Please note, all my dog training articles are now being published at naturaldogblog.com.
With all of the modern emphasis on the pack instinct in dogs, and most training methods or models of dog behavior so “pack” focused, one of the many things that it seems every dog owner considers is whether or not to get another dog to expand the pack. Most of the time, my multiple-dog clients come to me after they’ve already gotten another dog as they try to sort out an even more complicated dynamic than what they were experiencing as a one-dog house. If people ask me whether or not they SHOULD get another dog, my answer is generally an emphatic NO WAY.
Quick disclaimer: There are some situations where having more than one dog makes sense. If having more than one dog is right for you, feel free to ignore much of what I'm about to say. Well, first pay attention. Then think about it. Then ignore me. 🙂
Here are the reasons most people give when they talk about considering a second dog in the household:
- Dog #1 seems very lonely, so the second dog will be a companion for the first dog. Dogs are social animals, aren't they?
- Dog #1 is old and grumpy. The kids need a bright, shiny new puppy to play with that will like them more.
- I just love dogs. Dogs are great. I need more dogs in my life. They're like my kids, and I need more so I can give more attention to more dogs. Dogs dogs dogs!
I offer you these thoughts about each of the preceding reasons:
- "Companion Dog - 'cuz dogs are pack animals". While this is true, that dogs are pack animals, if you've read this article on how the prey instinct is the basis of social behavior in dogs, you might already know what I'm about to say. If there's one thing that dogs tend to not need in their lives in human-world, it's more "pack". What they ABSOLUTELY need is more prey - a way to fulfill their deepest desires (and resolve their deepest stress). That's where your energy as your dog's person should be spent.If your dog is lonely, that's telling me a couple of things. Perhaps you're busy with work and other obligations all day, and you feel like you don't have enough time for your dog. Well, if this is the case, do you think that you'll have enough time for TWO dogs?
- "Dog for the kids". This reason almost deserves a post of its own, so I will probably revisit the issue of kids and dogs in another article. For the purposes of this topic, however, the answer is simple - teach your kids fun ways of interacting with the dog that you have.
- "Dogs, dogs, and more dogs". Of all of the people who talk about getting another dog, these people are probably the best candidates, in the sense that they have all the time in the world to devote to the new additions. After all, that's what they do - their lives are dedicated to their dogs. Now there is nothing WRONG with that, per se. In fact, in some ways it's great. However, my one caution is this: in a lot of ways, our dogs often become surrogates for ourselves. And in the case where dogs are getting all of the attention, to the DETRIMENT of our giving ourselves what we need, it can make for some pretty dysfunctional canines. Many of my clients simply give TOO much attention to their dogs and not enough attention to themselves. In these situations, I often advise people to stop and think for a moment when they get the urge to give their dogs attention, and to ask themselves "what do I need right now?" They're often amazed to discover that their dogs weren't quite as needy as they thought - in fact, THEY were the ones who needed some attention. So to these people I might say "take the time that you WOULD be spending on dog #5, and instead read a book, or take a night class, or play the piano, or talk to your spouse, or do whatever it is that you really NEED to be doing for yourself". Both you and your dog(s) will be happier for it.
Often people think that the dogs will take care of each other, and that it will lessen their need for human interaction. It has been my experience that not only will two dogs not take care of each other, they will in fact require at least 3x the work that one dog required, simply because now, if you're interested in training your dogs, you will need to give time to each of them separately as well as together. If you leave them up to their own devices, it is almost guaranteed that they will get into collective mischief.
Perhaps the loneliness that your sensing in your dog is really the lack of completeness in their lives because they don't get a chance to "go hunting". Natural Dog Training is all about harnessing your dogs prey instinct, both as a way to train specific obedience behaviors AND as a way to get deep down into your dog's deepest longings and satisfy them.
Instead of thinking about getting your dog another canine companion, my suggestion would be for you to think about what it would take to be a better human companion - and be that. Honestly, if you spent 30 minutes each day devoting your attention fully to your dog's needs, giving them a chance to train, exercise, and make prey (and increasing their attraction to YOU in the process), then you would sense an enormous change in your dogs emotional state. The purpose of this blog is to help you do exactly that - be a better human for your dog - so please keep reading, and feel free to ask questions.
Introducing a new dog into the mix might have a few detrimental effects - it could make Dog #1 even MORE grumpy/aggressive and it will definitely mean more work for you (please do yourself a favor and don't expect your kids to be the ones "responsible" for a new dog's well-being). I've seen enormous change in grumpy old dogs with some dedication on the part of the owners. In my opinion, it'd be teaching your kids a much more valuable lesson to work with the old dog than it would to cast him aside in favor of a new puppy. Why is the ol' dog so grumpy, anyway? Is it that he doesn't have a moose in his life?
In summary, if you're thinking about getting a second dog, please reconsider. Instead, try to be a better human for the dog you have. Since there ARE lots of dogs out in the world who need adoption, maybe you can start trying to convince some of your dog-less friends to adopt a dog for themselves. Your dogs can get together for play-dates. And of course the best way to convince your friends will be for them to see what a happy, fulfilling relationship you have with the canine who's already in your life.
Thanks again for stopping by, and please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions, either through the comments, or by e-mailing me at neil at neilsattin dot com. Keep it real!