Multiple Dogs: What is the Right Number for You?
Canine Behavior Series
If having one canine family member is great, wouldn't two be better? How about three when you now have two or four if you now have three? Are there reasons to limit the number of dogs in your family? Let's look at the advantages of living with multiple dogs along with how things change as you add canine companions.
Why More Can be Better
Two or more dogs who are compatible can provide exercise for each other. This works best when they are of similar size and activity level, and both are free of physical problems that could cause pain or irritability.
Two or more dogs can provide each other with dog-to-dog social interaction. This daily contact with their own species tends to keep their ability to communicate with other dogs in good shape.
Humans who enjoy watching dog behavior will enjoy seeing the family dogs interact. Since you also get to see the dog-to-dog relationships develop over time, your understanding of your dogs can grow by watching how they react to each other. Your ability to read canine body language can be enhanced.
Incompatible dogs are those who can't work out a relationship and will injure each other. Breeders and others with dogs who are not compatible in one group manage by separating the dogs into smaller groups or separating any two dogs who are not compatible.
Plan to separate your dogs for feeding, even if they are compatible. If you have a dog accustomed to free-feeding, plan to retrain that dog to scheduled meals. It's much safer to separate dogs for feeding before there is a fight rather than waiting to see if there will be one.
Dogs cannot live together in unlimited numbers without fighting. In nature they would separate into compatible groups. This serves to spread them out so that they don't all wind up in one area where there wouldn't be enough food for all. In our homes the dogs are not able to separate into compatible groups, so this becomes a human responsibility.
Two dogs together will do things that neither of them would have done alone, such as chase and possibly kill a smaller animal. Each additional dog increases the intensity of pack mentality. If you have one dog or two dogs now doing well living with cats or birds or young children, you might find adding another dog would change that balance.
You can usually keep one female dog and one male dog together peacefully, though the early stages of the relationship may be rocky. Compatibility issues arise with same-sex dogs, and predicting which dogs will be compatible with each other is difficult. It helps to research each breed carefully, to observe each dog's behavior in training classes and other settings around other dogs and to arrange playdates with dogs similar to those you are considering.
Dogs learn from their experiences, and can be permanently changed in their ability to get along after a new dog is introduced, even if later the family places one of the dogs in a new home. The same can happen with visiting dogs or foster-care dogs.
Legal Issues and Available Facilities
Local regulations often limit the number of dogs a person can keep on a residential property. You'll want to check this out before adding another dog, rather than risk having to give up a dog after it has become a member of your family. Check local laws, neighborhood covenants, landlord agreements, and liability insurance limitations for your situation.
A majority of people with dogs in the United States have fenced yards. Of course this is not a requirement for having a dog, but it helps so much with the day-to-day management that it tends to be how people arrange things. Whatever your home situation, take careful thought as to whether you can accommodate an additional dog with the facilities you have.
Adding another dog tends to add a surprising amount of time to your daily dog-tending duties. Each dog needs individual attention from humans, away from the other dog. Each requires grooming, exercise, training, medications, poop clean-up and a lot more.
Another dog in the family increases the chances of a dog throwing up or needing an emergency trip outside in the middle of the night. It's no wonder research has found that people who have their dogs in the bedroom during sleeping hours tend to lose some sleep!
Like humans, dogs do get sick and injured in spite of the best efforts at good management. The more dogs you have, the more often you'll be dealing with the expense, heartache, and sometimes incredible amount of work to care for a sick dog.
Total medical care expenses increase with multiple dogs even when none are ill, for such things as parasite control, vaccinations and other routine procedures. When one of the dogs contracts a contagious disease, having multiple dogs often means it will spread to others of your dogs. Treatment for such an episode can get pricey.
People with one or two dogs are often able to take them along on day-trips, visits to friends or relatives, and on vacation. Going from one dog to two, or from two dogs to three can change all that. How would it affect you to have to leave your dogs behind?
You'll want to consider how increases in being boarded or cared for by a pet sitter would affect the dogs you have. Boarding and pet-sitting can both cause health and behavior problems in dogs.
If you have people come to visit you with dogs, adding an extra dog to your family can complicate these visits. Every additional dog places more pressure on the pack. One more dog in your family might mean the group can no longer peacefully tolerate visiting dogs.
Is This the Right Time?
It takes time for a dog to bond with the human family members and for the pack to stabilize. Two years is a good interval between adding new canine family members. During this time you'll want to work through any behavior problems the dog has, or else the problems might spread to the next dog!
You'll also want to train the dog to the point of good manners and control. If this is not done before adding the next dog, chances are that both dogs will wind up losing out in the training department. Everything you learn by training with one dog prepares you better for training with the next, and the trained dog(s) in your family will help you train the new one.
Sometimes people add a new dog because of an emotional need in the human's life. This is fine, of course, as long as it's good for the dogs and for everyone in the family. Thinking about the reasons you want another dog and your family's resources for dog care will help you make a good decision.
Kathy Diamond Davis is the author of the book Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others. Should the training articles available here or elsewhere not be effective, contact your veterinarian. Veterinarians not specializing in behavior can eliminate medical causes of behavior problems. If no medical cause is found, your veterinarian can refer you to a colleague who specializes in behavior or a local behaviorist.