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Millennials' Pet Dogs: an Anchor to an Adult World

For millennials, dogs bring opportunities for personal growth and challenges.

Millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996. They have grown up at a time of big technological changes (especially with the internet and social media). They tend to have higher levels of education than previous generations (and higher levels of student debt). And given rising house prices, they face increasing challenges in buying a home, leading them to be thought of as “generation rent."

Source: Fran_/Pixabay

So what do millennials get from a pet dog?

New research by Taryn M. Graham (University of Calgary) et al. looks at the role of dogs in the lives of millennials who rent. The results show the unique challenges faced by this generation and how dogs can help them transition into adulthood.

Graham told me in an email:

“The results of my research suggest that dog ownership may help strengthen the skills and capacities of young people as they transition into independent living, yet they may escalate stress in other ways. For instance, human-animal bonds may be more challenging for those with limited access to resources, especially in circumstances when they must move and have little time to transition.”

The researchers interviewed 28 people aged between age 21 and 31 who both own a dog and rent. The study took place in Calgary, which is one of Canada’s youngest cities. While most participants were born in Canada, a quarter were born elsewhere and emigrated to Canada.

Emerging adulthood is the time between adolescence and young adulthood, when people are still exploring their own identity and feeling in-between, not yet fully adult. Given societal changes that mean many millennials still live with their parents or move out only to have to return at some point, this life stage may continue for longer than for previous generations.

The study found that dog ownership was an important part of participants’ identities. Some had always thought of themselves as dog people, due to having grown up with dogs.

Participants reported that having a dog brought structure and stability and made them make better decisions because they had to consider their dog. At times, they would use the dog as an excuse to leave parties or places they did not want to be. In some cases, participants had made changes to their life, such as in career trajectory, because of the dog.

The flip side is that sometimes they could not go to events or take part in activities with friends because they needed to go and take care of the dog.

Dogs could be useful as a way of vetting romantic partners, and having a dog could bring a new level of intimacy and responsibility to a relationship. But dogs could also get in the way of relationships, either simply by being in the bed or by not getting on with a partner’s dog.

Providing for the dog required people to be responsible, but at the same time some participants had needed to rely on family and friends to help (e.g., with large vet bills or dog walking). This is one example of how each person’s situation varied, as some had access to help from family while others did not.

Since everyone in the study was renting, housing was not surprisingly a big issue, particularly when it was difficult to find rental housing that would take pets.

Graham told me:

Previous work of mine has shown that younger tenants with pets appear to be at a disadvantage in the rental market, leading them to live in poorer-quality properties or less desirable neighbourhoods than they could live in without a pet. Most tenants perceive their pets as important members of the family; however, they tend to face higher rents and tend to feel powerless in negotiations simply because they are pet owners. In many jurisdictions, family status is prohibited ground for discrimination in access to housing. The challenge now is to ask whether housing policy could be amended to reasonably consider pets as part of people's families.

On its own, however, policy change is not enough to reduce the number of animals that are given up each year due to housing issues, nor is it enough to ensure that pets are happy and healthy once housed. Rather, a number of different strategies are needed to help promote responsible pet ownership in rental housing.

Moving forward, there needs to be greater collaboration between providers of housing services and animal services. Right now, they are working in silos; however, they both deal with this issue on a daily basis. One strategy could be for animal shelters or departments to serve as resource hubs for issues related to pets in rental housing, for instance, offering a helpline for tenants, landlords, and property managers. Another strategy could be for landlords and property managers to partner with services of interest to tenants with pets, such as pet sitting, dog walking, dog training, grooming, or even pet-specific housing cleaning services.

When looking for rental housing, millennials should introduce their pets to their landlord or property manager, and they should get references for their pets. A written pet policy, which lists the number and types of pets permitted in the property and which includes clauses related to damage, nuisance, and cleaning, is also advisable.”

Earlier research has shown that pets provide important benefits to homeless youth and it is interesting to see the extent to which they can also make a difference to the young adults in this research.

Far from being a selfish generation, this study shows millennials working hard to care for their pet dogs. Dogs provide millennials with routine, a sense of responsibility, and a focus away from the self, but also with challenges, especially when it comes to costs and housing. And this research shows that programs to help pet owners—and to ensure rental housing is pet-friendly—have the potential to make a real difference.


Graham, T. M., Milaney, K. J., Adams, C. L., & Rock, M. J. (2019). Are Millennials really Picking Pets over People? Taking a Closer Look at Dog Ownership in Emerging Adulthood. Canadian Journal of Family and Youth/Le Journal Canadien de Famille et de la Jeunesse, 11(1), 202-227. DOI:

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