New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2002


BEHAVIOR Q&A

Q: What should I know about adding a second dog to my family?

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

A. The decision to have more than one dog must be thought through thoroughly. Ask yourself why you want a second dog, and if your home is right for more than one dog. When you are sure that a second dog is right for your family, you must select and integrate the second dog carefully.

My own situation is a good example. I work with a greyhound rescue and have adopted several over the years. For a long time I had two greyhounds. I learned early on that I could not adopt every greyhound that I fell in love with at the rescue.

My resolve weakened when I met Dancer. Dancer injured a front ankle while racing, and was brought to our rescue for placement. I began taking pictures of her for our web site. Dancer immediately turned on the charm. She had been trained to respond to a few commands like "sit" and "down." "Sit" she did; in fact she sat, gave her paw, went down, and rolled over. She went through the entire routine on just the command of "sit." She was truly eager to please. With her loving personality and sense of humor, I was smitten. I went home and talked with my husband. He listened, and then asked: "What's different about this dog?" It was a good question. This was the only dog in my two years as webmaster that I considered as a possible new member to our family. I thought about it and the answer became clear. Dancer was the first dog that I not only liked, but that I thought my husband would like as would the rest of our canine crew. I realized that it wasn't enough for me to fall in love because the new dog would affect the entire family.

After Dancer was spayed, she met our greyhounds, Jasper and Timber, one at a time. We introduced them on neutral territory. The meetings were uneventful. Both accepted her. It has been over four years since Dancer came into our family and to this day she and the boys get along just fine.

Consider these factors. Do you have the time to give the dogs the attention they need -- for affection, play and grooming? Dogs love you and need that love in return, just as surely as they need food and water. Do you have the space? Can you make the financial commitment for the additional food and veterinary costs? Be realistic in your assessment of your situation. I know many good-hearted people who have too many dogs.

In adding a dog to your family, you need to consider the personality, gender, age, degree of dominance and breed of your first dog. Some breeds do best as only dogs. Should you add a puppy or mature dog? Ask yourself how much time you have to train the puppy. There are so many wonderful dogs available in shelters and rescues. With an adult dog, you have a better idea of the dog's personality, size and temperament. Bringing your first dog to the kennel when you go to choose a second is an excellent idea. Better to know before adopting another whether it is compatible with your first dog. How long have you had your dog? I suggest waiting a year between adopting dogs. Each dog needs a chance to get established and feel secure in the home before another is brought into the mix.

Multi-dog families have to deal with the interactions of the dogs themselves. Dogs are social animals. If you have more than one, they will have their own way of dealing with each other as well as with the human members of the family. They will need to develop a dominance hierarchy among themselves. Your first dog will have some level of reaction when he or she realizes that the new dog is actually going to stay.This can take anywhere from days to months to work out. Once established, the hierarchy can change as the dogs change in age, size (in the case of a pup) and health. The behaviors associated with setting up the hierarchy can range from a slight snarl to actual fights. The human members of the family must act as top dogs to break up the tiffs, and keep the hierarchy in order. If you have young children, you will want to make sure they do not inadvertently get in the middle of any dog-to-dog tiff. Once each dog has accepted his or her place in the hierarchy, there will be little actual aggression.

A note of caution. Dogs come from an ancestry in which hunting in packs was a survival mechanism. Even domesticated companion dogs in groups can revert to pack behavior. This does not always happen but it can. Feral dogs often band like this, but it can happen in a home situation as well. As you increase the number of dogs in your family, you need to be aware that they may as a group attack small animals like cats and squirrels, even small dogs.

The other side of the story is that two dogs in the family can be a joyful experience. If you are informed about the process of integrating multiple dogs into your family and you are willing and able to be vigilant throughout the process, there are great rewards. The ways they play together, groom each other, keep each other company, and give you double the unconditional love, are worth the time and effort. Done properly, it will be a tail-wagging adventure of love and loyalty that will last a lifetime.

Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, five rescued dogs (four greyhounds, one terrier) and two horses.

Just as the transmitting process of animals is considerably more efficient than that of man, so also is their receiving apparatus.-Konrad Lorenz


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