Preparing for another dog


How to prepare for another dog: there are both positives and negatives to getting another dog, says trainer and behaviourist Carol Price. 

One dog is often enough for many owners. But for others, the desire to expand their canine family can become overwhelming. Initially you may see only the benefits of getting another dog - such as company and a permanent playmate for your existing dog. But then the doubts can creep in. What if it doesn't work out? What if my existing dog hates the new one, or they constantly fight? Will two dogs be harder to train and keep under control? Will one teach the other all his bad habits? How can I ensure that both dogs respond primarily to me, rather than make their strongest bond with each other?

If you're facing this kind of dilemma, then hopefully this new two-part series will answer some of your questions.

Will my existing dog accept another dog?

One of the most common reasons why owners hesitate to get another dog - or rule it out altogether - is out of a belief that their existing dog won't like it. If you currently have just one dog, and are thinking of getting another, be aware that the longer a dog is an ‘only' dog, the more they can get used to the privileges of this position; holding complete centre stage in your life and not having to share valuable resources, such as food, toys, or a favourite place on the sofa, with any other rivals.

In general, the more you've spoiled your only dog with limitless attention, fuss, and treats, the more resentful he's likely to be towards any new arrival who suddenly puts him in open competition for these things.

Over-indulged dogs always suffer the most when forced to share their owners with rivals - be these other dogs, or a new baby. For this reason it's wise to greatly lower the intensity of your relationship with your existing only dog, before bringing in another.

This said, however, most dogs, unless exceptionally easy-going, are likely to feel some level of resentment when you first bring a new dog home. Puppies, in particular, can be intensely annoying to older dogs; forever jumping all over them and rudely laying claim to their space and other prized resources, such as their owners' attention. Your existing dog might try to ignore your new puppy, or he might snap and growl at him when he over-pushes his luck. Owners can get very panicky about this, but it's perfectly normal canine behaviour. It's vital that your existing dog teaches your new puppy how he expects him to behave. After this initial ‘shaking down' period, where your older dog establishes his superiority and your puppy learns to be a bit more polite, more often than not your two dogs will then become bosom buddies.

Very rarely will an existing dog harm a new puppy, although the risks can be greater if the existing dog is far bigger in size than the puppy; injuries can occur just through over-boisterous play. Always supervise your puppy's interactions with a much bigger dog if you have any concerns on this front.

Things to consider before getting another dog

Before getting another dog, here are some important things to consider:

  • Have you chosen a dog you feel will be most compatible with any others you own? If you have any doubts, seek expert help (from a highly experienced behaviourist or dog trainer).
  • Can you afford it? Another dog means extra food, pet insurance and vet's bills.
  • Have you got the time to do lots of early one-to-one training with your new dog, and take him out separately? Otherwise h will bond most strongly with your other dog(s) and not you.
  • If you have an older dog and are bringing in a puppy, have you installed an indoor kennel or stairgate to ensure the puppy can be separated from your other dog when necessary - such as at mealtimes, rest/sleep times, or should he ever get too annoying.
  • Some time before getting a new dog, cool your relationship down with your existing dog a bit. Don't let him have access to you at all times, and make him spend some regular time alone in his own separate quarters - initially while you're still at home. This will lower the shock of your attention being more divided when the new dog comes.
  • Be clear in your mind that how well existing dogs accept a new puppy or dog will be greatly down to you. They will initially look to you to ensure that the new arrival's behaviour is kept within tolerable bounds, and a failure on your part to do this just leads to avoidable resentment, tensions, and conflict.
  • Never get a new dog imagining that he will cure an existing dog of his problems - such as separation anxiety, barking, or fear aggression - as younger dogs in particular, unless more skilfully trained and guided, are more likely to pick up an older dog's bad habits than teach him any better ones.

When getting another dog, it's often recommended that you should get a bitch if you already have a male dog, and vice versa. There is some sense in this, in that it can make any future conflict less likely. However, many people own pairs or groups of female dogs, or male dogs, who live very happily together. More often than not it's the nature of the dogs concerned - such as being pretty socially tolerant/accepting - rather than just their sex which governs their domestic harmony.

To maximise the chances of canine compatibility, having two (or more) dogs from the same breed is often a good idea, because so much of their basic mental programming will be similar, and likewise their favoured methods of play, communication, and social interaction. This said, I know many dual or multi-dog households featuring radically different breeds - such as Mastiff and Chihuahua, and Dachshund, Greyhound, and Staffie - and they all get on swimmingly. This goes back to the way individual dog personalities will just happily knit together. Sometimes this can be down to very wise dog selection by an owner; at other times it's more down to sheer luck.

Age compatibility can also be very important. Very often owners might get a puppy to cheer an older dog up. However, if the age difference between your older dog and new puppy is fairly big, you might not be able to take them both on the same long walks - the same applies if you own very different breeds, with varying exercise requirements or tolerances. Your more elderly dog might also find the constant boisterousness and pestering of a puppy very stressful.

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Additionally, puppies will often absorb the attitudes and behaviour of the older dogs they live with. Living with elderly dogs can lead them to adopt a more aged mindset, such as becoming more reserved/quiet and generally less outgoing and playful.

What do I do if my dogs don't get on?

There are few things more stressful or upsetting for owners to live with than two (or more) dogs who simply do not get on. It can also be pretty stressful for the dogs themselves.

Just how complex the chemistry of compatibility can be with dogs is rarely realised, by owners, until something goes wrong. It can certainly help to have a better idea of your existing dog's social tolerances and preferences - or lack of these! - before bringing another dog home to live with him. With my own four dogs, for instance, I know immediately the sort of dog they will happily integrate into their pack (gentle, polite, respectful, and fun-loving) and the kind they will loathe on sight (rude, over-presumptuous, over-boisterous, over-pushy, and over-controlling).

It's important to accept that with dogs, as with people, there are always going to be personalities that simply jar or rub each other up the wrong way, especially when forced to live together on intimate terms.

Sometimes conflict between dogs is principally driven by one part – such as one dog who continually tries to harass, bully, or dominate another. At other times both dogs become locked in a never-ending battle to rule the roost. There can be constant psychological needling between them, or actual physical fights. Although there's a lot owners can do to make conflict between a pair or pack of dogs less likely, you also have to know when the stress of trying to make two terminally incompatible dogs live together has become unbearable for all concerned.

You may then be faced with the options of keeping both dogs permanently segregated – which can still be pretty stressful for all of you - or finding one of them a new home. Owners often baulk at the latter option, because they're fond of both dogs, and/or see their incompatibility as some kind of failure, on their part, which can eventually be overcome. But is it really kind to force two endlessly warring dogs to live together? In the wild, after all, when two dogs can't resolve their differences, one of them always has the option to leave the pack, or may be forced into this action, by the other, instead. Either way both the conflict and the stress it causes, will end.

But while the risks of making some dogs live together should be highlighted, it's far more common for the expansion of a canine family to work out well, and carry many more pros than cons. The pleasure a dog gets from having one or more buddies to share his life with can be immense. Dogs get so much from other dogs that we simply can't give them. And once you've seen that and lived with it, long-term, it can be hard to imagine a life with just one dog ever again.

Welcoming a rescue dog

Very often puppies will be easier than rescue dogs to pair with an existing dog, or integrate into an existing canine family. This isn't just because older dogs tend to find puppies less threatening, in general, but because puppies are young enough to have their future attitudes and behaviour greatly shaped by the older dogs they live with. This includes how much respect they will show to these dogs in later life.

A rescue dog, by contrast, tends to arrive with a more fully formed adult personality, and a possible range of ingrained and less favourable attitudes/habits dating back to his earlier life; all of which can make him appear - certainly initially - somewhat more threatening to your existing dog. Do not assume, however, that all rescue dogs carry the same higher risks, compatibility-wise. If you pick the right individual he could still be a great new addition to your canine household.

Much often depends on how well you have pre-assessed the compatibility of a rescue dog with any existing dog(s) you own. Sometimes dogs who seem fine together on more neutral territory can fall out when forced to share a home. If you have any doubts about how compatible a rescue dog will be with your existing dog(s), do get a more expert/experienced dog person to help you with this. It could save you a lot of grief in the long-run.