Back when my parents were 30, they were each well into their careers, owned a house in the suburbs, and were married with a baby on the way. That baby was me, and now that I am 30, it is overwhelmingly clear that me and the vast majority of people I know live the junior-varsity version of that lifestyle.
Most millennials exist in a liminal space between adolescence and “adulthood” as previous generations understand it. They’ve aged out of partying as hard as they did in their early 20s, but since they’re largely behind schedule when it comes to things like having and rearing children, they’ve got a relatively high amount of free time that’s offset by a relatively low risk tolerance that keeps them from doing the dumb, reckless stuff that teens and college students do, especially if they’re uninsured.
This, I am willing to theorize, has led to a class of ostensibly adult humans who drink craft beer outside during the day, smoke legal weed and/or take light amounts of psychedelics while talking about books with their friends, are really into home decor, and are more than willing to funnel dozens of hours into watching good-ish TV shows exclusively airing on one of the five streaming services on which they use their parents’ or ex-significant others’ login. I don’t really have any evidence to back all of this up, but Game of Thrones is popular for a reason, and it’s not because it’s good.
Anyways, the other big side effect of this socioeconomic holding pattern is that everybody gets a dog. At least 50 percent of the people I know in the mid-sized, relatively hip American city in which I live have them, to the point that I know more people in town with dog Instagram accounts than I people who have children (and I must clarify that the people I know who do have children are, as a rule, vastly more stable and responsible than I could ever imagine being, and I respect them more than I can possibly explain).
However, as a substitute for a child, dogs are great. Having one makes you learn to be more responsible and care for something other than yourself, and a dog will never mentally develop to the point at which they do something terrifying like accidentally smoke vape juice or get really into 4Chan. If you spend a fair amount of time forging a relationship with your dog and setting ground rules for it, they become wonderful companions who are wellsprings of unconditional love and will only get into vaping if they mistake your vape for a chew toy.
Over the past few months, my partner and I realized that we are actually good as hell at having a dog. After a few sessions with a local trainer, we reached the point at which our dog, a small Pomeranian mix, only barked for 15 minutes when a leaf moved in the backyard, instead of 30 minutes. She is happy and well-adjusted, and can reasonably be trusted to not freak out and try to bite literally every single person who comes to our house. We have mastered the art of Having a Dog and, as such, we decided to take the “next step.”
It was time to get a second dog.
Before we actually got the second dog, we figured that since caring for one dog had become relatively easy; having a second would be the same as having one dog twice — twice the amount of food, twice the number of toys, two dogs going on the same number of walks we were already taking with one. It turns out we were wrong.
When you have one dog, it looks at you, as well as any other humans you may live with, as its “pack.” By dint of controlling when it eats and poops, as well as where it goes and what it does when it’s there, the dog intuitively understands that you’re ultimately its boss. That isn’t to say that dogs aren’t good at convincing you to give them whatever it is they want, or that the dog will always do what you say, but generally, it’s easy to manage even a crazy dog as long as there’s only one of them.
When you introduce a second dog to the equation, you completely change the dynamics of the pack. Dogs are complex emotional creatures, and what we did not realize was that just because one day you bring a big boy dog home and tell your small girl dog that, surprise, they’re now brother and sister and have to be best friends now, it doesn’t mean that the first dog will believe you.
In fact, that original dog may view her new brother as an unwanted intrusion into her otherwise idyllic world, and decide to spend a month getting annoyed at him, barking and growling at him, getting jealous when he is playing with something super sick and cool (like a shoe) and then trying to bite him, only to have him respond by licking her face.
All of our big new dog’s passivity and face-licking eventually wore our small dog down, and she has finally accepted his presence in the house. Great, right? Wrong, not always great. My partner and I might have thumbs and clothes and all the other trappings of humanity that guarantee high status in a human-dog pack, but the dogs have each other, and they are incredibly down to team up to create mischief, track an ungodly amount of dirt into the house, or distract you while the other dog eats your shoes. Two dogs, I have found, beats two — or even four! — thumbs, every time.
All of this can be really stressful, to the point that I like to pretend that having two dogs is exactly as complicated and stressful as having one baby. I realize this is remotely not true, but still! There must be a certain number of dogs a person can have that actually does demand the physical and emotional effort of caring for one baby, though science has so far been unable to figure out what that number is. I’m thinking seven.
Having two dogs is also immensely rewarding, and those rewards are compounded in the exact same way that dual-dog stress is. The first time the dogs teamed up to wake us up at 6:30 a.m. demanding to be let outside, I honestly couldn’t help but feel a deep feeling of gratitude, and perhaps even pride, because it was proof that the dogs had finally learned to get along and work together, even if it was on something that annoyed the shit out of me. After us ignoring them for ten minutes, the big dog licked my face, while the little one licked my hand. I got up, took them into our backyard to do their business, and as the dogs shitted in unison, I nearly fell back asleep in a chair outside. It was great.