Should I get a second dog?

For most of the past thirty years we have lived with two or three dogs. There have been periods when we only had one, usually when we were in transition after we’d lost a treasured companion. However, after we lost two of our three dogs only weeks apart, we were forced to keep Vera, our wonderful German shepherd, as an only dog for seven years, because of her issues with aggression with other dogs.

Having one dog came with a blessing.

Having only one dog came with a blessing. For the first time, we were the center of our dog’s world. We could spend as much quality time with her as we liked, and as a dog trainer, I could work with her daily on new skills. We played together and trained twice a day, every day. Both my husband and I bonded with her in a way that we hadn’t been able to when we had multiple dogs.

That said, our dogs have always been the center of our lives. One of our favorite forms of entertainment was to watch our girls play in our living room, and observe their interactions and communication as they made their way through our lives. When we walked them together, they would cavort together, engaging in a way that only familiar dogs can.

But once we got Vera, our special needs rescue GSD, it was much more complicated. We had to monitor the three girls constantly for signs of stress or conflict. The thing was, they really loved each other, and yet fights, bad ones, still broke out due to misunderstandings–only rarely, but enough to keep us stressed and on our toes 24/7. Because of those fights, and because of the daily stress, we opted to keep Vera as an only dog once her sisters died, for the rest of her life–well, almost, until we adopted Annie. For six years she prowled her kingdom as the queen bee. And we all loved it. Finally, Vera didn’t need to be on guard regarding the canine politics of her two beloved sisters, and she was able to relax–not every dog benefits from, nor do they want to live with other dogs.

The queen bee!

Now we are at another crossroads. We have Annie, a 22 month old, playful collie girl, and we recently pet-sat a 7 month old blue-merle collie pup, Milo. They adore each other. They wrestle, they play, they chase. They don’t resource guard or get snarky with each other. Annie has endless patience with Milo’s annoying puppiness. We take photo after photo of our girl having the time of her life. How can we not get another dog?

Things to consider:

  • Make a list of pros and cons taking into account your lifestyle, the cost of a dog, the space you have and your commitment to having another dog in your life.
  • Pros:
  • If dogs are well suited to one another, they can form deep bonds that last their lifetimes.
  • Their love for one another can help with the guilt of going to work or leaving on vacation, because they always have their companion with them. It may alleviate separation anxiety when you leave.
  • They can exercise each other when they are young.
  • They can teach each other good habits (and bad).
  • They can be great entertainment for you.
  • You see the whole of your dog for who they are in a way that you can’t when you have only one dog. And certainly, the dogs experience life in a way they can’t as an only child.
  • Cons:
  • Dogs are expensive. Vet bills are expensive. Insurance is expensive. Everything is doubled with a second dog.
  • A second (or third) dog is a huge time commitment. Yes, they might entertain each other, but they also need to be taught good manners and groomed regularly depending on their coat. And then there’s teeth brushing…
  • Both dogs need regular exercise, which is fine if you can walk them together. But what if you can’t? What if one of them lunges and barks at everything, and the other joins in just for fun? Or learns the bad behavior too? Or they insist on playing together and you get hopelessly tangled in leashes as I did with Annie and Milo? What if you can’t take them to the dog park because they don’t like other dogs, or they guard sticks or balls or other dogs’ toys and you need to remove all toys from your floor.
  • Dogs don’t tend to exercise themselves, especially once they are adults, and if they don’t get the exercise they need, they gain weight, become stressed and possibly unmanageable.

Annie had to be under control at all times with Vera.

  • A second dog might not get along well with your first dog, or may only just tolerate him, so that you need to keep them separated part of the time, and exercise and play with them separately. Annie (our collie pup), had to be under control at all times with 14 year old Vera so she wouldn’t accidentally offend or injure Vera who might have bitten the puppy in defense. It was a lot of work!
  • A second dog may not help with separation anxiety.
  • It seems like dogs learn each other’s bad habits, not always the good things.
  • There might be more barking.
  • Transporting them can be expensive–can two crates fit in your current car?
  • Getting litter-mates will often lead to the puppies bonding to each other rather than to you–unless you put an exceptional amount of work into training, exercising, and playing with them separately. Even getting a second unrelated puppy or dog can lead to this phenomenon. Tessie, our collie, was 8 months old when we got Lola at 8 weeks. It took us a year to realize that Lola had only bonded with Tess–she really didn’t care much about us at all. It took a concerted effort on our part to turn this around.

In conclusion, the choice is a personal preference.

It does help, however, to be aware of what you are getting into before adding another dog to your family–to make a conscious decision based on thoughtful consideration rather than a spur-of-the-moment emotional one.

My next blog will talk about how to choose a second dog if you decide to get one, and ways to maintain a high quality of life for an only dog. For now, Don and I are going to stick with our one and only collie-girl, Annie.


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