Making the decision to expand into a multi-dog household is no small step. In today’s post, we’ll talk about a few factors that might be helpful to consider in choosing a second dog for your home, particularly if you’ve never lived with multiple dogs before. (Those of you who are old pros at integrating multiple dogs into your home, this one ain’t for you. We’re talking to the first-timers here.)
1. Consider Your Dog
The first thing to consider is how your dog normally behaves around other dogs. Does she go out of her mind with giddy excitement and want to playplayplaaaayy until the other dog’s climbing the walls to escape? Does she get snarly about other dogs showing an interest in favorite toys or chew bones? Does she even have any experience with other dogs showing up inside her home?
If the answer to that last question is “no,” it might be prudent to hold off on adopting a new dog until you can arrange a few visits from friendly dogs to see how your resident pet does with visitors on her home turf. It’s easiest to get started by bringing over dogs that she already knows and likes. Even if your dogs already know each other, it’s often a good idea to re-introduce them as if they were strangers, since the added factor of one dog being on her home turf can add a new level of stress. (TU’s “Let’s Be Friends!” has plenty of great tips on how to introduce dogs in the safest and least pressured way.)
On the other hand, if your dog does have a lot of experience playing canine social butterfly, then he probably has some definite preferences about dogs that he likes better than others, and how he interacts with different types of dogs. It’s useful to think about which of those combinations you’d actually want to live with: the nonstop high-energy playmate might be fun for an hour at the dog park, but do you really want that in your living room the other 23 hours a day?
2. Get Some Practice, and Be Prepared for Two Weeks of Chaos
Do you have any prior experience wrangling two dogs at once? If not, it might be a good idea to borrow a friend’s dog for a couple of days. Ask if you can dogsit (in my experience, friends and neighbors are often happy to have the offer — vacation boarding and dogsitters are expensive!). Or, if you really feel like doing a good deed, consider fostering for a rescue once or twice. You’ll get some experience running a multi-dog household and help out a needy pet at the same time, and since it’s a temporary commitment by design, there’s no need to worry about whether you’ve made a permanent commitment to something you can’t handle.
Many people, having never done it before, are surprised by how intensive the transitional period can be with a new dog. As a rescue volunteer, I’ve seen LOTS of second-dog adoptions fail within the first 48 hours because the new owners just aren’t prepared for how much supervision and management a newly introduced pet needs.
It’s intense, but it’s also temporary. Quite often I suspect that these homes would have been perfectly happy with a second dog if they’d been prepared for that initial bumpy ride and aware that things would likely settle down after a few weeks. But, since they don’t know that, they give up when the situation looks overwhelming. The new dog never really gets a chance to settle in, and the owners feel like failures, and it’s just not a great situation all around. A little practice, and a more realistic idea of what to expect (that bumpy transitional period does calm down!), would go a long way toward avoiding these outcomes. So, if you can, borrow a dog for a sleepover, or foster a homeless dog for a couple of weeks, before committing to adopting a second dog yourself. The experience will definitely come in handy.
3. The Default “Rules”
I’m putting this last because, in matchmaking as so much else, the specific always trumps the general. If you know that your own dog gets along best with bigger, older dogs of the same sex, then disregard the general rules of thumb posted below, because what works for your dog is always more important than what works for some nonexistent hypothetical dog. And if you know that you would lose your mind dealing with giant poofs of Sheltie hair making tumbleweeds across your floor, then it doesn’t matter if your dog likes long-haired fluffy dogs best. The first rule is that you have to make the choice you can live with.
But if you’re not sure what that is, or there’s a wide range of acceptable choices and you want to narrow them down, these are the default recommendations that work for most dogs in most situations with the greatest chance of success:
- the new dog should be of the opposite gender (especially with female-female pairs in breeds known to be prone to same-sex aggression, and where one or both of the dogs is still a puppy, since dogs that get along when one of them is a baby will not always get along when they’re both grown, regardless of how they were raised);
- the new dog should be somewhat smaller than the resident dog (25% or so is a good rule of thumb, although that may not be possible if we’re talking about Chihuahuas!);
- the new dog should be somewhat younger than the resident dog;
- the new dog should, ideally, have been fostered with dogs who are roughly similar to the resident dog in personality, size, and — if possible — age and gender;
- the new dog should, if possible, have been evaluated for resource guarding against other dogs in a home environment.
None of those “rules” is set in stone, of course. All of them can and should be adapted to your individual situation. But those are the most common guidelines that are most broadly appropriate for most homes.
Okay! So that is an introductory primer on preparing for, and picking, a second dog. Now, how do you actually live with a multi-dog household? That’s a topic too big for a TU post (yes, even one of my multi-thousand-word monstrosities), but never fear, Patricia McConnell is here! Her booklet “Feeling Outnumbered?” is a wonderful resource on the subject, and like all of her booklets, is concisely written and reasonably priced. I strongly recommend that anyone considering a second dog get it and read it. It’s a tremendous help and well worth the time.