Wednesday 23 October 2019

Not such a walk in the park: The modern rules for dog owners aka 'puppy parents'

Having a pooch used to be straightforward, but as more millennials choose to become 'puppy parents', Rachel Dugan charts the minefield that is competitive canine owning

New dog owners will be able to take the two weeks of paid leave to settle their puppy in at home
Stock Image
New dog owners will be able to take the two weeks of paid leave to settle their puppy in at home Stock Image

Rachel Dugan

It's no secret that people are putting off starting a family until later in life. Job instability, a housing crisis that seems to be outfoxing successive governments and a general trend towards settling down later in life has seen the average age of parents in this country increase. Dog-ownership, however, is on the rise and many millennials are opting to become a puppy parent at an age when they would traditionally have been knee-deep in dirty nappies.

Some say this is just another example of the so-called snowflake generation avoiding responsibility and delaying 'real' adulthood. But bringing up a puppy is not the walk in the park it once was and bringing up a fur baby is just as fraught as raising a child. From the politics of the dog-run to pushy parenting and spiralling day care costs, getting a dog is no longer the easy option. Here are the modern doggie dilemmas every new owner faces:

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Well-bred Vs Rescue dog

Just like having a child, there are plenty of big decisions to be made before welcoming a new addition to the family, the fundamental one being where you're going to find your dog. You can go to your local rescue centre and adopt one, which comes with the added bonus of being able to virtue signal to all the other puppy parents about what a great person you are. Or, you can find a reputable breeder, spend hundreds of euro on a purebred puppy and then enjoy showing him/her off in a smug fashion. It's totally up to you.

Pawternity Leave

Unless you're a cold-brew chugging hipster working in the kind of office where you get to spend your day lolling around on beanbags and eating free ice cream, you'll probably have to use holidays to help your new addition settle in. Your colleagues will laugh at you and your friends might disown you, but you can counter every eye-roll and stifled giggle with a video of you and your new puppy rolling around in the park together.

Home alone or doggy daycare

Once all the inoculations have been given, toilet training mastered and the sleepless nights are a distant memory, you have to go back to work. You can pay through the nose for doggy daycare and lock yourself into a soul-destroying daily drop-off and pick-up scenario, or you can do the same thing as most of your friends with kids, and farm your little one out to your own parents. If this works, you'll have saved yourself a fortune and your fur baby will enjoy lots of lounging by the fire and bracing beach walks. If you decide to leave your dog home alone, probably best not broadcast the fact. Mouths will fall open, 'looks' will be exchanged and you'll never get a playdate invite again.


The dog run in your local park is just like a playground: full of loud, excitable little ones hopped up on treats, with bouts of violence erupting sporadically (actually, with all the dry-humping, it's more like a drunken dinner party). The other common feature are the worried parents watching from the sidelines, wondering if little Alfie or Lulu is making friends or being bullied by some chunky troublemaker. If your little darling is misbehaving, you will be called out. If you can afford it, puppy training classes are an option. But whatever route you choose, socialising is a must - nobody wants to be the parents of the doggy reincarnation of Damien.

Writer Rachel Dugan and her dog Monty
Writer Rachel Dugan and her dog Monty

Foodie fads

We've all been bored to tears by the friend who likes to boast about marathon batch-cooking sessions and the ice-trays full of little blocks of homemade goodness stacked in their freezer. Looking after your fur baby's dietary needs is no less involved. Never pull out a bag of standard dog treats at the park, you should make your own, nutrient rich treats and then doling them out smugly at the dog run. But wait, are any of the dogs gluten-free, lactose intolerant or perhaps following a raw diet? And what about the ones with nut allergies? And for God's sake, NEVER be seen with a traditional tin of dog food.


Putting clothes on your dog is not just for socialites with a chihuahua in a Birken bag. Dogs, particularly small ones, get cold and wet so some sort of coat is usually a must. From bright-yellow macs to country squire-style tweed jackets, the choices are endless. If it's a female dog, are you happy to stick to the standard fare of princess motifs, sparkles and pink, or would you be more comfortable raising a gender neutral puppy? Always remember, though, that just like children, your dog's sartorial choices will ultimately reflect on you.

Pushy pupper parents

Helicopter parenting is, sadly, a thing among dog-owners, with plenty of fur mums and dads insisting on inserting themselves into areas of the puppy's upbringing they shouldn't. Barking at other parents in the park, telling the puppy trainer how to do their job and trying to set up playdates with the purebred Afghan Hound down the road (AKA doggy social climbing) are all signs you're a pushy pupper parent. Setting up too many extracurricular activities for your dog is also a no-no. So before signing them up for agility training or volunteering them for shifts as a therapy dog at the local old people's home, ask yourself if they might just prefer a good long walk.


Every parent knows the importance of establishing boundaries, and dogs are no different. You can confine your moulting monster to downstairs, banish them to the garden, or give them free reign of the entire house. Those with the fewest barriers often end up in a co-sleeping situation, which generally works best for people who like waking up with a mouthful of fur and a nagging suspicion about the wet patch on your pillow.


The temptation to set up a social media account for your puppy is hard to resist. You'll convince yourself that your 'most handsome boy ' could become the next Boo™ The World's Cutest Dog and set you up for life. But curating an Instagram account for your pooch is time-consuming and ups the grooming load significantly. Brands may well "want to work with you" but most of these advertising overtures amount to little more than a measly 10pc off code for their doggie travel water bottle/designer bandana/crystal-encrusted harness.

Succession planning

Parents often suffer from empty-nest syndrome when their kids reach 18 and move out. Dogs are unlikely to live beyond their teenage years, so doggy parents all know that a pup-shaped void is looming. For some, the hole can never be filled. But for other, less sentimental types, it's all about succession planning, which is best done while with the living heir in situ. Awks...

Irish Independent

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