If having one dog is good, is having two better, and ten even better?
I have quite a few friends who have several dogs. One brave (insane) friend has eleven! If you were to ask them, they’d answer with a hearty, “Yes!”
And there’s actually a pretty simple test to help you determine if you might fare well in that camp. Take a good look at the following picture. Does it make you smile or gulp hard? Okay, you’ve got your answer.
So is there a magic number?
As one of my favorite dog trainers, Suzanne Clothier, says, “It depends…”
…Mainly on how much time, knowledge and resources you have.
I’ll spend the rest of the post breaking all that down. But let me cut to the chase here so if you don’t want to read a lengthy post you can skip out now.
What do I think is the magic number for the average person? Two.
Why not three or more? Because two’s company (yes, it’s technically a pack, but think “pack-lite”) whereas three or more is definitely a pack. And a pack is a whole other kettle of fish that most folks just aren’t prepared or equipped to deal with.
So why do I now have three? Technically, I only have two. Or at least that’s what I keep trying to tell myself. Number 3–the little squirt–is my daughter’s. (This post explains everything.)
Why I believe two is the right number for many people:
You get the benefit of having two dogs keep each other company without the tremendous work and expense of multiples when it comes to training, feeding, exercising, grooming, vet bills, etc. The multiple list goes on and on.
Passing the time in the company of another dog can make long hours of human absence more interesting and certainly more enjoyable. Two dogs can play and investigate their environment together.
Having each other lessens the level of boredom (a real problem for city dogs and dogs left alone most of the day), thereby lessening the chances that they’ll look for a way to amuse themselves at your home’s expense.
Two dogs can provide exercise outlets for each other (especially when they are of similar size and energy levels).
Having two dogs helps keep their social skills sharpened, which, in turn, helps keep their communications skills with other dogs in good form.
You don’t have to bear the full responsibility of having to entertain your dog. And watching two dogs who play well together is a joy to behold. Since you’ll be watching how the dog-to-dog relationships develop over time, your ability to read your dogs’ body language will be enhanced.
Traveling with two dogs is still relatively easy. Just throw them in the car and go. No minivan or small bus required.
Why I believe three or more dogs is too many for most (but not all) people:
When you get to three or more dogs, you can get into serious pack management issues. In my mind, unless dogs are your whole life, you’re extremely knowledgeable, or you’re a trainer, one or two dogs is a great number to have.
Plan on separating your dogs for feeding, even if they’re compatible. Squabbles break out easily with multiple dogs when food, or other perceived limited resources come into play. It’s much safer — and easier — to separate dogs for feeding before there’s a fight, rather than waiting to see if one will occur.
Dogs cannot live together in unlimited numbers without fighting. In nature they would separate into compatible groups. This serves to spread them out so that they don’t all wind up in one area where there wouldn’t be enough food for all. In our homes the dogs are not able to separate into compatible groups, so this becomes a human responsibility.
Why, for just as many people, one is still best:
If you don’t have the space, or the time to learn a lot about pack management skills, stick with one dog. One of the most naive mistakes dog owners can make is to throw together dogs who may not be compatible and just expect things to magically work out. Incompatible dogs are those who can’t work out a relationship and will injure each other. Breeders and others with dogs who are not compatible in one group manage by separating the dogs into smaller groups or separating any two dogs who are not compatible.
Two dogs together will do things that neither of them would have done alone, such as chase and possibly kill a smaller animal. Each additional dog increases the intensity of pack mentality. If you have one dog or two dogs now doing well living with cats or birds or young children, you might find adding another dog would change that balance.
You can usually keep one female dog and one male dog together peacefully, though the early stages of the relationship may be rocky. Compatibility issues arise with same-sex dogs, and predicting which dogs will be compatible with each other is difficult. It helps to research each breed carefully, to observe each dog’s behavior in training classes and other settings around other dogs and to arrange play-dates with dogs similar to those you are considering.
Dogs learn from their experiences, and can be permanently changed in their ability to get along after a new dog is introduced, even if later the family places one of the dogs in a new home. The same can happen with visiting dogs or foster-care dogs.
And then there are the following points to consider that dog trainer, Kathy Diamond Davis, makes. She is also author of Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others.
Legal Issues and Available Facilities
Local regulations often limit the number of dogs a person can keep on a residential property. You’ll want to check this out before adding another dog, rather than risk having to give up a dog after it has become a member of your family. Check local laws, neighborhood covenants, landlord agreements, and liability insurance limitations for your situation.
A majority of people with dogs in the United States have fenced yards. Of course this is not a requirement for having a dog, but it helps so much with the day-to-day management that it tends to be how people arrange things. Whatever your home situation, take careful thought as to whether you can accommodate an additional dog with the facilities you have.
Adding another dog tends to add a surprising amount of time to your daily dog-tending duties. Each dog needs individual attention from humans, away from the other dog. Each requires grooming, exercise, training, medications, poop clean-up and a lot more.
Another dog in the family increases the chances of a dog throwing up or needing an emergency trip outside in the middle of the night. It’s no wonder research has found that people who have their dogs in the bedroom during sleeping hours tend to lose some sleep!
Like humans, dogs do get sick and injured in spite of the best efforts at good management. The more dogs you have, the more often you’ll be dealing with the expense, heartache, and sometimes incredible amount of work to care for a sick dog.
Total medical care expenses increase with multiple dogs even when none are ill, for such things as parasite control, vaccinations and other routine procedures. When one of the dogs contracts a contagious disease, having multiple dogs often means it will spread to others of your dogs. Treatment for such an episode can get pricey.
People with one or two dogs are often able to take them along on day-trips, visits to friends or relatives, and on vacation. Going from one dog to two, or from two dogs to three can change all that. How would it affect you to have to leave your dogs behind?
You’ll want to consider how increases in being boarded or cared for by a pet sitter would affect the dogs you have. Boarding and pet-sitting can both cause health and behavior problems in dogs.
If you have people come to visit you with dogs, adding an extra dog to your family can complicate these visits. Every additional dog places more pressure on the pack. One more dog in your family might mean the group can no longer peacefully tolerate visiting dogs.
Is This the Right Time?
It takes time for a dog to bond with the human family members and for the pack to stabilize. Two years is a good interval between adding new canine family members. During this time you’ll want to work through any behavior problems the dog has, or else the problems might spread to the next dog!
You’ll also want to train the dog to the point of good manners and control. If this is not done before adding the next dog, chances are that both dogs will wind up losing out in the training department. Everything you learn by training with one dog prepares you better for training with the next, and the trained dog(s) in your family will help you train the new one.
Sometimes people add a new dog because of an emotional need in the human’s life. This is fine, of course, as long as it’s good for the dogs and for everyone in the family.
Thinking about the reasons you want another dog and your family’s resources for dog care will help you make a good decision. Good luck!