Is Getting a Second Dog a Good Idea?
(I’ve written this Second Dog first draft stream of consciousness and as comments come in and other things come to mind I’ll make some additions)
There are good reasons for getting a second dog and some bad reasons for getting a second dog. Even when the reasons are good enough it can end up being heartbreaking and disastrous even with the best of planning. However, planning beforehand can make a huge difference in having the odds your favor and it’s well worth doing.
The first thing to do is to examine your motivation. If the reason you’re getting a second dog is for the sake of the first dog as opposed to your simply wanting another dog you might want to give it some thought.
For some people, if they were honest with themselves they might admit that the reason they want to find a second dog is that they’ve found that they don’t have the time for the first dog. It might still work out but not often in my experience and often a recipe for disaster. It’s better to look for ways to meet the first dog’s needs or in some cases even consider re-homing that dog so that those needs can be made. Tough decision, I know but sometimes better for the dog. Far too many dogs essentially live under house-arrest because their owners either haven’t the time or the inclination to teach the level of practical companion dog obedience skills that allow the dog to be off lead long enough to get real exercise (walks don’t cut it) and go more places and do more things with their owners. For some dogs, this lack of utilization leads to behavior problems, some more serious than others but either way it has always seemed a shame to me that creatures as intelligent and as athletic as dogs are as house-bound as they more often than not are.
Number 1 Cause of Dogs Fighting Within the Home
You can do your second dog planning all right, only to find out some time down the road that the dogs begin to fight. The number one cause of this behavior in my experience is not because the dogs can’t get along but because the dogs’ owner(s) have dropped the ball along the way and let the dogs think resources are up for grabs. There are things you might not do when you have just one dog or even two that won’t backfire but when there are two the chance go up exponentially that if the dogs aren’t clear that you’re the teacher and they’re the student in the classroom that is your home than the resources that mightn’t otherwise matter to them if another dog weren’t around, are now up for grabs and so they start duking it out. This happens far less often when the person that owns the dogs isn’t the sort that refers to them as “fur-babies” and actually provides them with leadership (and of course – training, structure, real exercise, real mental stimulation, etc.)
If the reason you’re thinking of getting a second dog is that your dog suffers from separation anxiety and you’re thinking some company might help your dog I’d test that theory out. Years ago I attended a seminar at Cornell University mentioned a study (I did not read the study) that concluded that in 50% of their cases it helped. If you have a dog suffering from true separation anxiety you know it’s awful for the dog and the owner so it might be worth looking into. However, I recommend borrowing/fostering the second dog first to see how it goes and when choosing the second dog to borrow or foster using the guidelines to follow.
I think the question as to which gender in the second dog to get is probably the most common and the answer isn’t rock-solid across the board correct. It’s more of a rule of thumb and there are variables.
Generally speaking there seems to be more potential for conflict when the dogs are of the same gender. The chances of this increase quite a bit if one or both of the dogs have ever been used for breeding particularly with the females. As I say, rule of thumb because there are plenty of households with a second dog with the same gender, but temperament plays a role as well.
I would look for almost polar opposites as whether you have two really soft “old soul” dogs or two high drive “master of the universe” meatheads, if they’re too evenly matched there seems to more room for conflict then when one is clearly a little pushier than the other. Here’s a dog park article about different mindsets in dogs – Click Here.
Introducing The Second Dog
One of the biggest mistakes people make introducing dogs to each other is when it’s not done on neutral territory. Two dogs that might otherwise have got along just fine can get their noses right out of joint right off the bat if the introduction is done in such a way that their sense of territorial defence/infringement is triggered. The most obvious way to blow it in this department is to have them meet on one or the others’ home turf but it’s also a mistake to introduce dogs with this sort of wiring on a route they regularly walk or in an area they are regularly exercised.
Just because the dogs aren’t fighting doesn’t mean everyone’s happy. Some dogs (mostly those that have stronger personalities then their owners might be found to be bullying/harassing the second dog. The second may have no drive to stand up for itself and so ends up without the ball, the treat the pets etc. because the more dominant dog won’t settle for anything else.
Borrowing a Friends Dog or Temporary Foster
It’s not a bad idea to give the second dog idea a whirl before you make the long term commitment. The problem with this approach and again typically when the owner of the dog(s) is the “fur baby” sort or too passive in their expectations of little day to day non deal-breaker behaviors is that some dogs new to an environment are often not revealing their potential for mayhem right off the bat. It can take a couple of months before problems pop up. The analogy I often use is if I were to become a boarder in your home you would soon comment, “What a nice fellow.” He turns the lights out when he leaves a room, parks where he should doesn’t come in too late, etc.” However, after a couple of months, you come home and I raiding the fridge in the middle of the night in my underwear. It’s always better to lay the law down quick. Things you might have let go with one dog can be a problem when there’s a second for a few reasons. If the second dog thinks that the little things matter the bigger things are less likely to rear their ugly heads.
Younger Dog Vs Older Dog
I see plenty of second dog households where things were going fine but suddenly there’s conflict where the new dog has simply matured into an adult and decided it’s time to assert itself. Once again this is more a problem in fur baby households than households where the dogs are equally loved but not allowed to forget as our parents so often said, “This is my house. Not yours. You just get to live here.”
It’s natural for a young adult dog to want to assert itself and also natural for an older dog that has been cutting the youngster some slack due to immaturity to finally decide, “You’re old enough to know better.”, and start taking umbrage. It usually works itself out but it’s always worse when the owner of the dogs isn’t clear as to ultimately whose living in whose house.
Honouring Top Dog
Another potential trigger for conflict is when the two dogs have worked out who is the top dog (not always an issue but with some dogs they need to know – see article) and the owner for reasons of their own decide to not honor that arrangement. For instance, they pet, or give the treat, or let out (or in) etc. the dog they are more emotionally attached to first. If that doesn’t happen to be the top dog between the two the dog that is top dog can make the others life miserable. You don’t have to put up with nonsense though from the top dog. If he or she is being a bully about it they likely need an attitude adjustment in the “Who’s living in whose house?” department.
Sometimes when people get a second dog for their own sake they get a little disappointed after a while depending on how they set things up in the household. It’s not that they don’t love the dog or even vice versa, it’s just that the dog doesn’t ever seem as interested in them as it does the other dog. This can be a little hard on the heart strings but it also complicates training. The best way to get a better bond is by leaving the dog’s leash on whenever you’re home together and doing so for months (as long as supervised). You don’t need to hang on to it. Your’e not trying to wreck the dog’s freedom. You’re trying to wreck the dog’s freedom to blow you off more times then connect. I have much more about connecting with a dog in this way so the relationship is more natural in my e-book. The Beautiful Balance – Dog Training with Nature’s Template.
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2 thoughts on “Second Dog – Good Idea Or Not?”
I believe you do a disservice to yourself and advice with comments such as “the person that owns the dogs isn’t the sort that refers to them as “fur-babies” and actually provides them with leadership”. The contempt you seemingly have for the “fur-baby” type is offensive. My boxer was on the verge of death when I found him at the shelter. He had almost lost the will to live and the first 3 vets I took him to said he wouldn’t make it. He was emaciated, a walking skeleton (between 1&2 on their rating scale) he had been abused covered with cigarette burns and terrified of everything. He was covered with tics and fly strikes. He was not used to any physical contact. I dont believe he would have been able to pull through if I were not the “fur-baby type”. I babied him and coaxed him to eat and drink in those early days. He obviously had a “rough childhood” and was very akward socially. It took a lot of work and time but we worked through his issues. My attitude towards him may not be one you find acceptable but he listens to me without question and it’s clear who the leader is. I’ve had dogs my whole life and have treated them all like babies. It may seem nutty but I talk to them as if they were little people both in expressing my disappointment and praising them. Although it may appear otherwise, I don’t actually believe they understand what I am saying but I do believe they understand the tone and to me wanting to please their owner is more effective than receiving a treat for correct behavior. I guess it could be seen by some as a problem that when someone other than my husband or I gives a command it most likely would be ignored as they look to one of us for direction, but I personally am ok with that. I read a couple of your posts and believe you have good advice. But i hope you will at least consider revising the disdain of us “fur-baby” types.
Thank you very much for providing your perspective. I’m afraid though that your argument didn’t move me to lessen my feelings that using terms like fur baby and pet parent are harmful to companion dog ownership and companion dogs. As a result, because of your input, I’ve elaborated a bit in a separate column that may explain my perspective more fully. You can find it here: http://www.askthedogguy.com/fur-baby-pet-parents/