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Are Two Really Better Than One?

Pause to consider: Is it actually a good idea to get a second dog?

Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB, San Francisco SPCA Behavior Specialty Service
Source: Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB, San Francisco SPCA Behavior Specialty Service

There are many reasons why people add another dog to their household. The reasons are extensive, from wanting a playmate for their current dog to the desire to save another canine life. Perhaps the current dog is getting older, or they are searching for some characteristic that is missing from their current dog’s personality. If you are in the market of looking for a second dog, take a moment to evaluate your current lifestyle and really consider your dog’s sociability towards other dogs. Dogs are social animals but not all dogs get along with other dogs. Even dogs that enjoy going to daycare or playing with other dogs at the dog park may react negatively to a new dog housemate. It is one thing to play with other dogs in a public setting for a discrete period, but having another dog staying permanently in your dog’s perceived territory may be too much for your dog to handle. Similar to having another child in the family, some children welcome the opportunity to be an older brother or sister, others may see the new sibling as a rival competing for their parents’ time and affection. Having a second dog will inevitably place extra demands on your time and attention which may detract from your first dog. Just because you want another dog doesn’t mean you will be able to sustain having two dogs in your household.

How can you determine if you have the mental and physical capacity to handle another dog?

First, determine the underlying reason you want a second dog. Do you have time to raise a puppy and housetrain him? Do you have the finances to support the multiple vaccination visits and the puppy socialization classes that he needs to go to that are crucial for him to develop into a dog that is friendly towards other people and dogs? Do you have time to take your new dog to the training classes where he will learn self-control, tolerance and patience? What about exercise? Are you able to take both dogs on walks? Do you have the capacity to give each dog individualized attention every day?

What will happen if your resident dog does not like the new puppy or adult dog?

The following scenarios are all plausible results from adding a second dog, so you should consider how you would recognize and deal with each situation:

  1. Best buds. If your first dog has behavioral issues but likes other dogs, he can benefit from the company of another dog. Some fearful and anxious dogs are much calmer and more confident when there is another dog present. Some dogs with separation distress are less distressed when there is another dog to keep them company at home when the owners are gone. The second dog may act as a buffer between the first dog and other dogs and people. Also, if your first dog doesn’t enjoy going out in public, but your second dog does, it can give you great enjoyment to take the second dog out on excursions while the first dog can relax in his safe haven at home.
  2. The new dog learns your old dog’s tricks. If you already have a dog at home with some behavioral issues, the decision to add another dog into the household or not, should be made carefully. Depending on the age and temperament of the second dog, she may learn through social facilitation to exhibit the same behavior your first dog exhibits. If your dog barks and jumps on visitors to the house, your new dog may learn that is the customary way a dog greets people in your home. If your first dog pulls on the leash and barks at other dogs or people on walk, you may want to work on this issue before you bring your second dog home. Otherwise your second dog may follow your first dog’s example and now you have a team of dogs being reactive whenever you take them out in public. Be sure you are happy with your first dog’s behavior or have a plan to prevent your second dog from learning bad habits.
  3. “I’m too old for this.” As some dogs gets older, the owners may seek to add a younger dog to enjoy more vigorous activities that the older dog cannot perform or to take advantage of the older dog’s presence to be a role model for the younger dog. Keep in mind that sometimes younger dogs may be physically and mentally exhausting for everyone in the family to deal with, including your older dog. It is unfair and irresponsible to expect the older dog to do the hard work. The older dog may be less tolerant, more anxious or potentially aggressive towards the younger dog if he cannot get away and is constantly harassed by the younger dog. You need to provide a place for the older dog to retreat and allow him to rest while you keep the younger dog occupied. You will still need to take the younger dog to socialization and obedience classes so that she can learn how to appropriately interact with people and dogs outside the family. I have had countless owners bring in their second dog for a behavior consultation because he had developed behavioral issues that could have been easily mitigated by early exposure and training at a young age.
  4. "That is mine!” Whether it is your resident dog claiming his bed or toy or it is your new dog trying to establish her presence in the household, having to referee two dogs constantly can be challenging and in some cases, it puts the dogs or family member at risk of injury if a fight occurs between the dogs. Prepare to provide two of every toy, treats, beds, bowls, etc. Have your dogs eat at a designated location and supervise to keep both dogs in their area and allow them to eat in peace. Some dogs may want to steal another dog’s treats even though they may have one of their own. Dogs may not necessarily share or have the concept that the other treat is for the other dog. In their mind, it may be “first come first served” or “finder’s keepers."
  5. “Why did you have to bring her home?” If your first dog has not been socialized towards other dog when he was younger, you may need to rethink your decision to add another into your household. He may not like the other dog and may be anxious, scared or potentially aggressive towards the newcomer. You may be living in a divided household if you do not have a contingency plan, so first you must work with your current dog to increase his comfort and tolerance around other dogs. Some dogs may learn quickly to how to interact with other dogs, however there are some dogs that have difficulty accepting any other dogs into their homes.

If everyone was able to adopt another dog, we may well be able to clear the shelters. However, we want both the owners and dogs to also have a good quality of life. Adding another canine member to the family should be a joyous occasion, not one that leads to a poorer quality of life or having to decide to keep one dog over another. In the latter situation, no one is the winner. Do your homework and be prepared for all of the possible outcomes.

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