Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

National Dog Day: Does my Dog need a Dog?

The first added, and senior dog in my current family
 gets along with everyone
As dog people know, today is National Dog Day. Seems like a good time to answer a question I sometimes get asked about keeping dogs with dogs, i.e. "Would my dog be happier with another dog in the house?"

The answer to this question depends on:
a) one's dog
b) the second dog that is introduced into the home.

The second added, now middle aged dog
who has a dominant personality

But first let's acknowledge that generally speaking, dogs are pack animals who require social interaction with pack members not just to be happy and healthy, but to understand their own place in the world. The dog brain is wired in such a way that dogs want to understand their position in the world in relation to the other members of their pack. Some dogs are naturally submissive, some naturally dominant, and many will show varying degrees of submission or dominance based on who else is in their pack. If the pack changes, then so can the amount of submission or dominance a dog displays.

The third added, youngest, largest dog in our family
likes her family better than outsiders

My own home has recently been an example of what happens when two dogs with dominant personalities clash. Unfortunately, there was nothing equal about this clash and the much smaller dog now realizes that despite his natural urge to be in charge, that isn't going to work with a similarly tempered dog who is over five times his size. In the dog world might does make right.

The last added, 2nd senior, and would be boss
of the dogs - if the spot weren't already taken

Also worth noting; domesticated dogs perceive their packs to be made up of both the other animals and people in their world. Humans have rank in the pack and optimally, a level headed human will be the pack leader; when the dog holds the alpha spot in the family this generally results in behavior problems.

That's the long way around saying there are several things to consider when deciding if another dog will fit into your home:
  • How much socialization, time, play, attention do you give your dog? If your dog has a lot of one on one time with you, they may not care about having another dog around outside of playdates. Conversely, ignoring and neglecting a second dog doesn't improve anyone's quality of life. 
  • Does your dog appear to like other dogs? Have you ever hosted other dogs as overnight guests for at least several nights? Did your dog enjoy this or become annoyed at having to share?
  • Is your dog adopted from a situation where they are used to being in other dogs' company? When a mature dog or older puppy has spent their life with other dogs always around, they may find it difficult to adapt to being an only dog. Some dogs however, revel in finally having a person's undivided attention. (In our home, Jenny having been raised in a pack-kennel environment, was uncomfortable being an only dog.)
  • Do you as a dog handler have experience training and caring for more than one dog? If not, then consider working with an experienced trainer both in evaluating the dog you currently live with and any future dog you consider adding to the family.
Dogs equal in play needs but different in dominant tendencies
work well together
For those considering a second dog for the sake of the first dog, begin by evaluating if the first dog actually enjoys spending time with other dog's in their territory and space. If dog #1 is cool with others, then be practical about finding a #2 dog that is also cool with other dogs. Adopting a dog from a rescue staffed by people who can give you reliable information about how the dog does with others, is a good way to find the right dog #2.

Many of us, however, end up with second, or third dog not necessarily because of dog #1's needs, but because we ourselves discover another dog we would like to live with. That of course becomes a whole new can of worms, because dog #2 or #3 may or may not fit smoothly in.

In closing I would also suggest that in part choosing to have a single dog, or choosing to have multiple dogs is in many ways a personal choice, like having a favorite ice cream flavor or choosing to have one children or several children...not just that children are like ice cream and dogs, but one's personal preference plays a role in what one is comfortable with. Some people just aren't multiple dog people and some of us just aren't single dog people.

Thank goodness our dogs tend to be more flexible than we humans sometimes are.

For those who follow this blog and realize the turmoil our home was in for a while, I will add that things have settled down - which means the new protocols we implemented have worked. Gracie isn't allowed upstairs, when she's in she's tethered in the living room. She gets to cuddle up next to me on the couch when I'm writing, but at night she's crated and Chi Chi sleeps in bed with me. Everyone seems satisfied, happy, and healthy now and there is no longer a palpable tension when dogs do see each other. A big part of this settling was me stepping back up as a clearer expectation setter and more alert leader, who is quick to reinforce boundaries.

Thank you to everyone for the well wishes and support :-)


  1. Multiple dog households have their challenges, but I do think the companionship is beneficial, since so many people work all day.

    1. Many dogs do like to have companions while the people are away. Some dogs are also happy to chill with a cat as opposed to another dog ;-)

  2. Thanks for celebrating National Dog Day and talking about the question of whether to add a dog to a single dog household.

    The dominance theory of dog behavior is no longer subscribed to by most scientists who study dog behavior - see, for example, http://drsophiayin.com/philosophy/dominance http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2007250,00.html http://www.canineconsult.com/about/

    Many dogs will exhibit aggressive and/or fearful behaviors with many other dogs depending on the situation - a dog that is aggressive ("dominant") in one situation may be fearful (signaling "submission") with the same dog in another situation. It isn't that dogs don't ever get scared or bossy, but rather that these behaviors are usually pretty fluid, not based on a fixed hierarchy, which scientists now say doesn't really apply to wolves in the way we used to think (and this was the origin of misapplying it to dogs) and never should have been applied to dogs.

    It matters because the idea of dominance as the primary mode of interacting has, unfortunately, been absorbed by most US dog owners, leading to a misunderstanding of their dog's behavior and how to respond to it, to the dog's detriment. Unfortunately, uninformed nonscientists with a tv show continue to perpetuate the myth and cruelty to dogs on their tv show and cruelty toward dogs by their owners who watch it.

    I subscribe to the theory of dog (and animal) behavior that says that animals respond to different situations differently and that we can shape the behaviors we want with (usually) positive and (rarely) negative reinforcement.

    1. Yes and no ;-)

      Unlike some of the popular dog people, I do not use dominant as code for aggression and submission for fearful.I agree that behaviors are fluid and that a great deal of harm was done in training fields with the misunderstanding of how wolves interact and then taking these misunderstandings and trying to apply them to dog/human interactions.

      Stripping those words of that baggage is thus hard. Observation of canine interactions however, leaves me with the strong impression that while a dog will exhibit a range of behavior, some dogs have basically dominant personalities (many of the terriers for example), while some dogs are far more prone to submissive behavior. I should also clarify though, that many dogs are not at either binary end. My previous comments may have made it sound like I think all dogs are one or the other.

      Gracie for example has a very Alpha personality (maybe that's a better phrase than dominant). Lil on the other hand, is somewhat easygoing, but can be assertive with strange dogs. Lil shows flexible behavior that depends on the context, much more than Gracie. Probably the best example of a never ending dominant/alpha personality though was a Min. Schnazure I once lived with, who was so convinced of her power in the world that she charged a Rottweiler, a German Shepherd and other larger dogs and they always got out of her way and were respectful of her.

      Dogs do so much communicating based on body language that alpha personalities don't need to be aggressive, i.e. necessarily capable of doing another dog harm, they just enter a room like they own it. Things can become physical when such personalities collide, but again, there is often more noise and posturing than there is actual flying fur.
      Similarly, my dogs can tell when I enter a room if someone is about to get scolded, have their ears cleaned, or get taken for a walk. Their English may be limited but their capacity for reading body language is incredible.

  3. I chuckled to myself when I read the title of your excellent article. One of my dogs does have his own dog. When we added Jeffie to our family, senior dogs Lucy and Tucker were not amused. They were barely curious and sort of pretended he didn't exist. Seriously. My husband and I began frequently joking about Jeffie needing his own puppy. And when we decided to add Rudy to our family (because my husband - for the first time in his life - fell in love), we said Rudy was Jeffie's puppy. The joke was on us because Jeffie took those words to heart. Now 9 and 5 years old, Rudy is very much still Jeffie's. Not only is it funny and sweet, Jeffie raised a mighty fine dog :-)

    That said, we humans are alpha. Probably me more than Gary because my life and essence is more intertwined with theirs. Rosie is queen of the dogs, even though she's the youngest. Some days Jeffie might seem to be in charge, but even he defers to Rosie. Rudy? a very happy peon.

    Great article! I've wondered how things have sorted out and just assumed, I guess, that they had.

    1. When I was growing up my dad raised hunting Labs for a while. One day a gentlemen showed up to see the pups and it turned out, he didn't want one for hunting, he wanted one for his dog. "I heard they were good tempered and my boy gets lonely when I'm at work, so I thought I'd get him a Lab." His older dog picked out a nice, easy going chunky male pup and the three guys lived happily ever after - the guy, his dog, and his dog's dog.

    2. Love, love, love that story! And I know I'd really like that guy :-)

  4. I am glad your situation is working out. Sounds like you made some good changes.

  5. Thank you - we all seem to be doing better :-)

  6. That title is the best :) We have thought about adopting another dog but really are not sure with Cocoa for a couple reasons. We want to make sure we are making the right decision for everyone. I know there are so many dogs that need forever homes and I think about that a lot. Maybe fostering would be an option. This is a really good article!!

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment Julie! Fostering is a great way to see how your dog does with another canine in the home. And failing as a foster when you find the right dog also feels pretty good :-)

  7. The changes you have made sound like they are really working, well done!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  8. The changes you have made sound like they are really working, well done!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  9. We are a family that does much better with a stable routine and now that we've reestablished that, we're all doing much better!