A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.
A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.
One dog is never enough. At some point, we all get the itch to add to our collection.
Two dogs can be fun. A couple of goofballs who get along will keep you entertained. They can keep each other company when you’re not around. You get to pretend that you are lord of the beasts, leading your pack on perilous journeys through the wilds of suburbia. Good stuff. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure.
But hold up there, beast master. Creating harmony in a multiple dog household is a delicate thing. There will be no end to your misery if you do it wrong.
A new dog always needs more attention than an established dog, of course.
But when you adopt a second dog, you have to spend time training and hanging out with each dog individually, and together. You have to develop your relationship one-on-one with the new family member. You also have to develop a positive relationship between the two dogs. And jealousy (whether or not you want to call it by that particular word) can always be an issue in multiple dog households. Don’t neglect the “old” dog.
Not only that, but careful supervision and management is critically important when integrating a second dog. You’ll be amazed at how much time you spend, at least for the first couple months, making sure no skirmishes break out over toys, food, beds, trash, or people.
Think about how much time and effort your current dog takes. Multiply it by three. Realistically, is that something you’ll be able to handle?
“My dog drives me crazy. She barks and digs and destroys things. I’m hoping to get her a doggie playmate so she won’t do those things anymore.”
This plan is like walking across a freeway blindfolded. Sure, there’s a chance the gods will smile upon you and you’ll escape unscathed. But really? You’re asking for trouble.
With rare exceptions*, dogs don’t fix each other. They DO pick up on each other’s bad habits.
If your current dog freaks out when the doorbell rings, the new dog will quickly learn to do this too. If your dog steals food off the table, new dog will probably think that’s a BRILLIANT idea. If your dog barks and lunges at strangers on walks… you get the idea.
Deal with Dog no. 1’s issues first. Train her up good. Turn her into the kind of role model you WANT your next dog to learn from.
*If you want to attempt to be one of these rare exceptions, I strongly suggest seeking the help of a professional dog trainer.
This is a big issue that sometimes gets lost in the excitement. A lot of dogs just don’t get along with other dogs. For some, it’s because they were poorly socialized as puppies (a problem plaguing the modern pet dog: many never learn how to communicate with their own species). And some simply prefer the company of humans.
You may already know how Fido does with other dogs. If Fido enjoys his weekly trips to the dog park with his buddies, great! Skip to the next section.
If you don’t know, you’ll need to set up some meet-n-greet situations:
Play dates – Ask your friends and family with well-mannered canines to meet you in a park (one at a time, please). Why a park and not your backyard? You need a neutral location where neither dog has any territory to defend. Scroll down for instructions on dog/dog introductions.
Classes – Sign up for an obedience or agility class (it’ll do you both good anyway). Most classes are not set up for dogs to interact with each other, so don’t expect playtime. But it will give you an idea of how Fido behaves around his species. Is he totally chill or freaking out? Does he want to play or kill somebody?
Dog parks – But not until Fido has done well at a play date or class first. Never take a dog whose behavior you’re unsure about to a dog park, as things can get ugly fast.
This is one of those behavior problems you should deal with first. Your best bet is to schedule a private lesson with an experienced trainer or behaviorist whose methods are up-to-date (click here to learn how to find a good one).
It’s possible that even with training, Fido will never do well with dogs. Whether or not you still go ahead and get another will depend on WHY you want one -is it for Fido or you?- and how much careful management you’re willing to do for the rest of Fido’s life. More on this below.
Energy level – most dogs seek out dogs who have the same energy level or “vibe.” A mellow dog will probably get along with another mellow dog. Not always, though. Sometimes a quiet dog will come out of her shell when paired with a more energetic playmate.
Age – If you have a arthritic thirteen year old dog, a crazy puppy will probably drive her insane. She might do best with a 3-5 year old companion. If you have a rambunctious one year old, getting another rambunctious teenager will probably drive YOU insane.
Gender – as a general rule, it’s best to get a dog of the opposite sex from your current one. There is less competition for resources and territory between male/female pairs. This is a very general rule, though. There are always exceptions.
As you can tell from my infuriatingly vague wording, canine matchmaking is more art than science. All dogs are individual snowflakes. How do you make the right choice for your snowflake?
If you’re not sure what kind of dog your dog will like best, ask him.
During all the play dates and dog park visits you’ll be doing to make sure Fido plays nice with others, take notes. Which dogs are Fido drawn to, and which ones does he avoid?
My delicate flower Merlin gets overwhelmed playing with large dogs, so he gravitates toward ones who are smaller than him. My medium sized, tan mutt Jonas dislikes most dogs except those who look like him: medium sized and tan (one theory is that they remind him of his littermates).
When Fido finds a friend, note the age, size, personality, and energy level. That just might be the kind of dog you should look for. Which brings us to our next point of consideration:
Can you adopt a dog whose personality is not totally compatible with that of your current dog?
That depends on WHY you want another dog. If you just want another pet, a buddy for dog no. 1, then you should focus on finding one with the perfect temperament to suit him.
But what if you don’t want a buddy for your dog – you want a buddy for you? Like if you need a second dog for a specific purpose -a sport, job, hobby, etc- that your current dog isn’t well-suited for.
For example, you have a shy dog who doesn’t take kindly to intense, energetic pups. But you want a young high-drive border collie with whom to pursue your agility dreams.
This can work, with extra time and effort. Look for a dog who First Dog can at least tolerate. Because lifelong supervision of two dogs who want to kill each other is an enormous project that will make you miserable. Some people manage to pull it off, yes, but these people are insane (did I say insane? I meant um, dedicated).
It might help to figure out what traits you need your new dog to have, and which ones you can compromise on to make First Dog happier. Example: you want an energetic border collie who will take well to agility training. But First Dog hates obnoxious puppies. So instead of getting a border collie puppy, look for a well-socialized two-year-old.
When introducing dogs who are not likely to be best friends, the stuff we’re going to mention later (management, the creation of positive associations, etc) is especially critical. If “go slow” is the mantra of successful dog introductions in general, “go at a glacial pace” is the mantra of successfully introducing less compatible dogs.
Some shelters may allow you to bring your own dog with you as you walk the kennel rows.
How would you feel walking through a room while a bunch of furious strangers screamed obscenities in your face? That’s basically what it’s like to be a dog walking through a shelter kennel. First Dog’s adrenaline will be through the roof. Unless First Dog is a saint, any dog introductions you attempt after this are doomed to failure.
Learn how to read dog body language. This is important when you’re choosing any dog to adopt, and it’s even more important when you’re adopting a second dog. There is a hell of a lot more to canine communication than just tail wags and growls. You don’t want to miss any subtle signals.
Keep the leashes as slack as possible. Your instinct will be to hold the leashes taut. Don’t give in to this impulse. Two reasons:
1. It forces the dogs to walk with their heads up high. This a sign of aggression or a power play in the dog world. It’ll put everybody on the defensive.
2. It irritates the living hell out of dogs. Bad moods all around.
Approach at an angle. Don’t walk straight towards each other. Dogs never approach head on unless they’re being rude or they’re looking for a fight. Ideally, you and your assistant will move so that you meet at the point of a “V”.
The dogs will probably go straight to sniffing each other’s butts. Let them. This is the standard polite canine greeting.
The dogs will probably walk in a circle as they sniff each other’s butts. Do not let the leashes tangle. Keep the leashes loose, but be ready to pull them apart if they get into a kerfuffle.
If both dogs are calm and relaxed, you can let them sniff for up to 30 seconds.
If one starts getting tense, then you and your assistant should cheerfully call your dogs and walk in opposite directions. After a minute, walk back towards each other and try again.
Many dogs feel most comfortable if allowed “bite-sized” interactions: let them sniff for three seconds, walk away, come back, walk away, and so on.
If the dogs show no interest in interacting or playing, do not force them. Let them proceed at their own pace.
Once the initial introduction is done, take the dogs on a walk together. Let them stop and sniff the roses if they wish. If one of them urinates on the roses, let the other sniff that, too. Dogs learn a lot about each other that way.
If possible, have the dogs meet more than once before you adopt Second Dog. It always helps to meet with a prospective dog more than once to get the most accurate read on their personality.
Test for signs of possessiveness between the two dogs. Both dogs should be on leash, securely tethered to one competent adult human each. The humans should be alert and ready to react.
Test for people guarding – Call both dogs to you. Shower each one with love and attention, first First Dog, then Second. How do they react? Ideally, neither dog should have an issue with it. First Dog is allowed to have a moment of “hey, what gives? I’M the one who loves you!” by dramatically shoving himself into your hands, but it should not escalate to growling, freezing, whale eye or other warning signs.
(Do not punish any warning signs that do appear. The dogs are simply providing you with valuable feedback. There are no wrong answers in a meet-and-greet.)
Test for food guarding – feed high value treats (real meat or cheese) while they stand next to each other. The dogs should eat the treats in a calm manner, presenting no warning behaviors.
Test for object guarding – Get a toy and play with one or both dogs. Then leave the toy lying on the ground. What happens?
Let the dogs meet again, and then head for home. Walking together gives the dogs a chance to relax in each other’s company and creates positive associations with each other (“this new dog = walks? Cool”)
Before you bring the dogs in the house, pick up all dog toys and bowls. This is dog number one’s home turf, and she might feel compelled to protect it. Keep Second Dog away from First Dog’s bed. Keep children away from the dogs in case of sudden skirmishes.
The next step is to feed the dogs, to continue building positive associations. Keep them physically separated, either with leashes or baby gates. Feed them far enough apart so that they don’t feel threatened, but close enough so that they both know the other is there. You can also play with each dog individually, still keeping
them separated. It’s a good idea if you and your assistant take turns visiting with each dog.
Once the food dishes and toys are all picked up, you can let the dogs interact some more.
For the first couple days at least, make sure there are no toys lying around for dogs to get territorial over.
Watch them closely and never leave them unsupervised together, unless Second Dog is safely ensconced in his crate or pen.