Your dog is now an adult, and he’s turned out to be the perfect pet. He’s sociable, well mannered and you love him to bits – so much so that you want more of the same! However, before you ring the breeder and book a mini version of your beloved, consider the promises that you need to make well in advance, in order to give your new puppy the opportunities that your first dog had.
Top five rules of owning a second dog
1. Pretend this is your only dog!
Some ten years ago, my behaviour practice reviewed our cases of dog-to-dog aggression. We looked for common denominating factors in adult dogs which showed aggression to other dogs out on walks, and came up with some rather surprising results. These indicated that second dogs were much more likely to develop such problems that ‘only’ dogs in the home! Many people are surprised by this – it is easy to assume that a second dog will gain social confidence from its buddy at home and will therefore need less socialisation with other dogs outside the home. Sadly, the exact opposite seems to be true! Our experience is that a puppy coming into a home where an older dog already exists needs more socialisation with other dogs, not less, and he needs to do this on his own, without his new friend there to back him up.
2. Age before cutey
In order to protect your new puppy from becoming a spoilt little monster, it’s vital that he should learn to respect his elders and betters! If you have a strong-minded, mature bitch already at home, this rarely proves a problem! Such bitches act like strict Aunts – telling the puppy off for breathing in the wrong way, let alone allowing them to act like hoodlums! However, if you already own an all-tolerant male, or a young and playful female, then watch out! Just as children need to learn that they cannot always get their own way, so puppies need to be taught restraint, and biting their new friend all over is not doing them a favour! Of course, you want your two dogs to get on with each other, but allowing the pup to pester an older dog that won’t tell him off is simply telling your puppy that this is acceptable behaviour with all other dogs – and is going to get him into trouble in the park before he’s too much older. If your existing dog can’t or won’t discipline the new puppy appropriately, then you must step in and break up the action. Such intervention needs to be frequent and consistent – and the urgency for your pup to meet less tolerant dogs in the big, bad world is dramatically increased.
Of course, quite apart from the need to protect your pup from learning bad habits, is the need to keep your older dog’s routine and bond with you as close as possible. Quite frankly, many older dogs are less than thrilled when a new puppy comes into the home and find themselves coming second in their owners’ attentions and affections. Maintaining time and contact with your older dog is vital – after all, the reason why you wanted another is due to him!
3. Cutting the apron strings
Of course, one of the delights of getting a second dog is that you will be able to enjoy exercise and being out and about together, as a family. Well, yes, and no! At the outset, it is essential that you get your puppy out for exercise, training and socialisation without your older dog being present. Unfortunately, yes, this does mean walking them, training them and socialising them separately! While many owners don’t relish the idea of having to walk twice as often every day, you owe it to your new puppy to build social confidence as an individual – out from under the shadow of their new companion. Sadly, many owners of new puppies are genuinely shocked at how nervous and fearful their new addition is of other dogs on the first night of puppy class, and often comment on how bold the other ‘solo’ pups seem to be compared to theirs. They are amazed to find that it is because their pup has an older dog to rely on at home, and that he or she cannot cope without him.
4. Different strokes
One of the reasons why people often get another dog is that they are utterly addicted to the breed of their first love! Indeed, the vast majority of second-dog owners that we see in puppy classes have chosen to get another dog of the same breed as the first – often from the same breeder! Of course, this has the advantage that you know what to expect… or do you?! Even though breeds will exhibit certain general characteristics, it is vital to treat each dog as an individual – and to try not to compare them against each other, any more than you would compare your children. Over and over, we hear the same comments from owners who are taken by surprise at the difference in behaviour between their new puppy and their old dog: despite the knowledge that time fades memories and that all dogs are individuals!
Of course, if your second dog is of a different breed or type from your first, it is also important to recognise the differences between them. While puppies often do pick up the habits of older dogs that they live with, individual breeds will inevitably develop in ways that they are driven to by their genetic potential. For this reason, those that choose to get a Beagle after owning a Collie may have to learn new training skills and ways to motivate their new dog!
5. Playing by the rules
Human sanity can often be sorely tested by the antics of two canine companions enjoying each other’s company! While it’s wonderful to watch your tiny pup playing with your adult dog, allowing the canine equivalent of sumo wrestling on an ad lib basis may well lead to tears before bedtime! Play between dogs is a form of arousal – and as such it can easily tip over the top into aggression. More practically, but just as important, is the fact that it is also highly enjoyable – even addictive. The consequence of this, is that it may become your new pup’s main focus – to the exclusion of you. Your aim should be to build a real bond with your new pup, and not just act as a poor substitute for your other dog. Of course, dogs are more likely to bond with their own species rather than us if possible – we are slow-moving and dull in comparison! For us to build a good relationship with a second dog we have to battle against the natural laws of social animals, and make ourselves more important than another dog – and this means interrupting and even limiting the amount of play they have together.
Having two dogs can be a wonderful experience, but only if you treat them as separate entities at the start. Only once your puppy has built a strong bond with you, has learned to cope with the wide world at large, and has discovered how to stand on all four paws when meeting other dogs, can you truly be one happy family.