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5 questions to ask yourself before getting a second dog

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

adding a second dog to the household

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  • If you’re considering adding a second dog to the family, there are many things to consider
  • Most importantly, you need to anticipate how well your current dog will respond to a new canine housemate
  • Setting the stage for the first meeting between the dogs is extremely important; it’s also a very good idea to take a week off from work to successfully integrate the new dog into your household
  • You’ll also want to take steps to make sure your current dog doesn’t feel ignored or replaced
  • Additional considerations when getting a second dog are increased pet care expenses and the extra time, effort and energy required to care for two dogs versus one

There are lots of reasons people with one dog decide to double up. Some think "twice the love, twice the fun." Others believe their existing pup would be happier with a same-species housemate.

After the decision is made, many pet parents have a very positive experience integrating a second dog into the family. Unfortunately, others — especially people whose dogs don't get along — wish they'd made a different decision. The success of a two-dog household depends on many factors, including the personalities of both dogs as well as the humans involved, how much time and effort is spent assimilating the new dog into the family and how well any existing dog-to-dog aggression is managed.

Bottom line, adding a second dog to your family isn't a decision that should be taken lightly. If things don't go well, you can re-home the new arrival, but this will be hard on everyone involved — especially the dog. That's why it's much better to spend plenty of time arriving at the right decision for your family, your current dog, and the new pet.

5 questions you should answer before deciding on a second dog

1. Is my existing dog friendly with and interested in other dogs? ⁠— If your dog clearly enjoys being with others of his kind, it's a good start. However, if he seems fearful of other dogs, or growls or lunges at them, it could be a problem. It's also important to note there are dogs who are so bonded with their humans they have no real interest in other dogs and tend to become possessive of their human when forced to share his or her attention and affection.

It's wise to proceed very cautiously if you suspect or know your existing pet will not be thrilled sharing his family and territory with another dog. It may be best to allow him to keep his "only child" status in the family.

2. What type of dog would get along best with my current pet? ⁠— As a general rule, opposite sex dogs tend to 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're stuck with this arrangement, and it can be very stressful.

Two female dogs thrust together often cannot establish a stable social 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.

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, because 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.

3. What's the best way to introduce my existing dog and a new dog? ⁠— Arrange for the dogs to meet one-on-one (group meetings can be overwhelming, which is why some dogs don't do well at dog parks). Introduce them on neutral ground rather than in either dog's home territory. Make sure the first meeting is outside, so they can urinate and do the sniffing thing to get familiar with each other.

Also ensure the first meeting takes place where both dogs have room to move around freely, preferably off-leash unless you're concerned one (or both) might become aggressive. Introductions on-leash and in confined spaces can be stressful. Keep the first introduction short, and don't add treats or toys to the mix. The dogs will be stimulated enough without those things, and if your pup gets possessive, it can quickly become a problem.

Keep your cool. Your dog will sense your emotions and respond in kind. If you're nervous, stressed or overly excited, chances are he will be, too. Also avoid hovering over him. It's fine to stay close enough to intervene if something goes wrong, but hovering will only increase his stress. Give the dogs some space to check each other out.

4. Can I arrange to take a few days off from work to help both dogs adjust? ⁠— The first week your new dog spends in your home is a crucial time of building new relationships — between the new dog and human family members, and between the dogs. I recommend taking at least a few days off work, and ideally about a week, so you can stay home and focus on smoothing the way for everyone in the household.

This will give you the time necessary to successfully introduce dog No. 2 to your daily routine, which will give her a sense of security. It will also allow the dogs to gradually get to know each other under your supervision. If your new dog has been rescued from a shelter, keep in mind the transition may take more time. I recommend using A Sound Beginning to help in your rescue's adjustment to her new home.

Take care not to force any new introductions if your current dog isn't ready; allow him to get to know his new housemate at his own pace. Senior dogs may also need additional time and attention when adjusting to a new pet in your home.

5. How can I ensure my current dog doesn't feel he's being replaced? ⁠— Getting a new dog accustomed to your home takes considerable time and energy. So, while you're busy falling in love with your new pet, make sure not to ignore your existing dog. You never want him to feel abandoned or second best, so make sure the newcomer isn't sucking up all your time and attention.

Your first focus must be on your long-time companion, which also sets the stage for a healthy social order. It's a good idea to get other family members involved so that both dogs get plenty of attention, affection, exercise and playtime.

Click here to find out Dr. Becker's top tips against seasonal pet allergiesClick here to find out Dr. Becker's top tips against seasonal pet allergies

Additional things to consider

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 with you when you travel but don't think you can manage it with two dogs, keep in mind that your current dog won't understand why he's being left behind.

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.

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