Written by Claire Atkinson M.A. (Cantab.), Qualified Dog Behaviourist and Certified Tellington Touch® Practitioner
Twice as nice or double trouble?
Before we add a second dog to our family, it’s a good idea to give the matter plenty of thought. Good intentions don’t always guarantee great results. While there are plenty of stories that have happy endings, there are some pitfalls that can easily be avoided if the misconceptions surrounding this topic are addressed.
One misconception, for example, is the belief that out-of-control Rover will settle down if he has a companion to play with. The fact is that Rover will settle down when he receives the necessary training or behavioural guidance required to address his problems. A second dog will not resolve the situation!
Another misconception is the idea that taking two puppies together makes life easier. Responsible breeders, shelter personnel, trainers, veterinarians and behaviourists are clear about the pitfalls of taking two puppies together, because it frequently, if not always, results in ‘littermate syndrome’. Prospective owners, however, may believe they have good reasons: some might think that, because they are busy, the pups can keep each other company while they’re away; others may be influenced by each child wanting a dog of their own; some believe that they are saving two lives instead of one.
Good intentions, yes, but too often a disaster in the making.
If we are looking to keep our dogs as part of the family, enjoy each of them to their full potential, and give them the commitment they deserve, we need to examine why taking two together seldom works.
Littermates tend to bond closely, and if, when they are weaned, they remain together, that bonding will strengthen. They will be in a situation whereby they rely so much on each other that they are stressed when coming to grips with other situations such as humans, other dogs and new stimuli.
For the owner, there are considerations of the increased cost, the fact that they will need to be trained and exercised separately if they are to develop their individuality (which is time-consuming), and the general difficulties when mischief increases exponentially – i.e. they can be more destructive, harder to house train, and may resist necessary separation.
As with any lifestyle change, we want to think very carefully before we venture into these stormy waters.
If, aware of the possible pitfalls, you decide to take two together, you’ll have your work cut out. You need to keep all aspects of their life separate but equal if you are to achieve two balanced dogs.
This will entail: separate sleeping arrangements from day one. Expect some resistance and sleepless nights as they protest.
Effective house-training management will mean taking them out individually and, of course, there is the question as to which one had an accident in the house!
Puppy school and obedience classes will also need to be separate. That means two different days. Even if there are two competent handlers, having them in the same class will entail a high level of distraction and limit the training opportunity. And, of course, the training continues at home, one at a time. The same goes for socialisation – they will need to meet different dogs, have different play dates, go out and about to explore the environment one at a time…
Then there is exercise and play time – again done separately.
The more closely they are bonded, the greater likelihood of separation issues, possibly leading to full-on separation anxiety.
Round about now, you may have the feeling that what seemed like a good idea is perhaps rather overwhelming. So what to do?
We’d suggest adopting an older dog to start with. S/he may have issues that need to be resolved before you think of getting a second dog. If Rover is having hassles, a second dog will not help: bad habits are easier to learn than good ones! Double trouble. So, once Rover is settled (perhaps a year later), then it’s the time to think about a second dog.