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Written by Scotty Valadao – Canine Behaviour Consultant (ABC of SA); Founder of Friendsofthedog.co.za
Getting two puppies at the same time, and the problems this can create, has been discussed at length by animal behaviourists. You can find out more in our article “Double Trouble”.
But what if you already have two puppies or don’t want an “only dog”? Scotty Valadao provides tips for making the right choices and how to manage an existing situation for a successful outcome. Remember, dogs can live for well over a decade – putting in the effort now means a decade or more of happiness with your furry friends.
Dogs are incredibly social creatures and really need interaction. If they don’t get it, behaviour problems such as barking, digging, separation anxiety, etc. can develop. Additionally, what often happens is that, when the family does come home, the pup is all over them and becomes an irritant. After all, the poor thing has been by itself all day long and is craving company.
However, if there are problems, the solution is not getting another puppy. Yes, they’ll have each other for company, but they won’t be trained or entertained.
We wouldn’t leave a toddler alone all day with no supervision and expect them to grow into a well-adjusted adult, nor would we expect to improve matters by leaving two toddlers home alone all day!
Bottom line: as much as you may want one, it’s not advisable to take on a young puppy if there’s nobody home during the day and you aren’t able to take it to a doggy daycare facility or a reliable neighbour or family member. A pup alone doesn’t do well, even one of four to six months of age. Even if you already have dogs, unless you’re 100% sure they’re accepting of the puppy, with nobody supervising them, the puppy could be bullied. Rather adopt a slightly older “pup” or dog (say 10 months and up) used to being on its own or that’ll slot in with other pets. Look for one that stayed with its mother and littermates until at least eight weeks, and/or was raised in a foster home or reputable animal shelter where good socialisation was prioritised.
Ages and stages
Many people try to avoid “littermate syndrome” problems developing by adopting puppies from different litters or of different ages, or even an adult and a puppy together. While this could work, depending on breed and background, you may still encounter problems. Even if the puppies are different ages, from different litters, and different parents, the pups are more likely to bond with one another than you. Taking on a puppy with its parent, usually the mother, also poses problems as the puppy can become so over-bonded to the mother that it can’t cope without her. An older, larger dog that you aren’t familiar with, if left alone with a puppy, could potentially be dangerous.
The bottom line is that the family and the dog need the time to get to know one another and bond. If there are any problem behaviours happening, these can be sorted out before another pup comes into play.
Time for another?
This definitely doesn’t mean you can never have more than one dog or puppy – indeed, a lonely dog is a terribly sad thing, and yours will almost certainly be happier with a canine companion.
Wait until the first pup has had time to bond with the family and grow in confidence, especially if at puppy school – usually a two-month period between adoptions is good, ideally before the adolescent period (six to nine months), as behaviour can change at this time. If your puppy was already past the “critical period” of 16 weeks when you adopted it, consult with a behaviourist for advice on getting the next one (tip: many animal welfares have a behaviourist and can assist you in making the best choice).
While you’re waiting to adopt the second puppy, there’s work to be done: your pup should be at puppy school from about 10 weeks of age for about another six to eight weeks. This keeps its socialisation skills in place in a safe manner. In an ideal world, people really should attend puppy school 2, which is from about four to six months of age.
Oops, you’ve already got two puppies! What now? Everyone in the household needs to put in a lot of work from now for many years to come. Don’t panic, as it’s not a 100% guaranteed disaster, but do understand that you might have an uphill battle ahead.
Each dog is different, but, as a general rule of thumb, one male and one female are less likely to have problems, especially if they’re breeds that tend to be social in general. (Remember to have them sterilised before five to six months so that there are no accidental litters and to reduce fighting for “status”.) Two males can get on well, but when the adolescent period is reached, fighting for status very often occurs, especially if they aren’t neutered. The absolute worst combination is two females – not only do they fight but it tends to occur at a younger age and can be much more severe. The worst we’ve ever come across is two female Pekingese of 12 weeks old who were literally trying to kill one another. No reputable and caring breeder will offer two female pups together; they know what can occur.
The bullie breeds, as mentioned in the Double Trouble article, are better at being only dogs, and Terrier and Spitz breeds all tend to do much better with a female companion. Check out this Friends of the Dog’s Compatibility Chart on which breeds get on better: https://www.friendsofthedog.co.za/breed-compatibility.html
Important! Be 100% honest with yourself: if you don’t think you’ll be up to it, or already see problems developing, rather return one/both of the puppies to the shelter from where you adopted it or the breeder immediately (reputable breeders should take puppies back). Explain why you’re doing so in order to make rehoming the puppy easier. Do not wait until the puppy is older, as this makes it highly traumatic for the puppy, for you, and for the welfare workers; it also greatly reduces its chances of being adopted again, both because the puppy is not “small and cute” and because it will be labelled a “problem dog”. Don’t let your delay result in a dog spending the rest of its life in a shelter or being put to sleep because nobody else wants it due to poor socialisation in your home.
What, then, do you do if you already have two pups and want to avoid unnecessary problems and help them grow to their full potential?
Six top tips
- Puppy school
- Alone time
- Separate feeding
- Individual walking and playing
- Settle time
- Avoid resource guarding of toys
1. Puppy school
Puppies have what is called the Critical Period. This is a period from about three weeks to 16 weeks (bigger breeds 18 weeks) where they really need to interact with their own species in order to learn the necessary social skills and what behaviour works and what doesn’t – a bit like play and nursery school for toddlers – they learn different skills and confidence grows.
During this critical period, it’s much easier for a pup to happily accept new animals, people, situations, and objects into its life; after this age, it really is harder overall for a pup to assimilate these skills into its social repertoire.
Ideally, if you have two puppies of the same age, they shouldn’t be in the same class together – they should be in separate classes so that they can learn to be independent and get on with other dogs. It’s often at the first day of puppy school that owners actually see that one pup is a lot more nervous of other pups and even being in a strange place, never mind different people and various types of equipment. A good puppy school will help you to build the puppy’s confidence if this situation does occur, at a pace that’s right for that pup.
2. Alone time training
In order for the pups to gain confidence and get used to spending time alone, they should, several times a day, spend time away from one another. This is easily achieved by presenting chew toys such as Kongs, putting each pup away from the other and allowing them to chew happily in their own space. There are numerous tutorials online as to how to get puppies used to using these wonderful toys, as well as umpteen ideas of stuffings that could be used to make them varied and interesting. Once your puppy’s used to them, you can even stuff and freeze them, making them last longer (remember to insert an item such as a chopstick through the middle before freezing so that a vacuum doesn’t occur).
Start with just a few minutes at a time to build confidence, and then gradually increase the time period, never making the period longer than the pup can cope with. In order to make this separation really positive for the pups, the chew toys that are given should be high value and kept only for this exercise. This way, instead of being alone viewed as a stressful event, it becomes an event that’s a positive one for the puppies. This should be continued throughout their life and practised in different locations as the pups become more confident.
3. Separate feeding
All dogs should be fed separately (i.e. not in the same room). This allows them to eat in peace, rather than gobbling the food in case the other pup/dog comes close, or not eating due to intimidation. We don’t always realise it, but there are subtle signs between dogs where they use their body language, such as a hard stare, that indicates trouble for the other pup. I for one would much prefer eating in peace rather than having somebody hovering around me looking to pinch a chip off my plate that I’ve been looking forward to eating all day!
Feeding separately totally avoids resource guarding of food, and you prevent the situation that one pup will not want to eat if the other pup is around; it also grows their confidence in general.
Think about it: feeding time for dogs is a very enjoyable experience. The more they can enjoy this by themselves, the more balanced their behaviour will be – and the less likely you are to have problems such as resource guarding of food bowls or a dog not wanting to eat if the other isn’t there.
4. Walking and playing alone
The puppies should be walked separately most of the time*. If you only have time to walk one, then leave the other pup at home with a delicious chew toy to get stuck into. Keep the time period they’re apart short, gradually building up to longer periods. Start off with taking the less confident pup with you; as the confidence increases, you can leave this one at home.
If you already have a situation whereby one pup won’t cope being alone, don’t force this – you need professional help. There are ways that you can build up the pup’s confidence to being left alone, but it’s best to call in the help of a professional if this already is the case, or you may make the situation much worse.
When it comes to chasing after balls and other games, it often happens that one of the pups may not want to play at all, and the “bossy” pup takes over. In this case, use a version of the Alone Time mentioned above and leave one pup with a delicious stuffed Kong or Busy Buddy and take the other pup out to play. It’s always better to start the playing outside with the less confident pup, starting with a few minutes at a time.
Alternate who plays outside. When you leave the less confident pup inside with its chew toy, ensure that it’s only for a very short time period and build up gradually.
When chew toys are used in situations such as described, it’s a good idea to keep these specific toys for when the dogs are alone. That way, they’ll take on even more importance, and the pup that’s separate will start to see that being alone is an extremely rewarding experience.
* NOTE: Do not walk puppies in any areas where other dogs are likely to be encountered or are walked until about two weeks after the third set of vaccinations. Also remember to keep puppy walks short, as their joints haven’t finished developing yet.
5. Avoid overexcitement with “Settle Time”
At times, it may seem that all your puppies do is run around playing wildly, then eventually just collapse and fall asleep. By giving them regular intervals of “settle” time before the excitement levels get too high, you teach the pups a valuable lesson of learning how to sit quietly. If you leave it too long, allowing excitement levels to get too high, it’ll be awfully hard to get them to come back to you.
Simply call the pups to you and gently restrain them, even offering a few treats, which makes the breaking up of the game more rewarding. Talk to them quietly, stroke them gently, and wait until they’ve calmed down before releasing them to go and play again; we suggest using a cue here, such as “free” (a bit like the bell for playtime at school). Allowing them to go and play again when they’ve calmed will help the pups to realise that being called to you results in a wonderful treat and some extra love – it doesn’t mean the end of a game. Doing it in this manner will mean the pups are a lot more likely to listen to you and also build the bond between pup and owner. Do this as often as possible during the day.
The above also helps in the home situation whereby you can have two pups lying quietly and chewing rather than running around the home causing havoc.
6. Avoiding resource guarding of toys
Dogs are natural resource guarders; in their natural environment they’d have to be, or they wouldn’t survive. The simplest way to avoid resource guarding of toys is to ensure that pups have time-outs from one another in order to play with their people with toys and have a good chew on a Kong. Ensure that you don’t have toys of high value around when the pups are together.
As you can see, it is a lot more work than just one pup, but the difference these simple exercises can make to preventing problems is more than worth the effort – plus, you’ll have fun with your puppies. Good luck!
Want to learn more?
If you’re looking at a career with dogs, or just want to know more about them, then look no further. Whether you want to become a behaviourist, puppy school instructor, dog walker, dog sitter, work in shelters, etc., our courses will give you a solid foundation in canine behaviour and put you a step above the rest. Presented by founders of Friends of the Dog website, who are accredited, professional behaviourists. Most courses feature practical and zoom sessions on all behaviour aspects. Visit www.fods.co.za or email firstname.lastname@example.org.