Getting a dog or becoming a multi-dog household is more complicated than this sounds. In deciding the right number of dogs for you, here are a few things to consider.
Needs of Current Dogs
Just as a puppy requires training and socialization, older dogs, dogs with special needs, and those with behavioral issues need your care and attention. It’s important to resolve issues like aggression before getting another dog. A dog that’s anxious or fearful won’t simply warm up with time.
Next, consider whether you have the time, space, and money for another dog. You’ll need to budget for the added cost of food, grooming, veterinary care, and pet insurance.
“Be prepared for the financial and emotional cost,” says Alice Fisher, certified professional dog trainer and training director of DOGSmart Training. The ideal scenario is having dogs that are relatively close in age. If your dog is under a year old, wait until they’re properly trained and have developed a bond with you.
Since older dogs are less inclined to tolerate an unfamiliar dog, Fisher recommends holding off on a new companion until after your dog has passed. “When the first dog is moving towards the end of life, you owe them not to feel threatened in their home or overwhelmed,” says Fisher.
With proper training, same-sex dogs can coexist peacefully. “Make sure there’s an age break and consider spaying or neutering,” advises Fisher. Finding a good match for your dog’s temperament and energy level will give you the best chance of success.
Needs of Human Family Members
“People tell me they have allergies and are hoping to find the best dog that doesn’t make them allergic,” says Fisher. “I can’t think of any.” Although some dogs are less likely to induce allergy symptoms, there is no breed that is 100% hypoallergenic.
Aside from allergies, the rest of your household needs to feel comfortable with getting a dog. “I’ve had people get dogs when their children are scared,” says Fisher. “Kids will act inappropriately and then the dog feels threatened.”
Fisher cautions people about small children around toy breeds. “These dogs get overhandled and squished,” explains Fisher. “I tell parents to get a matching stuffed dog for the kids to carry. It’s about putting yourself in a supervisory position to help them learn manners around each other.”
Matching Your Lifestyle
When your dog arrives, will you be starting a new job or moving residences? If your dog has traveled a long distance or lived in a different environment (e.g. farm, rescue shelter, another country), they’ll need time to adjust.
Moreover, dogs have different grooming, training, and exercise needs. For a double-coated dog, “be prepared to comb or desensitize the dog to being handled,” says Fisher. “With multiple dogs, you can start training them separately and then see how they are together.” Going on separate walks can help with learning basic commands.
“People have a certain look about the dogs they want and haven’t really considered the breed along with the personality,” explains Fisher. Getting a dog from the same breeder doesn’t guarantee the new dog will share your enthusiasm for activities like dog sports.
“When I talk to people about getting a second or a third dog, they’re always on the lookout for a pet and companion,” says Fisher. “But the dog will also be required to hopefully enjoy the same things and it’s not always a match.”
Get as much information beforehand by researching AKC breed descriptions and talking to a breeder or trainer. For dogs of any age or breed, continue adding new sources of enrichment. Fisher suggests introducing puzzles or games, suited to your dogs’ abilities.
Getting a Puppy
Breeders often steer people away from getting more than one puppy at a time. This advice also applies to older dogs since it’s hard to bond with them individually.
“The dogs spend more time on each other than they do on the new person in their life,” explains Fisher. “Once dogs are out of puppy age, they give each other a play once a day but it isn’t for hours like we think it is.”
If you have your heart set on more than one puppy, Fisher recommends getting them from different litters and spacing them six months apart. “Give yourself a break,” says Fisher. “If you’ve had your furniture torn, save it for the next dog before you go and change your couch.”
Introducing the Dogs
When you’re introducing the dogs, watch for signs of aggression such as stiff posture or growling. “Understand when it’s not going well, see how you can interrupt it, and teach them appropriate play,” advises Fisher.
In the case of a pair or multiple dogs, size differences aren’t necessarily a problem. Older dogs may correct younger dogs by barking or snapping. Knowing when to stay off furniture or waiting their turn for a treat helps younger dogs learn to regulate their emotions.
“I send people to read breed descriptions,” says Fisher. “Can they deal with the size and energy? I say I want you to get a tape measure and see how high the dog is in the shoulders because the pictures look like one thing.”
Size can become a concern, however, when your dogs don’t know each other well. There’s a risk of injury, for example, if you introduce a medium or large dog in a home with a 14-year old dog or a dog under ten pounds.
Monitor your dogs and gradually give them time alone together. “It’s like when you’re trying to housetrain a puppy,” reinforces Fisher. “You’re supervising them and if not, you’re keeping them separated or contained.”
Along with training and socialization, carefully considering everyone’s needs is important for enjoying a single or multi-dog household. “This isn’t about the quick fix,” emphasizes Fisher. “This is about building a relationship just like with your first dog.”