One Dog, Two Dog…Three!

Dogs are great. There is almost nothing like the love and loyalty and joy that comes with canine companionship. What is better than a dog?

How about two dogs? Or three dogs?

What about more dogs?

At some point every pet parent begins to ask themselves that most important of questions…Should I get another dog?

That is quite a question. And don’t believe for one second that there is only one right answer. Like many questions when it comes to pet parenting, it all depends. On you. On your home. On your family. On the dogs.

Should I Get Another Dog?

Many people approach getting another dog like they are justifying a decision that is out of their control. More is better, right? Two dogs will keep each other company, right? “Do you think another dog will keep Lucy happier and less lonely when I’m away at work?”, they ask themselves and just about everybody around them.

Then other people want more dogs because they just want more of these amazing companions to hang out with. That’s not a bad way of thinking.

Whatever the reason, people love having multiple dogs. In the United States, the average household has 1.6 dogs. That’s an incredible statistic to think about. Most people who own dogs have more than one. 

Does that mean it is better? Are those people happier? Are those dogs happier?  

Again, this really depends on a lot of factors so let’s dig into this topic from a variety of perspectives.

Two Puppies at the Same Time

Some people will get two puppies at one time. The idea of two cute, rambunctious, and rumbling, tumbling creatures frolicking the day away is often too much to overcome. It’s a dream scenario. Like a Disney movie. If one puppy is cute, two is better. And they’ll always have a buddy to make the days less boring.

Dream scenario. But the reality is it’s usually not a good idea. I won’t go so far as to say nightmare, but it can get tough, fast. 

Raising one puppy is a huge amount of work, and having two puppies in the house can be absolute bedlam. Dog math is not linear, it’s more exponential. There may only be two dogs but they require the attention and patience of four. It is not a thing to be entered into blindly.

Playtime is vital to any dog’s health, happiness, and development—but it can take up a large part of your day, every day. Depending on your dog’s age, size, breed, and energy level, you can be on the line for anything between 30 minutes to two hours a day exercising your fur ball.

One easy way to ensure your dog is getting enough exercise is by adding a second dog to the mix. Hijinks and exercise will ensue.

And they’ll keep each other company when you’re away, so they won’t resort to boredom-induced destruction around the house.

But, while they may expel more of their energy during the day and be tired out when you get home, you will never bond to them like you would have if you raised one puppy at a time. It is critical to spend some one-on-one time with each dog every day. It is very important for their socialization and development. With dogs it’s about the relationship you form. The bond you forge that makes it work.

I believe that the connection is key. Anything you can do to strengthen the trust between you and your dog is preferable. The stronger the relationship, the better the outcomes.

Additionally, training two dogs at the same time is not easy. If you have two puppies at the same time, you are going to need another person to help you with the training. Having two dogs that obey you at the same time is quite a bit of extra work.

Also, you must unfortunately think ahead. The two puppies will usually be inseparable and almost entirely bonded to one another. When the time comes that one of these dogs die, the dog left behind will be miserable.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Having an older dog when you get a puppy is a more common scenario. It’s also probably a better idea for most people.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Maybe. But an old dog can definitely teach a new dog some tricks. Because dogs crave order, the dog who already knows the rules and schedule of the house can easily help train a pup to adhere to the new environment. And the pup will naturally look to his senior for guidance, and often model his behavior after the elder.

Potty training is achieved with less trouble, too, because dogs naturally go where other dogs have already relieved themselves. The new dog will instinctively follow the older dog’s lead in where to do his business.

And that’s how it is with many “house rules”. The older dog knows where things are and how to do things. In order to maintain the status quo, the pup will naturally adapt to the older dog’s patterns.

Walking two dogs can be a challenge for anyone. Leash tangling and sudden changes of direction are not just annoying but can be dangerous. When one dog knows the routine, it’s less so. The older dog keeps the younger one in check.

But it also has its pitfalls of which to be aware.

If you raise a puppy and own it for two to four years, and it’s the only dog in the house, this dog is going to really bond with you (and the people that live with you). 

You will be the center of his world. Which is great. Until that world changes. 

Additionally, if this dog rarely plays with other dogs and has gotten little to no dog-to-dog interaction in the first couple of years, he probably is not going to be happy if you get another pup.

This dog most likely would be happiest being left to a single dog household.

If you do get another dog, it will take some time before his nose is no longer bent out of joint. Be prepared and forewarned that he may never adjust completely.

Now if your dog goes to doggie daycare often and hangs out at the dog park all the time and has lots of doggie friends, then getting another dog will go smoother. It might even be a good idea that will benefit both dogs.

If you adopt a dog that lived with other pups in his last “life” then he may also be really happy with a companion.

That said, remember that getting another dog will change things. It’s going to be more work and more expensive. Your relationship with your first dog may stay the same, but the new dog will likely bond closer to the first dog than he will with you and your family. The only way to try and counter this is to spend lots of time alone with the new dog. Take the new dog to work, with you on walks, make it your shadow during its first several months.  This approach may give you a chance to bond with this new puppy like your first dog. 

The downside? You will feel like you have abandoned your first dog as you spend the needed time with the new pup.

Don’t. A good relationship with both dogs is for the best for everyone.

I adopted my dog Dave 6 years ago.  This past spring, we decided to rescue a Doberman whom we named Eloise. 

Dave seems to like Eloise, but rarely if ever plays with her. When Eloise tries to play with Dave, Dave wants no part of it. He seems wary of her. To not trust her. Eloise is not aggressive to Dave at all, but she is bigger, and Dave is not used to this.

Recently Eloise spent two days at my canine center (we were doing some construction around the house, and Eloise does not do well with such confusion) and Dave was once again the lone dog in the house. It seemed to all of us that Dave was noticeably happier being the only dog again, where all the attention was on him. So, while we adore Eloise, Dave probably would be happier living in a single dog home.

Did we make the right choice?

Well we did for us, because we love dogs and one is just not enough for our family. So, while Dave is not ecstatic having Eloise in the house, he has learned to adapt. To tolerate. I try to spend more time with Dave and tend to do things with him alone so he still gets his special moments. I have also discouraged Eloise from getting too rowdy with Dave during play. That seems to help.

Things to Consider When Getting Another Dog

So, you have made the choice to get another dog for the right reasons. Now it’s essential to put some thought into what kind, what age, and what sex will be the best match.

Some older dogs do not do well with puppies and get scared by some of their erratic behaviors.

Imagine a grandfather left alone with a toddler the first time. Scares aplenty.

But often it’s just that puppies do not have their social cues figured out.  They have not learned how to greet, how to interact, how to play, and when to stop. They will miss warnings from other dogs completely.

This can be very dangerous. An overreaction or overcorrection on the older dog’s part can cause permanent rifts. If your new puppy gets attacked or corrected too hard by your first dog, it could make this new dog have issues with other dogs later in life.

So, you need to know how your first dog is with puppies before you decide to get one as its companion.   

If it turns out your dog is cranky grandpa, it may be better to get an older dog that is seasoned in social graces and knows how to “read” situations as the second dog.

If your first dog is a low energy, low drive dog, getting a super active high drive dog will probably be a mistake. These two dogs will not be a great match.

This is very similar to my Dave and Eloise situation. When Eloise wants to play and goes into play bow, Dave usually wants no part of it.

What’s a play bow? When a dog goes down on his elbows and is up on his rear, this is a general invitation to play. It is a natural and instinctively learned social behavior you will often see at dog parks or doggie daycares.  

When you have a larger dog (say 80 pounds) give a play bow to a smaller dog (about 20 pounds), that smaller dog better feel very comfortable with the larger dog. There must also be a level of trust that has developed, if not, the smaller dog is going to get scared. Bad things tend to happen when a dog is scared.

If your first dog is a small dog and then you get a large, working German Shepherd as your second dog, it may not be a great fit. Although if the first dog is a large dog and is lower in drive, like an English Mastiff and then you get a Chevalier King Charles which is also not a crazy high drive dog, it could work out wonderfully.  I have seen higher drive terriers, like Jack Russels, play wonderfully with larger Labrador retrievers. 

There is no one-size-fits-all rule. It’s more art than science. It is about maching up the drives, personalities, and confidence level of each dog to make a good match.

So taking into account both dogs’ ages, sizes, and temperaments can determine a lot. If adding more than one dog it can also help in determining which order you should choose the “type” or breed of the second or third dog.

Personality may be the best determining factors. A dog whose personality complements - rather than competes with - your current dog’s personality can be a very good match. If one dog is particularly outgoing, he or she may do well with a more relaxed less demanding dog. Another good match that I have seen work well is pairing a shy dog with a confident dog.

If you often visit the same dog park or go to doggie daycare, pay attention to the type of dog that your dog is friends with. While puppies and young dogs often play with just about any pup who will engage, mature dogs often have a circle of friends to whom they gravitate. Pay attention to the personalities of your dog’s friends. For example, make note if your dog generally does well playing with quiet females but avoids rowdy males.

Let’s Talk About Sex

The final factor to consider is sex.  

If you have a female and you get another female and they have issues and get into a fight, this could be the beginning of a life-long bad situation. Females (especially spayed ones) do apparently hold grudges. And once they start, it’s hard (but not impossible) to fix this. But that’s another article.

In my opinion it is best to avoid the mess altogether and suggest not bringing in a new female unless you have a very specific reason for doing so. So, if you do, introduce the two slowly and carefully. I advise neutral territory over several days when possible.  

Don’t get me wrong, two boys can also be a bit tricky. There is a risk that the two will fight for dominance.  If both are intact (unneutered) males your risk is probably even higher that they will fight.  If one is intact and the other not, there is still a risk, but mostly only on one side. The intact make will attempt to subdue the other as if he was a female. It can go poorly very quickly. 

If you insist on two males, neutering both probably is your best chance of a successful pairing. 

However, by neutering a dog too young (or at all) there are many new studies that show significant health risks. Vets and Breeders tend to really discourage this practice and encourage owners not to neuter their males until 18-24 months, so that the hormones can do their job and all the growth plates get fully developed. (Again, this is a topic for another article). 

I want to be clear that many, many people are successful keeping same sex dogs together in a household. It is my opinion that for assurance of the best overall success, keeping dogs of the opposite sex is simply the safest route. So, if you are going to get another dog, get one of the opposite sex and you may save yourself a lot of headaches later on.

Final Thoughts from a Dog Trainer

Go in with an open heart and an open mind. Expect your old dog and new dog to get along and avoid picking sides if they don’t. Consoling one who seems to be getting picked on or scolding another for initiating a conflict could easily cause a rift (between the dogs and with you) that will just make a complicated situation even more fraught.

For dogs with good social skills and a history of making new friends at dogs parks or daycare, allow the dogs to find their own footing. Allow them to negotiate their relationship without interference.

If the dogs are headed toward a confrontation, step in and redirect the dog’s behavior before the conflict escalates and then let them try again at a later time. If your dogs repeatedly argue, or if you have a dog who bullies or ignores the other dog’s efforts to set limits, get help from a qualified trainer or behaviorist right away. You may need someone to draw up a custom road map.

Set your dogs up for success from the start. Feed them in separate bowls and even separate rooms or crates if they appear food motivated. Make sure they have their own toys and beds. They may eventually share but it’s wise to give them the option and not force them together.

Respect their differences and their individual needs and make sure you spend time with each dog separately where they can have your undivided attention. Again, it’s all about the relationship with you.

Sharing your home with two or more dogs can be extremely rewarding. There is nothing quite like the exuberance, love, and joy that comes from living with multiple dogs. It is also an irreplaceable way to learn more about how dogs behave and communicate with each other and us. I can’t imagine living any other way. But for some dogs, and some families, having an “only dog” is the only right number of dogs.

So the only right answer is the answer that works for you.

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