Getting a Second Dog … When is a Good Time?

Sometimes having one dog just isn’t quite enough and the sight of a new puppy in the park gets us all broody for one of our own. There’s something about having two dogs … double the love, twice the fun … all the more chaos?

Bringing a second dog into the family isn’t a simple decision, it will be a decision which affects the whole family, including the existing dog. It can be easy to assume a new dog will enhance your current dog’s life and make everything more fun for him, especially if you own a very dog-friendly dog. However, it doesn’t always work like this and if we don’t plan and prepare enough it can do the opposite, turning your beloved dog’s life into a nightmare!

Timing is important

Adding a second dog when your current dog’s behaviour is already somewhat challenging is never a good idea. Assuming the new dog will somehow ‘fix’ your current dog is a recipe for disaster. Bringing a new dog into the home to be your dog’s new best friend and 24/7 companion is unlikely to be the solution to your problems … a second dog is not the way to fix separation anxiety issues, prevent boredom while you’re at work, or stop your dog barking.

A young puppy, or any new dog, is more likely to pick up these unwanted behaviours or anxieties than it is to ‘fix’ them. A second dog means twice as much work for you, meaning you have less time to dedicate to working on your current dog’s challenging behaviours. It’s far better to work with your dog to get his behaviour and training to a level you feel happy with, and for him to be a relatively stable, manageable dog. He may not be perfect but it’s important you are bringing a new dog into your home for the right reasons and not in the hope of fixing or improving the behaviour of your current dog.

There is no ideal age gap between dogs and no set rule for the right timing. Some people will say ‘wait until your dog is 18 months or 2 years’, but you can’t put a time limit on these decisions. An 8month old dog may be stable and reliable enough for you to feel ready to add a new dog into the home, but equally a 4 year old dog may still feel too much work and require more consistent training before a companion is a good idea. Focus on your dog’s behaviour, his training needs and the effect a new dog may have on this.

How do you know?

It can be impossible to know how a dog will react to a new addition in the family, even the most stable, friendly dog may find a new dog challenging to live with. Sometimes we aren’t fully prepared for the extra work and time a second dog will require. It can help to have a trial run, to really see how a second dog will fit into your life.

You could borrow a friend’s dog for a few days to get a feel for life with two dogs, see how your dog copes with living with another dog in the house. Make sure they’re a suitable match and start with a dog who is well-known to your dog, perhaps one you’ve walked with regularly or spent a lot of time with before.

Foster for a local dog rescue. Rescues will be well-practiced and knowledgeable about matching dogs together and should be good at working through safe, positive introductions. Fostering could be a way to meet a new dog who you choose to adopt, or to work out what you’re really looking for in a new dog, while also helping out some rescues!

Life with two

A second dog will change the dynamics at home, it’s rare that a new dog will fit right in without you having to make ANY changes. This can be unsettling for your current dog and you have to consider how to keep both dogs happy so they can enjoy their life with you and each other.

With two dogs in the household it’s often easier to let them entertain each other and spend all their time together, especially when they get along really well. This can quickly lead to a strong reliance and attachment to each other, this is not exclusive to puppies who are brought up together, it can also affect older dogs or dogs who haven’t been together since puppies. Remember that you still need to be a central part of your dog’s lives, regardless of how well they get along. Make sure you can provide them with individual attention … that means time with just you!

If you decide adding a second dog is a good idea then plan how you will ensure they both receive individual time during the week. It can help to have separate activities for them so you can be sure you maintain their solo time with you. For example, joining an agility class with one and a sniffer dog class with the other. Planning a weekly routine for two dogs may make you realise you’re taking on more than you can cope with. Fitting in two classes a week, as well as extra walks and training sessions is not easy. It could change everything for the better, or it may turn into too much.

Dogs are individuals, no matter how well they get along, or don’t get along! Some dog’s will want a lot of attention while others need their own space. Some will enjoy lots of dog-dog play and interaction, but others will have more limited tolerance for this. Consider this when you think about adding a second dog. It’s not as simple as a new dog fitting into your family and ‘just getting on with it’. It’s rarely this simple, but rather a whole lot more complicated.

Best of Friends?

If you do decide to bring a new dog into your home, don’t just expect your current dog to get on with it and teach your new dog lessons. Especially when bringing a puppy home, it can be easy to think the adult dog will show the puppy how to behave and ‘put him in his place’. This approach is not only risky for your puppy, but also incredibly stressful for your adult dog. You need to be supervising and managing all initial interactions between your two dogs, this could go on for many months or it may only take a few weeks, but you should be fully involved for as long as it takes for both dogs to be settled and relaxed together.

  1. Lessons come from you: Don’t allow your puppy to pester your adult dog and push him to the point of having to tell the puppy off. If your adult dog tells your puppy off, he’s been pushed beyond his coping point, and while it may seem to be an effective way of teaching your puppy a lesson, it will be causing a lot of unnecessary stress. Dogs being dogs will have some moments where a fair warning is given, but don’t allow this to become the norm. You should be the one to step in if you notice your puppy being inappropriate towards your other dog.
  2. Appropriate interactions: Your puppy might constantly invite your adult dog to play, continually bite, mouth or nip him, or he may jump around or lick his face. In moderation these behaviours are acceptable, but puppies don’t always know when to stop. Different dogs will have different levels of tolerance so you need to know when to step in and stop the interaction. This can occur both ways, and adult dog could also struggle to understand when to leave a new puppy alone, so always supervise those interactions
  3. Alone time is valuable: Create regular time for both dogs to have their own space. Keep puppy-free areas where your adult dog can escape to if he needs some time away. Being around a new dog or puppy all the time can be hard work for an adult dog, so give him the space to get away when he needs to. Puppies will need breaks too so encourage plenty of rest time with space away from the other dog

Until you’ve added your next dog and worked out the dynamics, the challenges, the individual needs, and their unique personalities, you can never really know how much a second dog will impact your life. It’s a risk which can really pay off and change yours and your dog’s life for the better, but without careful planning and preparation, it can turn into a nightmare.

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