Last updated: June 30, 2021. Originally published: April 11, 2014.
I don’t know what it is about us crazy dog people, man.
One dog is never enough. At some point, we all get the itch to add to our collection.
Two dogs can be fun. A couple of goofballs who get along will keep you entertained. They can keep each other company when you’re not around. You get to pretend that you are lord of the beasts, leading your pack on perilous journeys through the wilds of suburbia. Good stuff. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure.
But hold up there, beast master. Creating harmony in a multiple dog household is a delicate thing. So it’s worth it to take some time to do some careful planning.
Two dogs = At least three times the work
A new dog always needs more attention than an established dog, of course.
But when you adopt a second dog, you have to spend time training and hanging out with each dog individually, and together. You have to develop your relationship one-on-one with the new family member. You also have to develop a positive relationship between the two dogs.
And dog-to-dog resource guarding is almost always present, to some degree, when there are two or more dogs in a house, so careful supervision and management is critical when integrating a second dog. You’ll be amazed at how much time you spend, at least for the first couple months, making sure no skirmishes break out over toys, food, beds, trash, or people.
Think about how much time and effort your current dog takes. Multiply it by three. Realistically, is that something you’ll be able to handle?
Work on your current dog’s behavior issues first
“My dog drives me crazy. She barks and digs and destroys things. I’m hoping to get her a doggie playmate so she won’t do those things anymore.”
This plan is like walking across a freeway blindfolded. Sure, there’s a chance the gods will smile upon you and you’ll escape unscathed. But really? You’re asking for trouble.
Dogs almost never “fix” each other. But they sure do pick up on each other’s bad habits.
If your current dog freaks out when the doorbell rings, the new dog will quickly learn to do this too. If your dog steals food off the table, new dog will probably think that’s a BRILLIANT idea. If your dog barks and lunges at strangers on walks… you get the idea.
Deal with Dog no. 1’s issues first. Train her up good. Turn her into the kind of role model you WANT your next dog to learn from.
- How to Solve Practically Any Annoying Dog Behavior Problem
- Dog Training 101: How to Teach Your Dog to Do Practically Anything
Make sure your dog is actually cool with other dogs
This is a big issue that sometimes gets lost in the excitement: a lot of dogs just don’t get along with other dogs. For some, it’s because they were poorly socialized as puppies (a problem plaguing the modern pet dog: many never learn how to communicate with their own species). And some simply prefer the company of humans.
You may already know how Fido does with other dogs. If Fido enjoys his weekly trips to the dog park with his buddies, great! Skip to the next section.
If you don’t know, you’ll need to set up some meet-n-greet situations:
Play dates – Ask your friends and family with well-mannered canines to meet you in a park (one at a time, please). Why a park and not your backyard? You need a neutral location where neither dog has any territory to defend. Scroll down for instructions on dog/dog introductions.
Classes – Sign up for an obedience or agility class (it’ll do you both good anyway). Most classes are not set up for dogs to interact with each other, so don’t expect playtime. But it will give you an idea of how Fido behaves around his species. Is he totally chill or freaking out? Does he want to play or kill somebody?
Dog parks – But not until Fido has done well at a play date or class first. Never take a dog whose behavior you’re unsure about to a dog park, as things can get ugly fast.
“My dog is reactive/aggressive/socially awkward with other dogs. Can I still adopt another?”
This is the question all of us with “complicated” dogs ask ourselves at one point or another. Because the kind of person who is dedicated enough to put in the work with their reactive dog, is especially the kind of person who probably won’t be satisfied with just one dog. But are you destined to be a single-dog household for the life of your dog? Maybe, but not necessarily. Many people with complicated dogs do eventually -and very carefully!- adopt a second dog.
It’s a question that’s impossible to give a general answer to. It depends on many factors, like whether it’s safe to do so (most households aren’t equipped for a dog with a bite history to live with a new dog), WHY you want one (is it for Fido or you?) and how much careful management you’re willing to do for the rest of Fido’s life. More on this later in the article.
2021 UPDATE: We’re in the process of integrating two “packs” of complicated dogs ourselves. We’ve been sharing a lot of updates on this process, and we used our footage to make an online course all about dog-to-dog intros. If you’re the owner of a complicated dog and you’re considering adopting another pup, I highly recommend following our story. It should give you a sense of what this kind of process is really like. See:
- The first video: River and Flower Meet for the First Time (Tips for Introducing Dogs)
- The course: Dog Introductions Demystified
- Follow our updates on Instagram @threelostdogs
Choosing Dog No. 2
Factors to consider
Energy level – most dogs seek out dogs who have the same energy level or “vibe.” A mellow dog will probably get along with another mellow dog. Not always, though. Sometimes a quiet dog will come out of her shell when paired with a more energetic playmate.
Age – If you have a arthritic thirteen year old dog, a crazy puppy will probably drive her insane. She might do best with a 3-5 year old companion. If you have a rambunctious one year old, getting another rambunctious teenager will probably drive YOU insane.
Gender – as a general rule, it’s best to get a dog of the opposite sex from your current one. There is less competition for resources and territory between male/female pairs. This is a very general rule, though. There are always exceptions.
As you can tell from my infuriatingly vague wording, canine matchmaking is more art than science. So how do you make the right choice?
Figure out your dog’s type
If you’re not sure what kind of dog your dog will like best, ask him.
During all the play dates and dog park visits you’ll be doing to make sure Fido plays nice with others, take notes. Which dogs are Fido drawn to, and which ones does he avoid?
My grumpy old man Merlin gets overwhelmed by large dogs, so he gravitates toward ones who are smaller than him. My medium-sized tan mutt Jonas, may he rest in peace, disliked most dogs except those who looked like him: medium sized and tan (one theory was that they reminded him of his littermates).
When Fido finds a friend, note the age, size, personality, and energy level. That just might be the kind of dog you should look for. Which brings us to our next point of consideration:
Should you adopt your dream dog or YOUR DOG’S dream dog?
Can you adopt a dog whose personality is not totally compatible with that of your current dog?
That depends on WHY you want another dog. If you just want another pet, a buddy for dog no. 1, then you should focus on finding one with the perfect temperament to suit him.
But what if you don’t want a buddy for your dog – you want a buddy for you? Like if you need a second dog for a specific purpose -a sport, job, hobby, etc- that your current dog isn’t well-suited for.
For example, you have a shy dog who doesn’t take kindly to intense, energetic pups. But you want a young, high-drive border collie with whom to pursue your agility dreams.
This can work, with extra time and effort. Look for a dog who First Dog can at least tolerate. Because lifelong supervision of two dogs who want to kill each other is an enormous project that will make you miserable. Some people manage to pull it off, yes, but it takes a toll.
It might help to figure out what traits you need your new dog to have, and which ones you can compromise on to make First Dog happier. Example: you want an energetic border collie who will take well to agility training. But First Dog hates obnoxious puppies. So instead of getting a border collie puppy, look for a well-socialized two-year-old.
When introducing dogs who are not likely to be best friends, the stuff we’re going to mention later (management, the creation of positive associations, etc) is especially critical. If “go slow” is the mantra of successful dog introductions in general, “go at a glacial pace” is the mantra of successfully introducing less compatible dogs.
At the Shelter
First, visit the shelter without First Dog and find a few suitable candidates.
See also: How to Adopt a Dog: The Video Series
Some shelters may allow you to bring your own dog with you as you walk the kennel rows, but I can’t stress enough how much I don’t recommend doing that.
Imagine walking through a room while a bunch of strangers yelled in your face. That’s basically what it’s like to be a dog walking through a shelter kennel. First Dog’s adrenaline will be through the roof, which will cause problems with any dog intros you attempt after this.
General guidelines for introducing dogs
Learn how to read dog body language. This is important when you’re choosing any dog to adopt, and it’s even more important when you’re adopting a second dog. There is a hell of a lot more to canine communication than just tail wags and growls. You don’t want to miss any subtle signals.
Our dog body language resources:
- Dog Speak 101 – a free online course that will teach you the basics.
- Dog Introductions Demystified – the advanced dog speak class. It’ll teach you all the stuff you need to know to make your intros go as well as possible – especially if you have a reactive, shy, or otherwise “complicated” dog.
Keep the leashes as slack as possible. Your instinct will be to hold the leashes taut. Don’t give in to this impulse. Two reasons:
1. It forces the dogs to walk with their heads up high. This a sign of aggression or a power play in the dog world. It’ll put everybody on the defensive.
2. It may irritate the heck out of the dogs. Bad moods all around.
Approach at an angle. Don’t walk straight towards each other. Dogs never approach head on unless they’re being rude or they’re looking for a fight. Ideally, you and your assistant will move so that you meet at the point of a “V”.
The dogs will probably go straight to sniffing each other’s butts. Let them. This is the standard polite canine greeting.
The dogs will probably walk in a circle as they sniff each other’s butts. Don’t let the leashes tangle. Keep the leashes fairly loose, but be ready to pull them apart if they get into a kerfuffle.
If both dogs are calm and relaxed, you can let them sniff for up to 30 seconds.
If one starts getting tense, then you and your assistant should cheerfully call your dogs and walk in opposite directions. After a minute, walk back towards each other and try again.
Many dogs feel most comfortable if allowed “bite-sized” interactions: let them sniff for three seconds, walk away, come back, walk away, and so on.
If the dogs show no interest in interacting or playing, do not force them. Let them proceed at their own pace.
Once the initial introduction is done, take the dogs on a walk together. Let them stop and sniff the roses if they wish. If one of them urinates on the roses, let the other sniff that, too. Dogs learn a lot about each other that way.
If possible, have the dogs meet more than once before you adopt Second Dog. It always helps to meet with a prospective dog more than once to get the most accurate read on their personality.
Guidelines for moving in together
Once you’ve signed the paperwork and Second Dog is yours, bring both dogs to a neutral location close enough to your house that you can walk home.
Let the dogs meet again, and then head for home. Walking together gives the dogs a chance to relax in each other’s company and creates positive associations with each other (“this new dog = walks? Cool”)
Before you bring the dogs in the house, pick up all dog toys and bowls. This is dog number one’s home turf, and she might feel compelled to protect it. Keep Second Dog away from First Dog’s bed. Keep children away from the dogs in case of sudden skirmishes.
The next step is to feed the dogs, to continue building positive associations. Keep them physically separated, either with leashes or baby gates. Feed them far enough apart so that they don’t feel threatened, but close enough so that they both know the other is there. You can also play with each dog individually, still keeping them separated. It’s a good idea if you and your assistant take turns visiting with each dog.
Once the food dishes and toys are all picked up, you can let the dogs interact some more.
For the first couple days at least, make sure there are no toys lying around for dogs to get territorial over. Watch them closely and never leave them unsupervised together, unless Second Dog is safely ensconced in his crate or pen.
Need more help than this? Check out Dog Introductions Demystified
This online course teaches beyond-the-basics techniques for safe and happy dog introductions. It’s also a deep dive into the body language and “rules” of dog-to-dog interaction.
You’ll learn how to:
- Adapt the basic dog intro guidelines to the unique dogs you’re working with
- Recognize subtle warning signs that most people would never pick up on
- Know when you need to intervene when dogs interact
- Safely break up a dog fight
- Introduce dogs who are shy, reactive, or rambunctious
- Know what to look for during the meet and greet with your potential second dog