Getting a Second Dog

By Ellen Lindell, VMD, DACVB; 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 certainly enrich your family, but before you make 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. 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.

How do I select a dog that will fit in with my current dog?

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 time to walk, feed, and play with another dog? Both dogs will need personal time and attention with you.
  • Do you have a large or small dog? Dogs equally matched for size are less likely to accidentally injure each other while playing.
  • Is your current dog physically able to interact with a pup or would an older, calmer dog be a better canine friend?
  • Can you afford the additional expense of caring for another pet?

Should I get a male or female dog?

While personality is the biggest factor affecting compatibility of dogs, sex can matter in some cases. If all else is equal, a male and female dog living together is the pair that is least likely to experience serious relationship issues. Behaviorists consistently find that the most serious cases of aggressive behavior between household dogs occur between two female dogs. Thus, it may be best to choose a dog of the opposite sex to your current dog.

What can I do to help my old and new dogs get along?

The goal in adding a new pet is to have one big, happy family where everyone gets along. Here are a few tips to foster a good relationship between the dogs:

1. Ask your family. Consider the needs of the entire family before choosing a new pet. Think about the current dog’s age, health, and personality while deciding on a new family member.

2. Leave your current dog at 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 introduce the dogs one at a time; every relationship is different.

4. Keep the dogs from getting excited during the introduction. Use a loose leash and maintain a comfortable distance until both dogs appear relaxed. Avoid tightening the leash unless it is needed for safety. Head halters can be helpful as they allow you to turn a dog’s head away if needed, but it is important to acclimate the dog to the device ahead of time.

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 tension: stiff posture, tucked tail, or growls, for example. If you notice these signs, gently redirect the dogs’ attention. Do not scold either dog for growling or snarling, as this can trigger anxiety and frustration. If the dogs ignore each other, do not force them to interact. They will get to know each other when they feel comfortable.

6. Try them at home. Once the dogs tolerate each other and interact positively, you may take them home. Keep their leashes fastened and take them to a neutral, large room. Again, allow them to investigate each other. If they are not interested, or if either dog appears distressed, you may need to keep the dogs separate for a few days. Begin taking walks together and providing other positive, shared activities while both dogs remain on leash.

7. Provide access to resources to avoid competition. You may need to provide additional dog beds, water bowls, and toys. Put away your current dog’s favorite items to avoid conflict while the new relationship is established. Supervise the dogs around all resources to be sure there is no guarding. Pick up food bowls after meal times to minimize food aggression.

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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