Should I Get A Second Dog?

Updated June 6, 2021

Sam and Jesse are these two charming Cavaliers. The decision their owners made is the same one many dog owners face. I went through it three years ago.

However, it isn’t always a good idea…

When my dog Tinker was eight I started feeling guilty about the amount of time he was spending alone. Once all the kids were at school there was a lot of the day he had to spend without company.

Dogs are social animals and are almost always happier with another compatible dog. Knowing this, we decided it was the right time to get a puppy. Like most dog owners who make the same decision, we never regretted it.

Let’s be honest. We loved the excuse to have a second dog too.

When NOT To Get A Second Dog

If it’s carefully planned, introducing a second dog should be a big positive step. Done badly, it’s a disaster. Here’s when to reconsider:

  • When life is too busy. I took a dog home once when our baby was due. I just couldn’t put in the time that was needed, and it showed.
  • If the first dog isn’t ready. Trust me. Getting your first dog well-trained, or your old dog free from arthritic pain or disease will make everything go better.
  • If your first dog might miss out. You’ll need to still give your existing dog the same amount of  attention plus put in the extra time it takes to train a new dog.
  • If you won’t be able to walk two dogs. I walk mine together but sometimes it feels like I’m an incompetent puppeteer. I certainly find it difficult to pick them both up together, not that there’s much need.
  • If the decision isn’t shared. It’s going to be hard work and you’ll need everyone in the family on your team. You also need your older dog to want it to happen.
  • If finances are tight. The cost of the puppy is just the beginning. Other difficulties might be:
    • extra dog boarding fees
    • having a car that’s big enough
    • extra food bills
    • unexpected illnesses or injuries
    • an uncooperative landlord

By the way, owning three dogs requires special permission from Adelaide metropolitan councils. We’re all in favour it if their care is just as good, which it usually is.

Do Aggressive Or Anxious Dogs Benefit?

Strangely, most dogs that don’t like other dogs still enjoy having a mate. If your dog isn’t friendly to other dogs, he or she will usually still learn to enjoy the company of a newcomer as long as you take it very slowly. If your dog is good with other species, you may want to read our guide to getting your dog to be good with a new kitten as well.

Will getting a second dog help a dog suffering from separation anxiety?

Yes and no. There are two situations:

  1. Separation anxiety caused by the loss of another dog. Yes, a new dog will usually give rapid improvement to a dog pining for a lost mate. Sometimes a puppy is best, other times an adult dog.
  2. Separation anxiety caused by attachment to humans. Probably not at all; that’s not what these dogs need. Read what you can do for dogs with separation anxiety here.

Does My Dog Need A Companion?

No, it’s not a need. Plenty of solitary dogs live happy, meaningful lives without being bored or lonely.

A second dog isn’t a quick fix either.

  • Two dogs without stimulation can be no happier than one
  • A new dog can easily learn problem behaviour like barking instead of fixing it
  • An old dog will usually perk up but isn’t suddenly going to be young again

How Else Can I Keep My Dog Happy?

What other ideas are there to keep dogs amused?

Whatever it is you do, try to make it part of a set routine. That way your dog can cope better with the quiet times in expectation of the fun to come.

Puppy Or Rescue Shelter Dog?

So if you get a second dog, is a puppy or adult best? It’s a great opportunity to rescue a disadvantaged dog. I know from experience that the warm feeling lasts a lifetime.

Even a dog who was never socialised or trained can learn (slowly) to enjoy being a dog again. Don’t underestimate the ability of your older dog to act as a role model and mentor. It’s something I see all the time.

The critical needs are lots of:

  • Patience: there will be a lot of mistakes
  • Time: my rescued dog took nine months to settle in properly
  • Understanding: a dog behaviour professional’s advice is gold

Getting an adult does not mean you can avoid the puppy training stage. In fact it’s a lot harder to undo someone else’s neglect that train a puppy the right way once.

Most rescue dogs are young adult cross breeds. I’ve written before about how much I like these dogs.

The benefit of a puppy is that you choose exactly what sort of dog you want, and through training you teach them to be the perfect dog for your family. That’s what we did this time with our young family in choosing to get a puppy from a breeder. We got exactly the personality that suited our older dog and our family.

Next time, we’ll probably rescue another dog.

Choosing A Second Dog

  1. Adult or puppy? Some dogs prefer an adult companion who won’t want to pull their ears or steal their bed. Others get right into the mothering or fathering role and are endlessly patient.
  2. Male or female? This one’s easy: go for opposite sexes if you get the choice.
  3. Which breed? Choosing the same breed as the first dog is usually the safest choice. The size will be compatible, and you know what to expect. Though sometimes it’s nice to have a difference…
    • You may have always wanted a particular breed (we see lots of ‘his and hers’ pairs!)
    • You may want two breeds that aren’t always motivated by same thing, whether it be attention or food
    • Headstrong breeds like Jack Russell Terriers or American Staffies may get on better with other breeds than their own
    • You may just want two dogs that aren’t both huge or tiny!
    • Visit this page for recommended dogs for small children

If choosing dogs of very different sizes, a small puppy can be injured easily and a large playful puppy can terrorise a placid older dog. That doesn’t make it impossible to do if you’re careful.

Of greatest importance is to know your older dog’s personality, and try to choose a breed that will not drive him or her crazy. Pay attention to the sorts of dogs your dog likes to meet or play with. Ask our advice on suitable breed mixes.

Next week I’ll tell you how to make sure the new arrival makes your older dog’s life better, not worse!

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.