Getting a Second Dog

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Having a dog is a joy, so having two should be twice the fun, right? Getting a second dog can definitely enrich your family, but before you go ahead with any changes, consider the consequences of adding another canine to your household.

How will your current dog feel?

Many people get a second dog to keep the first dog company. They worry that their dog may be lonely when left alone. While this is a legitimate concern, it should not be the sole determining factor when considering the addition of another pet to the family. Dogs are inherently social animals that live well together in groups, but that does not mean that all dogs get along.

Most dogs will welcome a new sibling, but it is not always smooth sailing. The furry family member you have now will face many changes when a new dog enters the picture and may feel a bit displaced. He may not like sharing his territory, toys, food, resting places, or humans. Luckily, you can help him adjust to his new companion if you prepare in advance.

What kind of dog should you get?

Before choosing a new dog, think about what type will fit in with your existing family members - both two and four-legged. Does your home and yard have space for another dog? Do you have a large or small dog, and do you want to add a large or small dog? Do you have time to walk, feed, and play with another dog? Can you afford the additional expense of caring for another pet? Is your current dog physically able to interact with a pup or would an older, calmer dog be a better canine friend?

What can you do to help the old and the new dogs get along?

The goal in adding a new pet is to have one, big happy family. That means everyone should get along – humans, present dog, and future dog.

Here are a few tips to foster a good relationship between the old and the new dogs:

1. Survey your family. Consider the needs of the entire family before picking out a new pet. Think about the current dog’s age, physical status, and personality while deciding on a new family member.

2. Leave your current dog home! There is no need to take your current dog along when you pick out a new dog. You do not want to be distracted when choosing a new pet. Plus, think about the tense ride home!

3. Introduce the two dogs on neutral ground. To avoid territorial aggression, introduce the dogs in a place that is new to both. Have a friend or family member bring the current dog to a quiet park or green space while you bring along the new dog. Take each dog on a short walk and meet at a designated spot. If you have multiple dogs already, you will need to engage additional help or be able to control more than one dog on a leash.

4. Keep the dogs under control. Place each dog on a loose leash or head halter for the introduction. They should not feel overly hampered by the leash, but both individuals should have firm control of their dog.

5. Allow the dogs to investigate each other. It is normal for two dogs to circle and sniff each other when meeting. They may start by sniffing rear ends and progress to making eye contact. Keep the introduction positive by speaking to the dogs in a pleasant tone of voice. Observe their body language and posture to pick up on signs of aggression and intervene as needed by redirecting the dogs’ attention. Avoid scolding the dogs if they snarl or growl. This will only suppress their emotions when you are around. The goal is to have the dogs establish a safe, fair social hierarchy that will be harmonious even when you are not with them. If the dogs ignore each other, do not force them to interact. They will get to know each other when they feel comfortable.

6. Take the dogs home. Once the dogs tolerate each other and interact in a positive fashion, you may take them home. Remember that the two dogs will establish a hierarchy, usually with the present dog assuming the alpha position. When you get home, go inside with your original dog first while your helper walks the new dog on leash, giving the resident dog the opportunity to “invite” the new dog into his domain.

7. Reduce rivalry. Provide each dog with his own food and water bowls and bed. Leave water bowls out continuously, but pick up food bowls after meal times to minimize food aggression. Also, pick up your present dog’s favorite items to avoid conflict while the new relationship is established. Return the toys along with new ones for the new dog once you are sure the two dogs are getting along.

8. Supervise play time. Keep the dogs separate when you are not at home. Closely supervise them when they play together and praise them when they interact nicely. Spend one-on-one time with them to cement personal bonds.

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