By Dr. Becker
The answer to the question, “Are two dogs are better than one?” depends, of course, on whom you ask.
Some people have had a very positive experience adding a second dog to the family “pack.” Other folks, especially pet owners whose dogs don’t get along, wish they’d left well enough alone.
The success of a two-dog arrangement depends on several factors, including the personalities of both dogs as well as the humans in the household, how much time and effort is spent integrating the new dog into the family, and how well dog-to-dog aggression (if it exists) is managed.
John Kelly, a columnist for The Washington Post and owner of a senior black Labrador Retriever, wrote recently about his experience dog-sitting a friend’s Lab-Vizsla mix. While Kelly enjoyed observing the distinct personality differences between his dog, Charlie, and the visiting dog, Hendrix – not to mention the disparity in energy levels between a 14 year-old and a 5 year-old – he was clearly not sold on the idea of acquiring a second dog by the end of Hendrix’s visit.
Social Facilitation: Dogs Helping Dogs
In a recent blog post written by Nicole Wilde, a certified pet dog trainer and canine behavior specialist, she describes the positive influence a family’s existing dog had on a newly acquired and very anxious dog.
Betsy and the new dog, Buster, are Cocker Spaniels. Wilde was hired to help rehabilitate Buster’s chronic anxiety, which caused him to be fearful of everyday stimuli. During Wilde’s first session with Buster, he wouldn’t approach her even when she offered food treats. Betsy had been locked away in another room to reduce distractions, but Wilde asked the owners to let her out.
As soon as Betsy entered the room and ran to greet Wilde, Buster approached her as well. His personality changed dramatically in Betsy’s presence, and Wilde was able to work with him, first with Betsy in the room, and eventually, without her. Betsy was “socially facilitating” Buster. According to Wilde, “Social facilitation means that one dog’s behavior amplifies or changes another’s.”
This can be especially helpful when one of the dogs is fearful, like Buster. I have a client who adopted a year-old, five-pound shelter dog and brought him home to live with a five year-old 70 pound Golden Retriever who up to that point had been the “only child.” The golden learned tolerance, but more importantly, the tiny fearful shelter dog learned to take cues from the calm, self-possessed golden. The little guy is much more social and confident outside the house when he’s in the company of his “big brother.” Clearly, the Golden Retriever provides positive social facilitation for the little one.
It’s important to keep in mind that social facilitation can also work in a negative way in certain situations, for example, when one dog’s howling or barking sets off the same behavior in the second dog.
Tips for Choosing a Second Dog
Obviously, this isn’t a decision to take lightly. If things don’t go well, you can re-home the second dog, but this will be hard on everyone involved – especially the dog. It’s best to spend plenty of time arriving at the right decision for your family, your current dog, and the new pet.
Generally speaking, opposite sex dogs do better together. In the case of two males, the dominant dog will become more dominant than he would have been on his own, and the submissive dog may become much more so. Since the dogs are living in your home rather than in the wild, they are stuck with this arrangement, and it can be very stressful.
Two female dogs thrust together often cannot establish a stable pack order. And believe it or not, females are more likely to fight to the death than males are.
Same sex dogs living under the same roof can be a special problem if one of them is a terrier, or even a terrier mix, according to terrier experts. Normally a dog will stop attacking when the other dog yields. But terriers have a trait called gameness that may cause them to continue to attack even after the other dog surrenders.
I have this frustrating issue in my home between two female terriers. Their issues didn't develop immediately, but after about a year together they started fighting and made it very clear their goal was to kill one another. Now I live in a "gated community," which sounds very fancy but really it means the girls are permanently separated. This requires a lot of planning and coordination to prevent interactions and fights. It's a lot to manage and far from ideal.
You can consider a dog of the same breed, but opposite gender as your current dog. You can also consider a different breed and gender. Often, larger males and smaller females work well together in the same household. Generally speaking, males are inhibited against aggression toward females, and larger dogs are inhibited against aggression toward smaller ones. That said, if there’s a tremendous size disparity between the two dogs, you’ll need to take precautions to prevent the bigger dog from accidentally injuring the smaller dog.
Adding a second dog to your family can more than double your pet care expenses and the work involved in caring for your four-legged companions. If one dog acquires a contagious disease, the other can also catch it. The dogs can injure each other in fights, or simply during play. Keeping two dogs separated for medical or behavioral reasons can present its own set of challenges.
Travel is much easier with one dog than with two. And not only is boarding two dogs more expensive, but bringing your pet along on trips tends to benefit his socialization and behavior. If you typically take your dog along on trips but don’t think you can manage it with two dogs, keep in mind that leaving your current dog behind will put him at a sad disadvantage.
It’s important to consider all the angles and gather all the information you can before deciding whether or not to add a second dog to the family. It can mean a huge change in daily life. With sufficient resources of time, energy, money and physical facilities, two dogs can be a great arrangement. If possible, a trial period with the new dog is ideal. Only you can decide.