dog ownership, it’s time to look at finances. While dogs aren’t typically prohibitively expensive, for a college student on a ramen noodle budget, those costs add up quickly. This stage of consideration should include things such as:

  • Dog Food and Treats
  • Dog Bed/Laundry Costs for Dog Bedding
  • Collar(s)/Leash(es)/Tag(s)
  • Monthly Flea & Tick Treatment
  • Dog Toys
  • Vacuum/Cleaning Tools for Accidents
  • Replacement of Dog-Damaged Items
  • Grooming Services or DIY Tools
  • Vet Checkup Visits
  • Vet Emergency Visits

Also, part of the ongoing conversation about dog ownership with roommates should touch on these costs. Will other housemates chip in, or is the potential dog owner expected to shoulder all of these costs themselves?

6) Which Type Of Dog Is Right For A College Student?

This question is one that lands squarely in the “it depends” category. Three factors should inform whatever breeds or combination of breeds that the student is thinking of adopting:

  • Temperament: If a dog isn’t good around people, he’ll probably be a poor companion for the often social, outgoing college life. A nervous or anxious dog may startle or bite someone at a party, or may destroy furniture if left alone for too long.
  • Maintenance: If a dog is particularly fluffy or prone to shedding, he’ll need frequent brushing – and his environment will need frequent cleaning, too – more than a busy schedule may allow. Likewise with adopting special needs dogs: an admirable pursuit, but one that may prove overwhelming to an already-stressed student.
  • Size: College life often comes with relatively compact living. Dorms, apartments, and shared housing may prove to be uncomfortably confining or limiting to large breeds. Smaller or mid-sized breeds are often a better fit for these types of living spaces.

7) Is College Life Good For A Dog?

To paraphrase an old saying, dogs cannot live by kibble and walkies alone. Quality of life should and must be considered when a college student is considering adopting a dog. If he’s slated to be left alone in the home all day while his pet parent attends classes, and ignored all night while they study, that isn’t fair to him. He deserves to be adopted by someone that will love and interact with him often, such as a student that pops by between classes to deliver scratches, belly rubs, and a quick game of fetch. Even the best toys can’t make up for owner interaction, so if he’s destined to become a latchkey canine, an aloof, independent cat may make a better option as a pet.

8) Where Will The Dog Go After College/Between Semesters?

Students tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to the academic calendar: life is planned out in semester-long chunks and the majority of focus is on school work or social events. When a dog is in the mix, however, plans need to incorporate his presence. For example, going back to the family home on holiday breaks means that the family home must be dog-friendly. Once graduation draws closer, any move from campus housing or a dorm must be to a dog-friendly apartment or home. Depending on how well “the talk” went regarding dog ownership with roommates, there may also be unpleasant questions of canine custody that arise when a living situation dissolves. Stay ahead of these by being clear about who will be taking the dog upon graduation and move-out day. 

9) Is There An Emergency Plan For The Dog?

College is a time of great transition; sometimes good and sometimes unexpected. If a college student adopts a dog and either transfers or resigns from school, they are still responsible for him. When leaving a school often means losing housing in the process, a dog may add an additional – and substantial – wrinkle to the process. While it’s definitely possible to get through a big transition like this with a dog at their side, a college student should consider delaying adoption until they’re reasonably confident they’re staying put. If their major, program of study, or even university is likely to be changing in the next year or so, it’s probably best to put off bringing a dog into the home.

10) Will The Dog’s Schedule Be Disruptive To The Student?

Dogs are often early risers, even if their owners are not. If a student is taking late-night or online classes and needs extra rest in the morning, the persistence of a dog in need of a walk may be an unpleasant alarm clock. Additionally, a dog “protecting” his home may bark at late-night intruders like raccoons outside, startling his owner (and potentially their less-than-amused roommates) out of sleep in the process. Dogs, much like humans, aren’t always considerate when it comes to volume and timing, so college students should be prepared for schedule mismatches with tools such as ear plugs and coffee.

A dog is a big responsibility, even when college has long since concluded. For a student in the middle of important studies, class schedules, and robust socializing opportunities, being realistic about life with a dog is important. Co-living in college can be a hugely beneficial arrangement to both human and canine, but only if it’s approached with eyes wide open. 

Sources Cited:

1)      Trusty, Briana. “7 Things to Consider Before Getting a Pet in College.” Her Campus.com, December 21, 2017, https://www.hercampus.com/lifestyle/7-things-consider-getting-pet-college. Accessed July 31, 2020.

2)      Nunez, Laura. “College students should pick their dog more carefully.” The University Star.com, February 19, 2019, https://universitystar.com/28096/opinions/college-students-should-pick-their-dog-more-carefully/. Accessed July 31, 2020.3)      Hutcheson, Susannah. “5 things no one tells you about having a puppy in college.” USA Today.com, March 23, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/college/2017/03/23/5-things-no-one-tells-you-about-having-a-puppy-in-college/37429619/. Accessed July 31, 2020.

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