From time to time, my clients have asked me whether they should consider getting another dog. The question of whether or not to get a second dog is a complex one, with many angles to consider. Dogs are social creatures, and with owners who are at work all day, their needs for companionship and mental stimulation often go unmet.
If you are thinking of getting another dog, first consider your dog’s level of socialization.
How does your dog behave around other members of his or her own species? A reputable doggy daycare will carefully test your dog before allowing him or her to enjoy group play activities. If your dog does well in a social setting such as this, then perhaps your dog would enjoy a companion. You should ask the daycare how your dog behaves in a group setting. Does she actively play with others, or does she spend most of her time staring out the window or clinging to staff? Not all dogs like playing with others, and that’s ok! Some don’t at first, but suddenly blossom when that perfect playmate comes along. Dogs are like people, and some have certain “types.”
However, some daycares can be rather stressful for dogs.
For instance, when a daycare does not alternate playtime with alone time, it can cause dogs to feel overwhelmed, creating behavioral problems. The dogs who run out of energy first can feel harassed when the more energetic dogs keep pestering them to play. Adrenaline levels can rise, and squabbles can erupt. Some dogs enjoy other dogs, but just aren’t right for doggy daycares. My rescue dog Wyatt reacts poorly to large young male dogs who come on strong, but gets along well with most calm females who are smaller than him.
If you are thinking of getting another dog, examine whether or not your dog has the social skills for it.
Many dogs, raised around their human family and given limited opportunities to interact with other dogs, lack social skills. They may be fearful of other dogs, or perhaps they have never learned to understand other dogs’ boundaries. Perhaps they unintentionally play too rough, or mistake a friendly interaction for a threatening one. The extent to which a dog can learn to “speak dog” after a certain age depends on the dog, since the window of time during which these skills are most easily learned closes in early puppyhood. Does your dog sometimes have trouble getting along with other dogs? Consult a trainer about whether your dog can learn to overcome these issues, or would be happier without a canine companion.
People often consider getting another dog in hopes that their own dog will get more exercise through play.
Although a dog may be more entertained and happy with another dog in the picture, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a huge reduction in your first dog’s need for exercise. It all depends on the dog. My own dogs play with each other occasionally, but by and large, they still need us to walk (fast), hike, or play fetch with them for at least an hour to an hour and a half per day. They spent their days together cuddling on the couch, not exercising through play. Other dogs who live together may play more frequently. When your dog is with another dog for an extended period of time, how much time does he or she spend playing with that dog? Some adult dogs simply don’t play very much, and that’s ok, but it’s good to know if your dog is this way.
Other times, people consider getting another dog because their dog suffers from separation anxiety.
I once heard of a dog who had separation anxiety that was so severe, he once jumped through a glass second-story window from distress. Then, his owners told me, he totally changed upon the arrival of another dog in the family. However, this is merely one anecdotal account, and you’d be wise to consult a professional dog trainer about your dog’s separation anxiety before you get another dog. Without understanding how your dog’s separation anxiety came about in the first place and how to prevent it, you may simply be setting yourself up to have two dogs with separation anxiety! A good trainer can make all the difference.
Personality is also important to consider, as a dog can still need a lot of human attention, even if you get another dog.
My dogs, Winston and Wyatt, love each other, as evidenced by the fact that they can often be found cuddling together. But they are both very emotionally needy dogs, which has a lot to do with their breeds. Even though they love each other, Wyatt will often leave Winston to follow me around the house. And Winston will often leave Wyatt to hang out with my husband Theo. When we had to leave town recently and hired a dog sitter to be with them, we watched them on camera when she wasn’t with them, and they both howled from loneliness. Even with each other, they missed us greatly. Although some dogs are more independent than that, the takeaway is that typically, not all of your dog’s needs for interaction can be met by another dog.
Of course, there’s also money to consider when you are thinking of getting another dog.
The training, supplies, walks, boarding, doggy daycare, and veterinary care for that second dog are still going to cost a lot. Before you start dreaming about names for your next dog, make sure you have enough extra money for unexpected medical or training expenses. If you do decide you have enough money to afford another dog, you may wonder about the impact it will have on your current dog’s level of happiness. Is Winston happier now that he has a canine best friend? I can’t prove it, but I’m almost certain he is- dogs are social creatures, after all. And watching two of them interact is so much more entertaining than watching the antics of only one dog. Whether or not to get another dog is a decision that should be made thoughtfully, but when done carefully and for the right reasons, it can be a tremendously rewarding experience.