It is becoming increasingly common for dog owners to decide to get a second dog. The reasons for this can be varied. Some simply want a permanent playmate for their four-legged friend. Others want to give a dog from an animal shelter a new home for animal welfare reasons. Keeping multiple dogs can be a fascinating and fulfilling task. Provided you are well prepared for the newcomer. Thomas Baumann, the author of the book “Multi-dog Husbandry – Together for More Harmony”, gives some tips on how to turn two dogs into a harmonious, small pack.
Requirements for keeping multiple dogs
“It makes sense to deal intensively with one dog first before adding a second one. Owners must be able to develop an individual relationship with each dog, so several dogs should not be purchased at the same time,” recommends Baumann. Every dog is different, and has different strengths and weaknesses and training requires sufficient attention, patience, and, above all, time. A nice principle says: You should only keep as many dogs as there are hands for stroking, otherwise the social contact will suffer. Also, not every dog naturally loves “life in a pack”. There are extremely owner-related specimens that see a conspecific as a competitor rather than a playmate.
Of course, keeping more than one dog is also a question of space. Each dog needs its lying area and the opportunity to avoid the other dog so that its distance is maintained. In behavioral biology, individual distance describes the distance to another being (dog or human) that a dog just tolerates without reacting to it (be it with flight, aggression, or evasion). So there should be enough space for both dogs, both in the living area and on walks.
The financial requirements must also be met for a second dog. The feed costs double, as do the expenses for veterinary treatment, liability insurance, accessories, and training the dogs. As a rule, it is also considerably more expensive for the dog tax, which in many communities is significantly higher for the second dog than for the first dog.
If these requirements are met, the search for a suitable second dog candidate can begin.
Which dog fits
For dogs to harmonize, they don’t have to be of the same breed or size. “What matters is that the animals are compatible with each other in terms of character,” explains Baumann. A courageous and a rather timid dog can complement each other well, while a jovial fellow with a bundle of energy can quickly be overwhelmed.
Owners of older dogs often decide to adopt a puppy as well. The reasoning behind it is “This will keep the senior young – and make it easier for us to say goodbye.” A young dog can be a welcome playmate for an older animal. But it is also possible that a dog whose strength is slowly dwindling is simply overwhelmed by an impetuous puppy and feels pushed to the sidelines. The peaceful and well-rehearsed togetherness can come as a real stumble. Anyone who decides to do so must give priority to the older animal and ensure that the dog senior does not suffer a loss of status through the second dog.
The first encounter
Once the right second dog candidate has been found, the first step is to get to know each other. A new dog shouldn’t just move into the existing dog’s territory overnight. Responsible breeders and also animal shelters always offer the possibility that the animals can be visited several times. “Owners should give their four-legged friends time to get to know each other. It makes sense to meet several times on the neutral ground.” Initially, a careful sniffing session on a loose leash is recommended before a freewheeling session takes place. “Then it’s a matter of closely observing the behavior of the four-legged friends: If the dogs ignore each other all the time, this is rather atypical and therefore a comparatively bad sign. If they engage in interaction, which may include a brief scuffle, chances are the individuals will become a pack.”
The human-canine pack
It takes some time and energy for the individuals to form a harmonious, small “pack” to give both animals the right leadership. The “pack” has to grow together first. But one thing should be clear from the start: who sets the tone in the human-dog relationship, namely you as the dog owner. The dogs meanwhile decide among themselves which of them is superior in rank. A clear line in dog training includes observing and respecting this. Which dog goes through the door first? Who are a few steps ahead? This canine hierarchy needs to be recognized – there is no such thing as equality among the wolf descendants. Accordingly, the alpha dog gets his food first, is greeted first, and leashes first to go for a walk.
If the ranking is clear, the higher-ranking person does not have to prove himself further. If the pack hierarchy is not accepted, this is a signal for the dogs to compete with each other again and again, possibly through constant fights. This leads to constant conflicts.
Raise two dogs
Building a small pack of dogs requires a lot of attention. Keeping an eye on both dogs at all times is an exciting challenge. The support of an expert can be useful and helpful. Together with a dog trainer, dog owners can learn a lot about the body language of their animals and assess situations more reliably. The confident handling of two dogs should also be trained. This can include, for example, going for a walk together with the double leash or reliably retrieving each animal or even both dogs at the same time.
If you have patience, perseverance, and some dog sense, life with several dogs can be a lot of fun. The dogs not only gain a canine friend but also gain in quality of life. And life with several dogs can also be a real enrichment for dog owners: “People get a better feeling for the animals because they can learn a lot more about interaction and communication than with the single-dog variant. That is what makes keeping multiple dogs so appealing,” says Baumann.