No matter the reason for bringing a second dog into your home it's still a big decision. There are several pros and cons (many of which I will go through below) and choosing the right second dog for your family is paramount, more so than when you chose your first dog.
I reached out to the LOTP community via Facebook to see what questions people had about bringing a second dog home and for people to share their own experiences. The feedback was amazing and this article got so big that I decided to split it into two parts.
The first part covers different things to consider before you commit to a second dog, the pitfalls and of course the many wonderful reasons why a second dog will enhance your life. The second part will cover how to select your second dog and how to integrate the new dog into your family.
As you probably know, we are a multi-dog family, (we couldn't even stop at two!) and I regularly work with families with two dogs for 1:1 appointments. So many of these points are from my own personal experiences both personally and professionally. For the most part, I think that the benefits to having a second dog far outweigh any downsides, however, I do recognise that some dogs and humans for that matter, are better suited to a single dog life.
I hope you enjoy this article and part two which will follow next week.
The Benefits"I have 2 dogs - 1 since a puppy and 1 rescue. Getting a second dog was one of the best decisions I've ever made and I'm so glad we did" - Malin
There are so many reasons why having a second dog in your life is wonderful and you probably don't even need me to tell you. But in case you were wondering, here are some of the reasons why I think it is a great thing.
1. Company for your existing dog.
There are so many ways living with a compatible second dog will make life better for your existing dog and this is by far the strongest and most obvious reason why people get a second dog. Owners want their dog to have company when the humans have to be away from the house especially for a long day at work. It’s so hard to leave a single dog alone at home for hours on end and the thought of the dog having company is a comfort for the human too. Dogs by nature, are social creatures not solitary animals and as a general rule, do not like to spend too much time alone. Being alone and away from company is more like a punishment for a dog, think a “time out” and long lengths of time by themselves can lead to all sorts of behavioural issues like destructive chewing and digging, excessive barking or separation anxiety. These extremes may not happen to every dog as they may have a temperament where they are more accepting of being by themselves but they may still show signs of loneliness and over excitement when the humans return.
Having another dog to play with to drain some of their energy and to help pass the time with can make for a much calmer dog by the end of the day. Play is more fun since they can use teeth, not have to pretend to let the human "win" at tug and can finally have someone to chase them around! And there is the added bonus that communication is about a billion times easier since they are the same species and they have someone who really understands what they are communicating! One way to think of it is it’s like finding someone to speak English with when travelling to a non-english speaking country. So much easier even if you have learned a few common phrases and have been getting by fine until this point.
2. Succession planning.
For many people, having a dog in their life is as essential as breathing or at least as essential as a morning coffee. And it can be heartbreaking as you watch your beloved dog age and know that their time with you is limited. Getting a second dog can be very beneficial for a number of reasons.
A) Believe it or not, but getting a second dog can actually give your existing older dog a new lease on life. This is especially true if you get a puppy. Even though they may not have the stamina to keep up with the new dog (more on this in the next section) all day, the mental and physical benefits (playtime, ease of communication) can keep your older dog happy in their twilight years. And your dog doesn’t even have to be an elderly dog for this point to be relevant. A young dog can still be comforted and energised by a new dog to the household.
B) If your original dog has a wonderful temperament and is good with obedience training and manners around the house, then they can do most of the hard work and train the new dog for you! OK not entirely, you will still need to do some of the work but your existing dog will show them the ropes. When you give the recall command for example, if your dog comes running, then the new dog is likely to as well. With enough practice the new dog will pick up this command. Easy!
C) Having a younger dog to care for can help the owners deal with the grief of losing a pet and though they can never take their place, they can help to make the passing that much easier. It is often hard for people to get a new dog after their previous dog has passed on because they don’t want the new dog to replace their previous dog in their hearts and often times they forget how difficult the puppy stage or early life was with the previous dog and can be overly critical of the new dog. This is less likely to happen if you select the new dog while your existing dog still lives. You will also have the wonderful memories of the dogs together to remember and cherish.
“We got our second dog, Molly (Westie) because our family dog who was a Westie also passed away! Just filled that hole she left in our hearts” - Jolene
Maybe you have an easy dog who has a great temperament and has barely caused you a moments grief in your life. Or maybe you have a dog that is anxious or has other challenging behavioural troubles. Either way there would have been specific training techniques or behaviour management strategies that you would have learned and used with your dog.
Getting a new dog can open you up to new experiences and training challenges. This can be a wonderful learning curve and can make you a better and more empathetic dog owner. What worked for your first dog may not work for your second dog or your second dog may have completely different areas of interest and skill.
You may also be able to explore different training activities like agility or tracking with your new dog that you may not have been able to do with your first dog. It might even be that you want your second dog to be able to go on a run with you and that isn’t a suitable activity for your first dog.
4. For human health.
The benefits of having a dog are large and varied. There are the physical benefits of more exercise and time spent outside - vitamin D? Check! Work life balance? - Check! And the emotional benefit of coming home to someone who is happy to see us.
We all know that having one dog increases happiness and contentment and there are even scientific studies now to back this up. When we show affection to our dogs we release oxytocin, often referred to as the love hormone, which can have a positive effect on our mood and mental health. It’s hard not to smile when you look at their wagging tail or eager face or when they are curled up sleeping. Because dogs are so attuned to body language and emotion they can tell when we are unwell or are in need of comfort and will try to help you with a snuggle or by giving you their favourite slobbery ball. They offer plenty of comic relief (well ours sure do) and they are a great reminder to be joyful and happy and to live in the moment. That’s why dogs are used for a variety of different therapy situations.
Now, full disclosure, I haven’t found any scientific articles that state having two dogs, doubles the happiness, however, it does double the number of reasons to smile and gives you double the fun!
5. Saving a life.
This point certainly can’t be overstated. Fostering or adopting a dog can save a life. Literally. Even though WA has mainly no kill shelters there are still a large number of dogs who are euthanised each year or spend years in a kennel waiting for their forever home. Shenton Park Dog’s Refuge has around 100 dogs in their care at any one time and that is just ONE of the dog shelters around Perth, not to mention all the dogs out in foster care.
Fostering a dog is a great way to test the waters to see if you are able to care for two dogs while providing a safe and loving home for a dog while they are waiting for their forever home. Another way to go about it is to foster a dog that you think you would like to adopt so you can make sure that dog can fit into your home life (more on this subject next week).
Bringing a rescue dog home can be a wonderfully rewarding experience that can make a positive difference in your own life and it makes a life changing difference to the dog you adopt.
The DownsidesNothing is ever perfect (though honestly, dogs are pretty close, except when they destroy yet another couch cushion - yes Jett I’m talking about you!) and there is usually a downside or a con to every decision, not just dog related ones. These points are not supposed to be deal-breakers, just things to consider so that you can work out how you will address them prior to deciding to bring your new dog home.
1. It won't stop existing unwanted behaviour.
Getting a second dog will NOT solve any problems you are experiencing with your existing dog. With the exception perhaps of boredom related behaviours. Contrary to popular opinion dogs won’t necessary play together all day and there will still be times of boredom or when your dog will return to the problem behaviours from before. If you choose the right second dog that is compatible for your existing dog this can certainly help and for some issues like separation related anxiety a second dog, along with other behaviour modification techniques and strategies can help reduce some of the behaviours.
Without understanding the cause of the problem behaviour in your dog or trying to address it you could just as easily end up with TWO bored dogs or two dogs displaying unwanted behaviour. Unless you address the underlying cause of the unwanted behaviour in your first dog, you are more likely to end up with two dogs with the same problem, even if it manifests in the second dog differently. Let's take digging for example. Maybe your current dog likes to dig when he gets bored or actually just for fun. And sure, having a new dog to play with will be fun but it is extremely unlikely that they will be happily playing together the 8 or so hours you are away at work each day. The second dog might not be a digger, but she has seen how fun it is to dig and starts to dig too! Or she might be a chewer and so to add to the holes in your back yard you now have no legs on your outdoor table! As much as we would like to think that dogs will keep each other entertained, don't bet on it. Deal with the unwanted behaviour with EACH dog as soon as it shows up and save yourself a heap of trouble and furniture!
2. Leadership is even MORE important.
If you are already struggling to get your dog to listen to you, chances are you're not going to have any better luck with the next one! Unless you are lucky enough to get the cruisiest, easiest dog in the history of the world, most dogs will take advantage of weak leadership to do what they want instead. If you are weak in the leadership department, both dogs will start looking to each other for guidance and cues on how to act. This can definitely make life challenging and it can be more difficult to calm them down or manage their behaviour as they will egg each other on and ignore you. It’s so much easier for dogs to bond with each other than it is with humans and whilst we want our dogs to bond together and be great friends, this bond should not impede their ability to bond with the humans in their life or their ability to listen to the humans and learn appropriate behaviours and training. When two puppies from the same litter are raised in the same home, they can bond so strongly with each other to the exclusion of the humans which makes living and training them very difficult. In puppies this is called littermate syndrome and is very difficult to manage.
If you have a leadership deficit start by setting guidelines and boundaries around the house and STICK to them! Have your dogs earn any attention or food they get by offering you a polite sit first. Play with them and add obedience activities throughout the play session. This will go a long way to helping you to regain leadership of your dogs in your home and will allow you to build a strong bond of respect and trust with your dogs.
3. The walk. Going out.
Having more than one dog, can make the walk exponentially harder. The energy will be different and definitely heightened. Even if your first dog was perfect on the lead before doesn’t mean that they will remain that way when a second dog is introduced to the walk. The dogs will start checking in with each other “did you see that cat!” - “Yes! Should we chase it?” and will often both drag you towards something they want to sniff. You may notice more pulling than before and it can be difficult to get a handle on the dogs and get them to listen to you.
If you have to take both dogs out at the same time for a walk or even to the vet it is of course easier if there are two humans to manage this. But what if there is only one human? This is where things can become difficult, not impossible, but difficult. The size of the dogs will play into this to a point but small unruly dogs could be more trouble to handle than two larger breed dogs with perfect manners. Trying to manage two dogs can make trips that were simple before with one dog that much more difficult. Getting in and out of the car can be trouble if you have two dogs jumping out before you are ready or even finished opening the door! Going to the vet do you take both dogs or leave one at home and book two separate appointments? How will they each go being left at home by themselves? Will your neighbours complain that your dog was howling the whole time?
With training and management strategies, these issues can be addressed you just need to be prepared for the potential of these to occur. To make the walk easier for example, you would train each dog to walk politely on the lead individually then practice walking together in the backyard first and then extend that to small local walks until they get the hang of it. This takes time and effort but is well worth it to have two dogs that can be managed by one person when they leave the house.
If you already have one dog you can probably already appreciate this point! Not only in the basics like food, toys, beds, annual vaccinations and vet visits etc. but it will cost more when you go away though thankfully not double in most cases, but the costs do add up. Especially if your dogs have health issues or injuries. There are many ways to reduce the costs, like DIY toys and activities, homemade dog food instead of commercial food, booking grooming and vet appointments for both at the same time going on holiday with your dogs etc.
If your two dogs don’t get on, this can make your life very, very difficult. Just yesterday a friend was talking to me about her parents dogs where their older dog does not like their new dog. The owners have to keep them separated and even go so far as to take one of the dogs to a friends place during the day when they are out. This situation and level of management is very stressful for all concerned and is unlikely to resolve itself in time without intervention.
Dogs that are incompatible may fight, ignore each other, offer territorial behaviour, be stressed or anxious or just plain worn out. This does not make for a harmonious home and can actually cause physical and mental distress or injury to one or both dogs and is very unpleasant for the humans too. There are many reasons that dogs are incompatible, maybe they weren’t introduced correctly, maybe the energy levels are not aligned, maybe one has resource guarding tendencies or they just don’t like each other. Next week we will cover how to make sure your dogs are compatible BEFORE you bring the new dog home.
As a dog owner, dog trainer and pet sitter I have learnt many different tips and tricks over the years and I thought this would be a great way to share them with you. Enjoy!