Every day I am asked questions about how to fix behaviour problems between dogs in multi-dog households. Most times the problems are caused by the addition of an incompatible dog to the household. While it is true that every new dog addition will bring with it some issues related to the re-adjustment process, when you choose the right dog as your new addition, the adjustments and the adjustment period will be very minor. Adding a new dog does not have to turn your house into an active war zone, you just have to know how to pick the right dog for your family.
Where To Begin
Before you commit to bringing home a new dog, you should really sit down and have a good heart-to-heart conversation with yourself about why you want to add another dog to your household and whether it is realistically a sustainable plan. Do you have the space to comfortably add another dog? Do you have the time to put into training this new dog? Do you have the time and energy to manage a multi-dog household? Do you have the patience or the skill set to be able deal with issues that will most likely arise with the addition of this new dog AND any issues that may arise in your existing dog(s)?
Frequently, the subtle behaviour issues of your existing dog may go unnoticed to the untrained eye but as soon as you bring in another dog, ka-boom! ; your existing dog suddenly begins doing his best Cujo impersonation.
The Wrong Reasons For Wanting To Add Another Dog
In my many years working of with dogs, I have heard some incredibly unsound reasoning for wanting another dog.
I have always wanted to own a (insert name of breed here)
Since there are temperament differences from dog to dog within every breed of dog, getting a certain breed of dog will not guarantee that the dog you get will be like your neighbour’s lovely dog or even like the one you had as a family pet years ago. See the dog for who and what he is before committing to bring him home. Place more emphasis on compatibility between the dogs rather than on the dog being a specific breed, colour, or sex of dog.
I want a dog that will be my very own
Thinking that you will have your own private dog in a household with other people and other dogs and ONLY you will train it and interact with it is not a good idea. Having different rules for different dogs and relegating different people to different social rankings (this is my dog, this is your dog etc.) is setting the stage for colossal behaviour problems. The reality is all human family members have to be an active part of the training process and they all have to be part of the ranking social hierarchy. That cannot happen in a partitioned or divided household. All humans must be the leaders to all the dogs and all the dogs must have the same rules and the same expectations of behaviour placed upon them. If not everyone in the household is on board with the addition of the new dog it is best not to bring in another dog into the household.
I want a playmate for my other dog
Yes, but does your dog WANT a playmate? Not every dog wants to share their home with another dog. Also, far too often when I hear people use this reasoning I know that it is actually “code” for I want to get another dog so they will play in the back yard together. I won’t have to walk the dog for exercise because the dogs playing together will replace my need to exercise them. I won’t have to spend as much time dealing with the dogs because they will have each other. Wrong, wrong, WRONG!
In order for dogs to follow your cues, they have to form a trust/bond relationship with you. Spending time with your dog, walking them, training them are all necessary parts of the relationship building process. When dogs are relegated to the back yard to do as they please and to bond with each other, you will quickly find yourself relegated to the being the outsider in their relationship. If you have no bond with these dogs, you stand no chance of having any control over them. There is no problem with adding a second dog as a playmate and companion for your existing dog as long as you understand that this second dog is not a substitute for good responsible dog ownership and leadership.
But if I did not take this dog they were going to put him down
This is a tough one because no one wants to see a dog be put to death. And sometimes these kinds of adoptions do work out in the long run but at the same time many do not work out. Second dogs need to be added on the basis of compatibility with your existing dog and not based on the need of the dog you are adopting.
If you add an incompatible dog to the household, you run the risk of turning your household into chaos and aggression making your life miserable, your existing dog miserable, and in the end the other dog won’t be happy either. Please, for this issue you really need to think with your head and not with your heart. And if you do go ahead and adopt a dog like this please make sure that you have given a lot of thought to a sustainable plan of how you are going to keep the two dogs separated should the situation arise that they cannot get along.
It is absolutely unfair to your existing dog to place him in a situation where he is in constant danger of getting attacked by the new dog that most likely has no social skills and lots of aggression issues.
And lastly, the Grand Daddy of all bad reasoning
I want another dog because my dog has bad behaviour problems and we are tired of him biting and jumping on us. We want another dog in hopes that this re-directs his energies and we won’t get bitten and jumped on. There are so many problems with this line of thinking that I barely know where to begin.
Before you add another dog to a household, make sure that your existing dog is fully trained and has virtually no behaviour issues. Adding a second dog to live with an unstable or untrained dog will only serve to exacerbate the behaviour issues of both dogs. It will result in both dogs cyclically triggering each other’s bad behaviours. Adding a second dog is not a replacement for training or a lack of strong leadership from the owners.
The Right Reasons For Adding A Second Dog
- I have room in my heart, in my home, and my life for a second dog.
- My existing dog is stable, balanced, and well trained.
- I have the time and patience to dedicate to helping this new dog.
- I am dedicated and fully prepared to work on any problems that this new dog may have not matter who long it take or how much effort it takes.
- I have watched this dog interact with my existing dog on several occasions and the two dogs are of compatible energy and drive and they get along with each other.
- I am prepared to give this dog a forever home.
Does It Really Matter Which Dog I Bring Home?
Absolutely, yes it matters. In order to have the best success for a happy well adjusted group, thought and planning must be given to a number of issues before agreeing to bring home an additional dog.
Puppy, Adolescent, or Adult Dog?
It will matter to your dog what kind of dog you bring home. What kind of playmate or companion does your dog prefer to spend time with? Is he intimidated by a more mature dog? Does he do better with younger dogs? Does a dominant energy set him off? Set your dog up for success by bringing home the most compatible dog for him.
Even when bringing home a puppy as the second dog, observe the puppy beforehand to identify its temperament before committing to bring it home. A dominant puppy will grow to be a dominant dog. Two dominant energies will produce constant tensions that you will have to continually address and manage. I observed our new addition, Skylar, for several weeks to make sure that his temperament was very laid back and naturally submissive. As a result, I had absolutely no behaviour problems to contend with once Skylar came home because all of the dogs temperaments are compatible.
The Energy Level Of Your Current Dog
The dog that you bring in should ideally be of slightly lower energy and drive than your current dog. If you bring in a higher energy dominant dog, then your current dog will trigger fights because he does not want another more powerful dog taking over his household. If the new dog coming in is dominant it will cause fights because he understands that he can easily take over from the lower energy dog. This is not a very compatible match. Also, age should be taken into consideration. A much older dog will be less tolerant of a young bouncy puppy or a cocky adolescent dog. To be compatible there should not be a huge age difference between the dogs.
Opposite Sex Dogs Usually Make For A More Compatible Match
Two females may fight each other especially if their energies are too similar. Two males with similar energies can be at a high risk to fight also. Two unaltered dogs together will almost always guarantee constant fighting between them. But the bigger indicator of compatibility is the energy level and temperaments of the two dogs, not the sex of the dogs.
How Stable Is Your Current Dog?
If your current dog has issues with separation anxiety, is a nuisance barker, a fence fighter, aggressiveness, resource guarding, leash reactivity, or anxiety, you had better be very careful about the energy and the problems that second dog may have. Sometimes, a very laid back dog can help another anxious or fearful dog by modeling appropriate behaviour but the second dog can just as easily trigger the first dog into launching attacks turning your house into something resembling a war time demilitarized zone. You do not want the dogs mirroring each other’s bad behaviour. If your current dog is unstable, adding a second dog may not be advisable.
Make This A Forever Commitment
And remember, it can take 6 months or longer for a new dog to fully adjust to his new home. Add to that another 6 months of consistent training and bonding with the new family members, learning new commands, and learning the new rules to the household. This is a long process. Please make sure that you can dedicate the time and energy to this process. Returning a dog because he did not work out in your home is very hard on a dog.
The constant loss of permanence and predictability caused by the constant changes in his environment causes dogs to become anxious, fearful, neurotic or aggressive. Do not further contribute to a dog’s issues by making a hasty or ill advised decision.
So please, give careful thought to the dog that you are bringing into your household. Have a realistic and sustainable plan in place before you commit to bringing home that new addition to your household. With careful planning and good compatibility, you can have a new multi-dog family that adds pleasure to your life, not drama, chaos, struggle and tension.
Tomorrow I give you the steps involved to Successfully Integrating A New Dog Into Your Pack.
As always, we welcome your questions, comments, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories, wisdom, and experience, we may well be helping someone who is currently struggling with their Snow Dog.
Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.