The only thing people like more than treating their dogs like children, is complaining about people who treat their dogs like children. You don’t have to look far to find disapproving op-eds condemning the use of terms like “fur babies” or the anthropomorphising of pets. To be honest, I’m occasionally surprised by the complexity of people’s feelings for their dogs. Earlier this year when we held the great Australian dog survey, we inquired if having a dog made you want kids less. The assumption was that maybe for some people the connection with their pet was enough to replace more traditional family urges. While we figured a few people would agree it was still surprising to hear that one in three respondents felt that having dogs reduced their desire for children.
The question of dogs replacing kids is more complex than it might first appear. It speaks to how our lives, values, and perceptions of family are changing. Millennial Marketing have reported that while 44 percent of millennials are unsure if they want to have kids, they’re still the leading demographic when it comes to pet ownership. Many have been quick to point out that concerns over the environment, employment rates, and pathways to home ownership have made it feel more responsible to commit to a pet than a child. But that rather gloomy explanation sells the relationship between people and pets short, casting them as an alternative, not a first choice.
The Advantages of Dogs Replacing Kids
Let’s face it, there are some clear advantages to choosing pets over babies. For a start, in the first year of their life a dog is estimated to cost you (roughly) between $1000 and $7000. Comparatively, kids come in between $10,000 and $50,000. In terms of time, dogs are less demanding and usually (but not always) lower maintenance. Plus, dogs don’t grow up to talk back to you.
Melbourne based Sophie Friggens, mum to one of our favourite Insta-dogs Dave the Beagle, admits that she personally feels “that dogs give back as much, if not more, than you give. There is no clash of personalities, no tantrums, no arguments, no school fees, no homework, it’s a win win!”
Chris Croker, who lives in Avoca Beach with his rescue staffy Luna, is a bit more direct: “Dogs are easier than kids. They don’t turn into demons when they turn three. They don’t pretend you’re not cool when they’re in high school. They just love you and think you’re the coolest thing in the world; which is pretty great.”
What Dogs Replacing Kids Says about Our Changing Values
It’s a bit harsh to suggest that dogs replacing kids is purely about saving cash. In recent decades, we’ve become more likely to consider our pets as family members. And our evolving relationships with them speak to how our lives are changing more broadly. Reena, a Melbourne based dog mum to two corgis reflects that many people her age (she’s 30), “are starting to realise kids aren’t perhaps the only way to life fulfillment, or necessary at all if you aren’t all that keen to begin with.”
“I think in general it is more accepted that some people just don’t want children. It is no longer a given that people will go down the path of (traditional) parenthood. As society’s expectations and attitudes change I think we will see more people remaining child free and perhaps a corresponding increase in dog ownership,” adds Sophie.
A relationship with a pet is also unique, and to some people preferable. Kasia is a graphic designer from Footscray with a staffy x ridgey mix, she comments: “Dogs, I feel, offer an unconditional element to a relationship, there is a bond in that silence, a different language is spoken between a dog and their person. Loyalty is another aspect I think, fearless loyalty that can only come from a dog.”
Some People Just like Dogs More than Kids
Chris confesses that he always wanted to be a dad, but began to feel conflicted as he got older and learnt about the world. Admitting, “I can’t help but wonder if it’s the smartest thing to do?” When he adopted Luna his perspective changed: “She has given me so much purpose that I haven’t thought about kids for a SUPER long time.”
Of course, a lot of people would always have chosen to not have kids, whether money, stability, or social pressure were an issue or not–they simply don’t have that urge. For them, dogs shouldn’t be seen as a second-best option. Sophie notes: “I have always felt that I don’t want children, but when you are growing up there is a certain amount of pressure to ‘tick a box’ and go down a path that is expected and socially acceptable. Having Dave has cemented these feelings and he is the only child I will ever need!”
It’s easy to fall into a hierarchical view of love, that dictates what a “real” family looks like, or who deserves your full attention. But who says the love of an animal can’t be as rewarding, or the love you feel for them as real?
As Sophie puts it: “I have never been an overly maternal person, but since having Dave, I am even more sure that children aren’t for me. My heart is so full of love for my boy that I actually don’t think I have room for anyone else. He is literally the centre of my world and I wouldn’t want anything to change that.”
For more on people’s feelings about their dogs, check out:
The Unique and Invisible Grief of Losing a Pet
Dog Videos May Actually Be Good for Your Productivity
Special Needs Pets Represent the Best of Humanity
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