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Getting a Second Dog?

Use these tips to add them to your home successfully.

by Pat Miller, CPDT-KA
October 26, 2020
Big dog meets little brown puppy for the first time
chrt2hrt / Adobe Stock

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Whether your dog is a constant ball of energy or spends their days curled up on the couch, at some point you might think they could use a friend at home. There are many benefits and great reasons to add another member to your fam: Maybe you want to rescue a pup or think your first dog needs some companionship.

There are also many reasons not to get a second dog: more vet bills, more food and toys to buy, more poop to scoop, potential behavior problems, less individual attention for your firstborn dog…

In any case, it shouldn’t be a quick decision — there’s a lot to consider when bringing home another member of the family. Use these tips to figure out whether a second dog is a good idea and, if so, how to add them to the mix successfully.

1. Find Out How Friendly Your First Dog Is

If you don’t already know your dog is the life of the dog park, find a friend with an outgoing pup and introduce them in a safely fenced neutral territory using these ideas for successful dog introductions. If they hit it off like gangbusters, you’re good to keep looking into adding another dog. If your pup seems snarly or standoffish, though, you may want to reconsider. Keep in mind, though, that if your dog isn’t friendly with other canines but you’re dead-set on adopting another, a trainer or behavior consultant may be able to help your first dog warm up.

2. Pick the Right Second Pup

First, consider your current dog’s temperament. If they’re very assertive, adding another “top dog” could be a recipe for disaster. Look for a dog who defers to your boss dog. If dog number-one is more on the timid side, it’s okay to get a more dominant second dog — but just think about whether it might bug you to see your first dog pushed around by the second. 

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Next, size matters. If you have a three-pound mini-dog, there are inherent risks in adopting a large-breed dog. Even in play, big dogs can cause serious, sometimes fatal, injuries to toy-size canines. It’s not impossible to have very disparate sizes in a household, but you’ll need to keep a close eye on your dogs.

Finally, take grooming needs and energy levels into account when choosing the right dog. If your first dog requires daily brushing to stay mat-free, perhaps a shorthaired dog is in order. On the other hand, if you don’t mind the daily styling, a second Old English Sheepdog may be right up your alley. If your current Border Collie mix is an Energizer™ bunny, another active dog might help wear her out — or you could end up with a furry tornado zipping around your house every day.

3. Make the Intros

Set up your introductions in that safely fenced neutral territory. This is best done prior to your commitment to adopt the second dog. Have a friend hold one leashed dog at the far side of the area while you enter with the second. Watch body language: They may become alert and a little tense or act all waggy and playful — both are acceptable responses. But if one or both dogs exhibit serious aggression like lunging, frenzied barking, snarling, or snapping, stop the meeting and seek professional assistance.

When the dogs notice each other, calmly feed both dog treats until each is focusing on the person providing the treats. Then, slow the rate of treats until the dogs glance at each other, then look back at you for more. If both dogs appear happy or at least reasonably relaxed in each other’s presence, drop the leashes while still at a distance and allow them to greet each other. Leash restraint can sometimes cause otherwise compatible dogs to behave aggressively, but leave the leashes on for a few moments so you can safely separate the dogs if necessary. When it’s clear they’re getting along, call them back and unclip the leashes so they can play without becoming entangled (which can also cause a fight!).

At home, introduce them again in your fenced yard, and, to minimize indoor stress, don’t bring them into the house until they’ve tired themselves out playing.

4. Set Rules For Success

Installing baby gates and tethers in strategic places can help keep the peace. When dogs are still getting to know each other, separate them when you’re not home. If there are food-bowl or feeding-station issues, feed the dogs far apart, perhaps in separate rooms or crates, to avoid confrontations. Make sure there are enough toys to go around and ample beds located in low-traffic areas.

The more dogs you care for, the more important training becomes. You can survive one ill-mannered dog, but two poorly behaved pups — or several — will make everyone miserable. Your benevolent but firm leadership lends itself to peace in the pack. Something as simple as consistently requesting them to sit for a cookie before going out serves as a constant reminder that you’re top dog.

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Pat Miller, CPDT-KA

Pat Miller is a certified dog behavior consultant, dog trainer, author of six books on dog training and behavior, and presents seminars worldwide.