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Knowing When to Get a Second Dog

Author: Cathy Madson, MA, FDM, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Published: June 13, 2024

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two golden retrievers togetherAdding a second dog to your family can double the fun, love, and companionship in your home. There are a myriad of reasons for getting a second dog.

You may want to add a second dog to keep your current dog company and give them a playmate.

Perhaps you want to adopt a dog or are passionate about a particular breed.

For some families, adding a second dog means children can build a special relationship with the new dog. 

When I first decided to add a second dog to my life, it was because I was starting my career as a dog trainer and wanted a younger dog to work with and use as a helper dog with clients. My dog at the time was middle-aged and not a great match for working as a helper dog for training clients.

Bringing home a second dog doubles the responsibility, requires more of your time, and increases overall costs. And while all the human members of your family may be on board with adding a new dog, will your current dog do well with a new buddy?

There is a lot to consider, whether you should get a second dog at all and when it's best to add another dog to your life. Let's look at how to decide if you, your family, and your current dog are ready for another furry family member and how to go about it.

Are You Ready for Two Dogs at Home?

Adding a second dog requires more time, effort, and resources. You'll also spend more on the basics, like dog food, supplies, pet insurance, and veterinary care.

But you'll also need to invest in training for both of your dogs and managing behaviors that pop up when you have a multi-dog household. Issues like potty accidents, barking, pulling on the leash, jumping on people, and other dog behaviors can become very frustrating for people when there are two dogs doing them instead of one.

You'll also have to learn how to manage behaviors like resource guarding between dogs and slowly work up to trusting both dogs being left home alone together.

Many dog owners get another dog thinking that it will help their current dog's separation anxiety. If your dog has what's called "isolation distress," where they get anxious when left alone (but not when left home with another pet), a second dog might help.

However, if your dog has separation anxiety, where they become anxious when separated from a particular person(s) even if someone else is around, then adding a second dog isn't your best option. Often, getting a second dog for a dog with true separation anxiety just results in TWO dogs having separation anxiety. Learn more about how to help a dog with separation anxiety here.


two dogs playing together Is Your Dog Ready for a Second Dog?

This is by far the most important thing to consider when you get the inkling to get another dog. Your first priority should be the dog in your home already, and it wouldn't be fair to them to bring home a puppy or adopt another dog if their quality of life suffers. 

Will Your Dog Enjoy Living with Another Dog?

Does your dog actually like being around other dogs? If you're not sure, think about how they react to seeing other dogs while out on walks. Do they show interest in wanting to interact with other dogs in a positive way? Or do they bark and lunge because they want the other dog to leave them alone?

Do they actively avoid meeting other dogs? If your dog attends daycare, ask the staff what kinds of dogs they enjoy being around and playing with. This can give you an idea of what to look for in a second dog.

PRO TIP: If your dog is leash reactive towards other dogs, this doesn't mean they can't live with another dog. For many dogs, being on leash is a specific context that causes fearful or reactive behaviors.

I know quite a few leash reactive dogs that do very well with dogs off leash or with fellow dogs in the home. Work with a certified dog trainer or behavior consultant to determine if your reactive dog will do well with a second dog.



Things to Consider in a Second Dog

Energy Level

An older, more mellow, and less active dog at home might not enjoy a canine companion that's constantly on the move. However, if you're able to provide a younger, high-energy dog with appropriate physical and mental exercise, they may make an excellent buddy. Often an older dog gets more pep in their step when they have a younger dog companion keeping them active. Just make sure that one isn't overwhelming the other with their zest for life.

Play Style

Some dogs play more rough and tumble, while others are big into playing chase. When considering a second dog for your family, ask the rescue or breeder about how they play with others and make sure it's not a style that will be too much for your current dog to handle (or for you to manage). 

For more examples on what proper dog play looks like, check out "Press Pause: How to Manage Dog Play."

small dog playing with larger dogSize of Both Dogs

If you have a tiny breed, bringing home a giant dog might not be ideal.

Many large dogs do very well with smaller housemates, but size differences can put small dogs (and small children) at higher risk of getting stepped on, sat on, bumped into, knocked over, and other incidental and unintentional mishaps.

Having a big size difference between dogs means you'll need to practice heavy management and make sure that both dogs have had positive socialization experiences with dogs of the other size as puppies.

What's the Best Age for Adding a Second Dog?

Make sure you consider what age of dog will fit into your lifestyle and current routine, as well as what age would be the best match for your current dog's age. Two years between dogs often tends to be the "rule of thumb." This allows for a young puppy to get through most of adolescence (the hardest time of life, behavior-wise) before adding another dog to the mix. Trust me, you don't want to raise two teenage dogs at the same time.

Some older dogs just don't enjoy puppies. Others absolutely love playing "mother hen" to young pups. And in some cases, an elderly dog might really want to play but just isn't sturdy or strong enough to keep up. Be very careful when adding a much younger dog than a senior dog.

While it isn't advisable to adopt two puppies (especially littermates) at the same time, if you have an adolescent dog at home already, adding another adolescent can be a great match — as long as they both have enough physical and mental exercise every day, and you're committed to training for two dogs at once.


older dog with younger puppy

Should the Second Dog Be the Same Gender?

One of the decisions you'll face is whether to get a dog of the same gender as your current one. While there are exceptions to every rule, the general consensus among dog behavior consultants and experienced owners suggests that choosing a dog of the opposite gender can minimize future conflict and mean a smoother integration into the family.

Dogs of the same gender are more likely to exhibit aggression toward each other, especially if they are both unneutered males or unspayed females. Choosing dogs of opposite genders can reduce the likelihood of aggression issues arising, and if they do, dogs of opposite genders have a better likelihood of resolution with behavior modification.

Opposite-gender pairs may have complementary personality traits. Although this largely depends on the individual dogs’ temperaments, many owners report that a balance between a male and female dog creates a harmonious dynamic within the home.

It's not impossible for same-gender dogs to live together harmoniously. Much success depends on proper introduction, training, and management.

Ensuring each dog has their own space (such as beds, crates, and bowls), and giving them equal attention can mitigate resource guarding. Additionally, closely monitoring interactions in the early stages of their relationship helps in recognizing and addressing potential issues before they escalate.



Does Breed Matter When Getting a Second Dog?

When you're thinking about getting a second dog, the breed or breed mix you get doesn't necessarily matter to your dog. Many owners of a particular breed simply fall in love with the look, temperament, or other breed-specific aspect.

Do Dogs Recognize Dogs of the Same Breed?

Stories abound of many dogs that gravitate to the same breed at the dog park or in dog daycare. As of yet, we don't really know if dogs recognize other dogs as being the same breed as they are.

One theory is that a dog might recognize their own breed based on having been raised with litter mates and recognizing their mother, but this has yet to be scientifically proven. However, according to a 2013 study, dogs can recognize another dog as being the same species on sight alone!

Every Dog Is an Individual — But Certain Breeds Have Certain Predispositions

If you're considering a certain breed or breed mix as a second dog, make sure to do your research. Then you'll know what to expect if you bring home a Husky versus a Pug.

It's important to note that every dog is an individual. Just because they are part Border Collie doesn't mean they will try to herd every moving thing. But it's more likely than if you get a Saint Bernard or a Hound mix.

different dog breeds
Certain dog breed groups have different tendencies than others, what many trainers refer to as "drives."

These drives are natural canine tendencies that have been specifically selected for in that breed or breed group, and made them great at certain jobs. Think about how your home and lifestyle work with certain breed characteristics.

Scent hounds will follow a certain smell for miles, just watch any Beagle who smells the barbecue across town.

Sight hounds, like an Afghan Hound or Greyhound, love to chase moving prey.

Border Collies, Corgis, and other herding dogs are known for circling or nipping at heels.

Huskies, bred to pull sleds in the demanding environment of Siberia, can run all day.

Golden Retrievers and Labs like to pick things up with their mouths — they're bred to retrieve!

Consider what drives your current dog exhibits. Do you appreciate them or find them tough to manage?

If you love your dog's breed-specific quirks, then another of the same breed or breed group could be great. If you find it overwhelming to manage certain breed group behaviors, look for a dog from a different breed group.

Be Cautious About Bringing Home Littermates

It might be tempting to bring home two puppies at once, but I don't recommend ever bringing home littermates. This can result in what's called "littermate syndrome." While not technically a syndrome, this is a phenomenon often observed in littermates (or unrelated puppies of the same age) raised together in the same home.

The puppies may become so bonded to each other that they don't properly bond with their human family members, leading to a range of potential behavioral issues.

This intense attachment can result in high levels of anxiety when the dogs are separated, difficulty in training because they are more focused on each other than on the human's cues, and sometimes even aggression toward each other as they reach social maturity. I have had to dismiss many littermate pairs from dog daycare, as they can pair up and inappropriately target other dogs.

Should you find yourself with littermates, here are several tips to ensure a positive outcome:

  • Make sure to spend one-on-one time with each pup, such as taking walks with just one at a time. This individual attention will help each dog develop independence and a strong bond with you rather than relying solely on their sibling.

  • Attend training classes separately. This will help them build a relationship with you without the distraction of their littermate.

  • Go to the veterinarian separately.

  • Crate and feed them separately to prevent resource guarding and promote individual confidence. While the crates may start out right next to each other, work on slowly moving them further apart as the puppies mature.

  • Consistently exposing them to different environments and experiences without the presence of their littermate will further aid in their ability to adapt and thrive independently.

two small dogs eating near each other

Set Yourself Up for Success

Connect with a Certified Trainer

Working with a certified professional dog trainer can help you in a few ways:

  1. Determine whether your current dog will enjoy having a second dog in the home

  2. Help you address any current training or behavior issues before adding a new dog

  3. Provide "matchmaking" services and help you find a second dog

  4. Teach you how to manage a multi-dog household

  5. Decode canine body language so you can learn what dogs are saying to each other

virtual dog training and behavior consultations

Learn Canine Body Language

Beyond learning how to "speak dog" from a certified trainer, watching video footage of dogs in different situations will go a long way to better understand canine communication.

There are lots of resources out there, and we've linked to some of our favorites on our "Decoding Canine Body Language" page.

Bringing a New Dog Home

Bringing home a new dog is always a bit stressful for both you and your current dog. Routines change, and everyone has to learn how to share their space a bit more.

A new dog needs time and space to settle in during their transition period. Set up separate safe spaces for your dogs where they can go when they need some alone time. Home setup and lots of positive training will go a long way in multi-dog households. To learn more, check out "How to Introduce Your New Dog to Your Other Pets."

Work closely with the shelter, rescue, or breeder of your new dog to set up safe meet-and-greets, and work with a certified dog trainer to help you successfully integrate your new pup into your life.

Are you thinking about adding another dog to your home?
Let us know what questions you have in the comments section below!

About the author

Profile picture for Cathy Madson

Cathy Madson, MA, FDM, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

As Preventive Vet's dog behavior expert and lead trainer at Pupstanding Academy, Cathy focuses on helping humans and their pets build a strong relationship based on trust, clear communication, and the use of positive reinforcement and force-free methods. With over 13 years of experience, she has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of dogs on a wide variety of training and behavior issues. Beyond her one-on-one consultations through Pupstanding Academy, she also teaches group dog training classes at Seattle Humane. Her specialties include dog aggression, resource guarding, separation anxiety, and puppy socialization.

Cathy is a certified Family Dog Mediator, and certified through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, holding both the CPDT-KA and CBCC-KA designations. Cathy is a Fear Free Certified Certified Professional, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild, and the Dog Writer's Association of America. She has also completed the Aggression in Dogs Master Course.

When she's not geeking out about dogs, you can find her reading, hiking with her two Cardigan Welsh Corgis, or paddleboarding.