The Emotional Impact of the Second Dog

It wasn’t long after we got Dahlia that I started contemplating a second dog, knowing that the idea was far off in the future, a sort of pipe dream. We lived in an apartment, the lower floor of a duplex in the city. We had no yard to speak of and more importantly, we had a landlord who agreed to one dog and one dog only. It didn’t stop me from looking and look I did. Almost constantly. I kept bookmarks of dogs I really liked on Petfinder and rejoiced when they were adopted. I perused rescue sites and decided where I wanted to get a dog from long before I even thought we’d be able to do it.

I always said…when we get a house. If we get a house. And then in the summer of 2014, my husband’s parents surprised us. They wanted us to get a house. And they were going to give us some of our inheritance early to help with the down payment. Why wait until we die? We want you to be comfortable now. We want to know you’re in your own place now.

So we bought a house. And moved in April 2015. So we had the house. We had the yard, fenced in even. We had the rescue we wanted to get a dog from.

And I realized, as time went by, that I wasn’t sure I was ready for such a thing. I looked at Dahlia and wondered if it was fair to her. She’s 9. She’s been an only dog for 7 years. She liked other dogs, but how would she be with one actually living with her?

So on the outside I said “Once we get settled we’ll get a dog” while coming up with every single reason why we shouldn’t get one. We just moved in. The house wasn’t set up. The yard needed to be fixed. We still needed to unpack things. Dahlia was still stressed out from moving. What about money?

I knew that if we didn’t adopt a dog this year, it probably would be unfair to Dahlia. At 10, she may be less interested in play and therefore less likely to happily allow another dog into her domain. But still I waited, ready to say “We can’t do this to our girl” and pretend like this was the saddest thing ever when inside I was secretly happy that we wouldn’t be able to make it work.

And then one day I came across this picture.

Ben1And my heart just leapt. I had had the application for the rescue filled out for ages and then suddenly there he was. The dog I wanted. The dog I had been waiting for. I sent off the application.

And then I sat down on the floor with my perfect amazing dog and held her as I cried. What have I done? Have I ruined your life? You’ve been the light of our life and now you’re going to be one of two?

I wanted to take it back. I wanted to go to my e-mail and hit “unsend” (I was just a wee bit late for that though). I wanted to call the rescue and say “Nevermind I am not ready please give it back I was only kidding.” I couldn’t do this to Dahlia. I was an absolute wreck after I submitted the application (it probably did not help that the very day I sent in the application, my father-in-law passed away after a long decline).

From there, everything happened so fast. The rescue called me to talk about my application, the owner of the rescue called me to talk about specific dogs, and we were at the rescue four days later to meet dogs. We went home with Ben, the dog I knew was supposed to be ours.

And suddenly there was this other dog in our house. And I absolutely had no idea what to do with him. He was stressed out that first day. He found all our toys. He ran around squeaking them all evening. For hours. He got into things. We had to rescue books and a box that had been delivered that day. He stole the butter right off the counter (he wouldn’t be our dog if he didn’t steal butter!) and we had to keep him away from counters and table (Oh God did he countersurf!). He wanted to explore everything and preferably through his mouth. He drank and drank and drank, He would not stop moving. It was about 10:00pm that night when he finally dropped into an exhausted heap.

Finally asleep!

Finally asleep!

He was up the next morning at 5:00am to start it all over again.

I remember thinking that morning What have I done?

I won’t lie. Those first couple months were really stressful. Ben did not know how to settle down. And as he got more and more tired, he got more and more frantic and got into more and more things. He chewed up any books that he could find, grabbed anything that might be a toy. We were used to having a dog who never chewed on anything and so found ourselves having to be a lot more careful with our things than usual, especially as what Ben loved to chew on were paper products and my husband owns a thousand books (at least). We were up at 5:00am with Ben and collapsed in bed far too late at night. We were exhausted and sometimes unsure of ourselves. I worried that we couldn’t meet his needs, that he was too much dog for our household.

I will admit that there were times I was relieved I went to work to escape. There were times I was relieved to go spend the day with my Mom to escape from it all. His stress affected me. Very badly. The What have I done feelings did not stop that first morning. They continued for a good month or so. I was absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed and often feared we’d made a huge mistake.

In other words, I was where a lot of people are when they say “No this isn’t working, the dog needs to go back.”

There was nothing bad about Ben. Nothing at all. He was a smart, active little guy, but he had been kicked around a lot in a short period of time (two shelters, two foster homes, and one failed adoption before he came to us – we were the 8th place he had landed since in about 3-4 months). And he was stressed out. Really stressed out.

So I took a deep breath. And I talked to people about Ben. I asked what to do, how to help him, how to help us.

When he couldn’t settle down, I put him on leash and kept him at my side. I took away all his options for play (no running around, no toys, no other dog to play with) and within about two minutes, his mind would finally stop and he would just drop and fall asleep. He was like the toddler who is out at a restaurant way too late, exhausted, and so spends the whole evening screaming. That toddler doesn’t need more entertainment. That toddler needs to sleep. And that was 100% Ben’s issue. He simply didn’t know how to settle on his own. The leash did that and once he was asleep, I could take the leash off and he’d stay there, sound asleep at my side.

We spent a lot of time petting him, softly, slowly, talking to him in a soothing voice. We took him for long walks. We threw a lot of balls. We did a lot of fun impulse control training with him. And then later in the evening, it was time to settle and the leash came out.

A month to the day after we got him, Ben got up on the couch for the first time, rested his head on the armrest and soon was sleeping soundly.

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Ben’s new favorite place

I still remember it so clearly. It was like he breathed a sigh of relief, like “I am home now.” It was the first time he voluntarily relaxed since coming to our house. And it marked the end of my having to use a leash to settle him down. He started to get up on the couch and settle on his own. Now, that’s not to say he was a couch potato! In order for him to settle, I’d have to send the dogs in the backyard and let Dahlia bark at him until he got running in huge circles faster and faster and faster until he finally just grabbed a toy and laid down. He needed that last push to get out all that energy. Then he could come in and relax.

But he relaxed. And it didn’t matter that I had to get him to run like crazy. He could relax.

You cannot imagine how relieved I was. This dog, so stressed out and so crazy when we brought him home, was starting to learn to live with us, was starting to figure things out.

That’s not to say it was perfect. Not by any means. After a couple months, we started to trust him out of his crate during the day. We used my husband’s study as a place to put him and keep him separate from Dahlia (and the rest of the house). If we weren’t careful and left something out (like a book!), he would chew it. But not every time. Sometimes he was amazing in the study. He ate his bully stick, he ate his frozen kong, and he didn’t get into anything. But there were those rare occasions, maybe once every couple weeks, where he got into something. We debated continuing to crate him. We thought about baby gating him into the kitchen while we were out. But we kept up with the routine of putting him into the study when we were out.

And one day, some 4-5 months after Ben came to live with us, we realized he had been fine in the study for a long time. The morning we had to rush Dahlia to the e-vet (that’s a tale for another post!), we had to put him in the study without double-checking to make sure the books were put away and without taking Ben for a long walk first. We came back almost 2 hours later and found he hadn’t done anything wrong. And there had been books that had fallen on the floor the day before and had not been picked up. They were untouched too. He was perfect.

Now, 6 months later, Ben can relax without that gigantic push of energy that he needed. Around 6:30-7pm every night, he gets up on the couch or his favorite chair and falls asleep. He no longer sleeps in a crate and instead curls up on the bed with us. He is no longer crated during the day and instead gets to relax in my husband’s study with a Kong and some squeaky toys (though he does think the draft stoppers are great big toys and drags them out into the middle of the room, completely negating their purpose). He has a lot of fun in the yard, is fantastic on walks, and settles wonderfully. He has learned to beg and share our handouts with Dahlia.

As for Dahlia? What does she think of this interloper? Well…pictures ought to tell you the complete story.

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I’d say that Dahlia adapted rather well.

So if you’re in this situation. If you’re staring at your new dog and wondering What have I done? Remember, that often it does get better. Your dog will learn that they are home, that they are safe, and as they learn that, the stress will disappear and you’ll have the dog you always wanted. I no longer look at Ben and wonder What have I done? I look at Ben and think I am so thankful that he has come into our lives. He is part of our family and I cannot imagine our lives without him now.