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Dogs and Graduate School

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Hey y’all, 

A family member of mine has decided to surrender a dog because he “no longer wants the responsibility.” He’s looking to give the dog to anyone who will take him (including people who he doesn’t know) or potentially having a shelter place the dog. I am horrified that he’s doing this to a six year old dog for no reason other than he “needs to free himself from the responsibility.” 

How many of you have dogs and are going to Ph.D. Programs? I feel like I should take the dog from him to keep it from ending up in a bad home, but I’m worried about living arrangements/cost/time. I want to do the right thing for the dog. This is gutting me.

For reference: I have lived with the dog for periods of time in the last six years. I do have an emotional attachment to the dog. 

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There was a lengthy post about this on this very subforum a few months ago, so you're definitely not the only person thinking about this.

I have a dog.  I know lots of grad students with dogs in my program, some of them have more than one!  Like anything there are advantages and disadvantages.

I think you're at an advantage since this is a dog that comes (presumably) trained, and that you're familiar with. I think the worst part about getting our dog was that my fiancé (who is also a PhD student) and I got just about zero work done the first three weeks we had him. I'll try to focus on things specific to grad school since it sounds like you already know the basics of dog stuff.

Depending on the dog's energy level, you may find that you have to settle into a more routine work schedule based on the puppo's needs.  If I haven't finished everything I need to get done that day by 5:00 p.m. it's tough shit, because the dog wakes up about that time and demands validation as a dog.  He may also wake up in the middle of the day and decide it's time to play, sometimes these breaks are a relief, sometimes they're a benefit to my intellectual work, and sometimes they're a total pain in the ass. If you're like me, and as an undergrad you got used to doing your academic work in huge chunks, marathon work sessions, etc., that doesn't fly when you have a dog.  Luckily for me, I was already phasing myself out of that way of working anyway.

Being a good department citizen means attending meetings, talks, seminars, etc. that will definitely make your schedule irregular, and I know my dog hates deviations from routine.  

Another big thing is money, while the day-to-day of dog ownership doesn't cost all that much, you're going to be living on a grad student stipend and every little bit counts.  We make it work, but our dog had an E.R. visit recently (don't worry, he's fine) and the cost was a punch in the gut for our meager grad student finances.   

I think the biggest thing is though, that before I became a grad student, I never thought of 30 minutes of my day here and there as being valuable.  But 2-3 walks a day, plus care and playing adds up and definitely becomes noticeable.

All in all, I'm glad I have a dog, and I think a lot of grad students I know have them, but it is definitely an added challenge.  Think of it this way though, some people do this with kids!  

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So I'm about to start the first year of my Phd, and I got my dog just one year ago (in the summer before the last year of my MA). The big things I've learned (as they've applied to me):

  • Consider who will take care of your dog when you are at a conference or away. A weekend or day might not be that hard, but what about breaks? While my husband is around to take care of our dog, my program is about 16 hours from our family so Christmas break was rough, as almost everyone we knew well enough to watch our dog was also away. We ended up driving home and keeping him with our family, but it was a hassle. 
  • Most grad students are rent dependent, if this is true for you then be warned renting with a dog can destroy your savings. We managed to find a rental that only had a $200 deposit, but many of the places we're looking to rent this upcoming year charge a $200 deposit, $200 fee, and "pet rent" anywhere from $10-25 a month (obviously we know pets can be expensive, but this in particular is a burden)
  • Think about your routine and how long you're away each day. When I was taking thesis credits, my dog was pretty happy, either me or my husband were home most of the time, but when I suddenly had classes nearly every day the next semester I think it bummed him out. Suddenly he was alone for 4/5 hours, 5 days a week. He's gotten much better, but when we first had him he was still potty training, learning to be alone, had very severe separation anxiety... it was stressful trying to decide each day whether I wanted to leave for just a one hour presentation or meeting. So on top of what @jrockford27 said about irregular schedules- also consider the guilt.

With all of that though, I want to say that I'm so happy with my decision to get a dog. Our puppy was with a family previously who had too many pets and not enough time to properly train or take care of him. We may not have as much money or time as some people, but he still gets a lot of attention and we have a set budget each month for his food/toys/treats etc. He's basically a spoiled only child and we love it.

In addition to providing me with company while I study and affection when I'm stressed- he's also helped me develop some better habits. We've started incorporating hikes, daily walks, and trips to the dog park into our routine. I'm forced to get up at a reasonable time to take him out. Plus, he "reminds" me (via begging and harassment) to play with him and take him out, forcing me to step away from laptop at least once an hour or so. Training has been terrible and getting up at like 4am to take him out those first few months was awful, but he just turned one and is starting to really figure stuff out (with a dog that is already trained, I'd imagine it being much easier). 

So, yeah- there are pros, there are sure cons, but if you love the dog, have the money, and can make a few small sacrifices, I think it's worth it. When we get settled in our next program, we're already considering adding a second dog to the mix so I guess it works for us.

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Thank you everyone for the feedback! I sent my relative a note about my housing concerns-- moving in August and would like to secure a house first so barking won't be an issue-- but I told him I was willing to take the dog in August after the move. Otherwise, I told him to give his first choice adopters my name, phone number, and to tell them that if they decided to rehome Charlie for any reason that I will pay a cash reward for his return to me. Hopefully I've done enough for the dog. Thank y'all for giving me the confidence to offer to take him. I still don't feel great about it, but given that I won't know where I'm living until late June (I have a visit and a realtor lined up to show me rentals) I think I've done what I can with the information I currently have.

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@rising_star Thank you! I probably should have used the search function before I started this thread. Oops!

@jrockford27 Thanks for your reply-- I had only considered the flexibility of my student schedule (as a positive thing), but I had failed to consider how the irregularity may negatively impact the dog. I wasn't thinking through the colloquia, meetings, and other department citizen activities. This is a great point. Thank you. 

@renea Thanks for such a detailed reply. The guilt is something that I've been thinking about, but I'm also fighting against the guilt of participating in (by means of not stopping) Charlie's abandonment to people we don't know. I'm not comfortable not knowing what happens to him, so I feel guilty about the possibility of him going to strangers. There's so much guilt to go around! 


I love gradcafe. Y'all are some wonderful humans. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

It seems like you have possibly already made a decision, but just to toss another couple of pennies into the pile:  I've always had a dog, and I don't know how I would live without one. There are a lot of things that you need to adapt to in order to have one, but after a while, you don't even notice.  Some things to consider:


-Having a dog means asking potential landlords "Do you allow dogs" as your FIRST question.  The answer will eliminate at least half of the potential rentals.

-Dogs are expensive. In addition to regular vetting, there is food, toys, damage, grooming, emergency vetting, etc.  Having a dog means that the dog's needs come before your own.

-With the above two details in mind, a lot of it comes down to budget and location. I have always lived in areas (including during grad school) where the cost of living/income ratio allowed me to properly care for my dog. I did not consider moving to places where that would not be the case (because when I adopt a dog, it's for life).  While you want to do what's best for this dog, you need to look at your financials and see if you'll be able to properly take care of it.


-As far as schedules and other such details, you will soon have a community of folks, MANY of whom are pet people. Other grad students have dog-sat for me. I've dog (and cat, and chinchilla etc) sat for them.  Professors end up in this cycle as well, though usually they do more "getting grad students to watch their pets" than vice versa.


I will say this--as someone who has had at least one dog for about 95% of my life--it's worth it. Especially in grad school. When imposter syndrome strikes, that dog believes in you. When you don't want to leave the house, that dog makes you. Having a dog is GREAT for mental health. Even when they do obnoxious things, like having a better professional head shot than you (see below, haha).



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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi, I'm new here; but I'm in my 10th year of my PhD program and am currently working on my dissertation prospectus. My situation is probably unique in that I had a guide dog (well, actually, two guide dogs since one retired in the middle of my 2nd year) throughout my program. And, if you can believe it, some fellow students were hostile to the necessity of my use of a service animal. I did not have it easy with my colleagues and even some faculty (I was banned from taking a course because of assumptions made by the professors about my visual disability). But, I insisted on my right to use a guide dog and my right to attend grad. I'm determined to finish my degree however long it takes.  

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  • 8 months later...

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