Adding a Second Dog to the Family

January 11, 2012  

Dogs can be the ultimate furry friends, but finding the right match is key

By Jessica Wheatcraft, CPDT-KA

(Photos by Melissa Lipani)

Thinking about adding another dog to your existing fur family? When done correctly, multiple dog homes can provide additional company, playtime and just plain fun for the current dog, not to mention you! Finding the right match is important to ensure the transition of bringing a new dog into your home is a smooth one.

What is Your Purpose?

One of the first things to consider is the purpose of bringing a second dog into the home. Is it a companion for yourself or the other dog? Is your current dog a senior dog, and you’re looking for a younger one? Or does your current dog simply need a new playmate? Compatibility between your current dog and the one in question comes down to several factors. What is the age difference? Size? Play style? Energy level? Dogs are individuals and some prefer to be around smaller dogs, younger dogs, calm dogs, dogs who like to wrestle, etc. Know your dog and be realistic about the impact a second dog can have on him.

Young Dog vs. Senior

Bringing a rambunctious 7-month-old German Shepherd Dog into a home with an 11-year-old Standard Poodle with limited vision and arthritis who doesn’t like to play can be a potential disaster. Senior dogs often have health issues that can cause pain, or their senses are not what they used to be. I have worked with many senior dogs whose vision or hearing is limited, and they are not able to read the body language of the other dogs as well. They also do not use the same body language as they did when they were younger, and this can lead to miscommunication and possible conflicts between the dogs.

A second dog should be respectful and responsive of the current dog’s boundaries and abilities. The dogs don’t need to absolutely love each other, but a general compatibility is certainly helpful if you expect them to coexist peacefully.

There are lots of benefits to having dogs with large age differences: The younger dog has an opportunity to learn important social skills and how to behave appropriately, while the older dog has a companion and someone to keep him busy. Be prepared to offer quiet places for the senior dog to rest when needed, and try to keep the same routine you had before the younger dog arrived.

Second Dog as Playmate

When adding a playmate and/or companion for your current dog, a strong focus should be on the dogs’ actual enjoyment of each other’s company. It is important to know what each dog is like in terms of personality, play style and likes/dislikes. A herding breed that likes to chase other dogs and nip at their legs may not be the best choice for a Chihuahua who gets worried about larger dogs. Finding a dog that enjoys a similar play style can ensure that the dogs do not feel threatened or overwhelmed by each other’s behavior.

Many people will add a puppy to their home with the belief that the puppy will grow up with the current dog, and they will get along just fine. However, puppies go through many developmental stages until they become adults, and it is very common for them to begin to test boundaries as they get older. I have worked with a number of clients in this situation, where the dog was raised as a puppy in the home, but once it became an adult it became less tolerant of the older dog, or vice versa. If you’re not sure how your current dog would do in this situation, I would recommend adding a young adult into the home rather than a puppy. This way you already have a good idea of what the dog is all about.

Other Factors to Consider

Does your current dog have any behavior or obedience issues? For example, a dog that has leash reactivity is already difficult to handle on walks – try doing that with two dogs!

Even if the potential dog doesn’t have the same issues, it is very common for dogs to feed off of each other’s energy and behavior. Consider doing some training and working your dog through his issues first before adding a second dog. If this isn’t possible, it is important to be realistic about the time and effort it can take to bring the dogs on separate walks, manage them during stressful situations, or do training with both dogs.

Another behavior to be mindful of is resource guarding. Do any of the dogs resource guard against food, toys, bones, sleeping areas or people? While this is a normal behavior for dogs, it can pose a problem if you expect to feed the dogs in the same room or leave toys out without supervision. You can help your dogs to enjoy the fun stuff separately by using crates, baby gates or X-pens in your home to keep them safe. Separating dogs is not always negative; in fact, many dogs relish the opportunity for a little space where they can rest peacefully or work on a bone without being bothered. Providing things such as stuffed Kongs, food puzzles, bully sticks and marrow bones (make sure your dog enjoys these items appropriately) are great ways to keep your dogs entertained. Be sure to put these items away before removing any barriers.

Introducing the New Dog

Ideally you will have the opportunity to introduce the two dogs before you make the commitment of adding the new dog to your home. Choosing a neutral place free of distractions, such as other dogs or crowds of people, is a good place to start. Always think safety first and have both dogs on leash and at a far enough distance that they can remain calm.

Depending on the dogs, you may try walking together for a while and get them used to each other’s presence. Or you may try doing some walk bys, where each of you walks past each other in opposite directions. Look for any signs of potential trouble, such as body stiffening, hard stares, hackles up, the dog’s inability to come away when asked, and the obvious ones such as barking/growling. If you see any of these signs, slow the process down and consider having a professional help with the interaction.

If you’re seeing friendly signs, gradually bring the dogs closer and eventually let them curve towards one another and meet on leash. Curving means that you are bringing the dogs to opposite ends of one another, not face to face. If the interaction continues to be appropriate and friendly, you may decide to allow them off leash with each other if a fenced in area is available.

Sometimes interacts don’t always go well the first time, so you may try two or three times to see if repeated exposure to each other helps the dogs calm down and acclimate to each other’s presence. Keep in mind that just because an interaction went well in a neutral place does not mean your current dog will welcome the new dog into his home with open arms. Be prepared to keep the dogs safely separated when needed with the help of baby gates, X-pens or crates that can provide peace of mind to everyone in the home. After the dogs get to know each other and begin to enjoy each other’s company, you can let the fun begin!

Good luck!

About the author: Jessica Wheatcraft, CPDT-KA, works with Whole Dog Training in San Diego, Calif., and holds a special place in her heart for pit bulls.

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Comments

11 Responses to “Adding a Second Dog to the Family”
  1. When we decided to adopt another furbaby it was for compatibility for us as well as Sasha. It proved to be difficult because Sasha was so picky about her fur friends. They told us that when we adopted her and took that into consideration however, when we took her to meet my moms dog which was a puppy at the time all went well. She did well on walks, now we realize it was the people she was interested in not the dogs. Sasha bought us so much joy and love we thought it would be cool to add another three months after we adopted Sasha. We thought a puppy would do well in the family since Sasha was a little over a year and the organization thought an older dog submissive dog would be a better match. Turned out we knew our Sasha better than the organization. We tried to older submissive dogs and it didn’t work a fight almost ensued so puppy it was. In the beginning Sasha didn’t want to have anything to do with Krush. Krush was a 5 month old pittie with high energy, he fell in love with Sasha the moment he was let out of the crate and the rest is history. Due to Sasha’s “pickiness” we foster puppies only and even then it takes her a little while to warm up to the idea that another fur baby is in the house.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @theprettychic Keep up the great work, puppies need to be fostered too, so your work is so important!

  2. CassyLemon says:

    I so badly want to add another four legged child to the family, but I don’t think we are quite there yet. I also know it will take some time finding the right one for Leo. He does super well at the park, a neutral place. Plays well and loves all the dogs, or as I say to him ‘his friends’. Although at home, he sees a dog or cat outside he loses his mind and whines and runs around the house then out in the back yard barking and whining (we even have a cat at home). I let my friend bring her dog over once (a male) and he wouldn’t leave him alone. He didn’t attack him but he wanted him to be submissive the entire time he was there. After, I discovered through research that was not properly done at all and I shouldn’t have just let the other dog come to our house. I know we want a to get a sister for Leo that is probably around the same age as he is when we eventually do so. I know the right match will be amazing for him and I do look forward to getting him a sister…especially to see cute cuddling like the image at the top of this article!

    • StubbyDog says:

      @CassyLemon We know what you mean, it’s tough especially when your dog is a bit dominant (our web manager’s dog is the same way), and when you do find the right match for Leo, it will be magical.

  3. RodriguezBenita says:

    I was able to take my first dog to meet our second addition, a male, and they did well. There was a little growling on our way home and once we arrived to our house. They ate great playmates! Now, my third dog was a rescue who didn’t have any time left at the shelter. I brought her home and kept her apart from the others until she gained weight and healed from her kennel cough. Ten months later, the first two still haven’t accepted her. We have had three incidents since, so we are at square one. I crate one while the other two are out, and vice versa.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @RodriguezBenita Sorry you are having troubles, sometimes the third dog changes the whole dynamic. You may want to consult a reputable trainer in your area. Good luck, and thank you for rescuing.

  4. starscreeam says:

    My daughter acquired her first rescue dog, Zander, who is now about 3 years old, a couple of years ago. We have no idea what his home life was like before she go him but suspect he was saved from a life of abuse and headlines. Although he loves, loves, loves his family, he’s very nervous around strangers and rather than create the potential for an incident, he stays in her bedroom when she has company that he’s not familiar with. About 6 months ago, she got her second rescue, Chance, who the vet thinks is about 8 months old. Chance had spent almost all of his young life in a crate. My daughter didn’t know she had a second furbaby until she came home from work and a new face greeted her at the door, so there was no gradual introductions. Both dogs have been neutered and Zander has never been a dominant animal, still squatting to pee. The mixing has for the most part been amicable. They do like to play and wrestle, especially tug of war with their toys. Chance torments Zander by stealing anything he happens to be chewing on and when Zander has enough of Chance’s run by butt nippings and thievery he’ll bark at Chance and even grab him by the jowls, but never huts Chance. However, on a few occasions, usually involving food or a bone/toy, Chance has actually started a fight with Zander. My daughter always breaks it up before it escalates and Chance gets a time out as he’s always the on to initiate, but now she can’t leave the two of them alone together. During the day when she’s at work, Chance stays in his crate and Zander, who has MUCH better “good manners” as my grandkids would say, has the run of the house. I told her she’ll probably have to keep the food and toys picked up when they’re both out, but then they won’t be able to play together as they usually do with their toys. Any thoughts?

    • JessicaWheatcraft says:

      Hi Starscreeam, Jessica Wheatcraft here :) Managing two large dogs who didn’t have the best start in life can be challenging to say the least. At 8 months Chance is in the adoloescent stage which can be particularly difficult. They tend to test a lot of boundaries simply to see what happens, and dynamics between them and other dogs at this age can change. You mention Chance was crated most of his young life, which means he likely missed out on the socialization period (which ends at 16 weeks). Had he been afforded more opportunities to socialize with other dogs as a puppy he would likely have some better social skills. I find that most conflicts between dogs are usually a result of one or both of the dogs lacking the social skills necessary to resolve things peacefully. A lack of knowing appropriate boundaries, the inability to recognize and heed warning signals, or not knowing how to use calming signals can all cause conflicts. It sounds like Zander gets annoyed by Chance’s puppy like behaviors and tries to correct him, but at times when there are higher value things in the picture (food/bones) Chance is either not responding to Zander like he should or Chance is doing some resource guarding by not being willing to back away. Managing and separating both dogs like you are doing is a good place to start. If you are going to have high value things around the dogs should be separated by x pens, gates, or in separate rooms.

  5. JessicaWheatcraft says:

    Part2: There’s no reason your dogs can’t enjoy bones as long as you are safe about it, and in fact the chewing can help relieve stress and expend energy. If you’re not already doing so, I would keep Chance really busy with stuffed Kongs and things to chew on while he’s crated. Chance may also be more calm around Zander if he got additional exercise or play time by himself. If you want to allow Zander and Chance to play tug together it should be supervised to make sure both dogs are playing appropriately. If they get too aroused you can have them take breaks and practice fun, easy training games like sit followed by a treat. Food will help slow adrenaline in the body and therefore lower their arousal levels. Feel free to check out the Resources section at http://www.wholedogtraining.com which has a lot of informative articles that can be helpful for your situation. Let me know if you have any other questions.Take care!

    • starscreeam says:

      @JessicaWheatcraft Thank you VERY much! I’m passing this along to my daughter. For all that he’s nervous around strangers, Zander is a much calmer dog than Chance, but he’s also more apt to be submissive during their “disagreements.” I’m hoping this is a phase that will pass when Chance gets out of his puppyhood.

  6. suzyallman says:

    Hi…great article! I find that, whenever I bring a new dog home (they are usually old dogs that have been in the Big House for a long time), I just assume that at some point there is going to be a scuffle with my other two. That way, I’m ready for it. I am very cautious about “resource guarding”, too – that is a very strong point you make and should go in red, capital letters!

    In my experience, once they’ve sorted themselves out, it’s fine. And I never assume I know who the dominant doggie is going to be — I find out soon enough! A third dog definitely sets you up for a shift in the dynamics. But: it’s so worth it!

    Thanks for a thorough presentation of great tips & advice!