What I Really Think About Having 2 Dogs vs 3 Dogs

3-aussies-playing Q: From the Mailbag: Natasha asks, I currently have two male dogs (a Labrador 5 yrs and a Yorkshire Terrier 2 yrs) and they both get along great. I’ve always wanted a Rottweiler. Do you think it would be a bad idea getting a 3rd dog? What sex would you say would be better? Thanks.

A: Natasha, having had one dog, two dogs, three dogs, and four dogs at various times, my favorite number is two. Adding a third dog is a big jump up in time, energy, and expense. I don’t know enough about your circumstances to really advise you (yard space, dog experience, time for training and exercising, etc.) other than to say that if you have two happy dogs who get along well, I’d be inclined to encourage you to enjoy what you have and not add a third–the pack energy with 3 dogs is way more intense than with just 2 dogs. If you feel compelled to get a third, given that you’ve got two males, I would go for a female.

The above was what I recently wrote in response to a reader asking a question about adding a 3rd dog. She came by way of my post:  Is Having Three Dogs Better Than Two or One?  In that post, I show a series of pics with my three dogs running and playing and generally having way too much fun. Clearly, they’re enjoying their game of tag.

But in that post, I didn’t elaborate on the not-so-small-detail that it took months of serious training and management to get them to a point where they could all do so well together.

The truth of the matter was that it took Kiera quite a while to warm up to Graidy when I first got him, but he eventually won her over and they established a stable pack. When we added Wink, Graidy’s place in the pack became destabilized, which caused him to develop some emotional issues (which have since been worked through). And with a destabilized pack, I had to watch both Kiera and Graidy for aggression toward Wink. I did not leave them alone for the three months it took for a new pack order to become firmly established. There were many moments where if I had not been there to lead and intercede as needed, it could have turned ugly.

In the midst of this, we had house training and obedience training to do with Wink. And Graidy started marking in the house to reestablish his sense of territory, so he needed remedial training. In other words, as the saying goes– It weren’t no picnic!

Granted, I have a couple of pretty intense dogs. But too many people assume that you can just throw any number of dogs together of various breeds and they’ll do just fine. Some people get lucky, and that’s their experience. But, unfortunately, just as many people find that they’ve opened Pandora’s Box and they’re not prepared for what gets unleashed.

Here’s what I really think about adding a 3rd dog
(or more)
to your 2-dog pack:

Don’t do it!

If you have a happy family, keep it that way. Two is a manageable number and enough for them to keep each other company when you’re not around. Having more dogs than that is an invitation for trouble. If any one of your dogs has any aggression tendencies, not only will those amplify significantly, the other dogs will also likely pick up those same aggressive tendencies even if they didn’t have them before.

Don’t underestimate the power and influence of pack behavior on each individual dog. As well, the wear and tear on your house, your wallet, and your heart become exponential with each dog you add.

So much so, that I’m going to repeat myself: Unless you are advanced in your ability to train and understand dogs, and you’re independently wealthy (only half-joking)– DO NOT ADD A THIRD DOG. Okay, there– I had to come clean.

126 thoughts on “What I Really Think About Having 2 Dogs vs 3 Dogs”

  1. I have 2 rescues (3.5 yr old labradoodle who we’ve had for 2 years and a 2.5 year old rescue (42% lab, 12% chow etc) and we’ve had her for a year. I recently decided to foster a 1.5 year old doodle. We’ve had him almost 2 weeks. Overall everything is going well and I’m thinking about adopting him. I’m just trying to make sure it’s the right thing to do. Occasionally 2 will growl a bit about a toy but they work it out quickly. We have 4 acres for them to run and the foster is the best listener ever. I’m so impressed. They mostly run around together and all really like the cat. Sometimes when they run the lab mix gets into a scuffle with the foster. It’s happened a few times, but I clap my hands and tell them to stop and they do and keep running. The lab mix and foster got along the best the first week and we were worried about the other doodle being sad. Now it seems they have switched. The doodles play well and the lab mix sometimes plays too rough. I think it’s going well but how can I really know for sure. What are good signs to know if we should complete the adoption? Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • From what you are describing, all of them seem to just be feeling each other out and figuring out who’s who. That they are easily interrupted and redirected when any issues come up is a good sign. That tells me they are just communicating with each other in “dog” about what they like and don’t like with each other.

      With rescues, I have found that you don’t really know their full colors until 4-6 months in. In the beginning, they are mostly just cautiously sussing out the new situation to know what’s safe or not (depending on their background, this can be mild to severe). So IMO 2 weeks isn’t enough time to make a decision.

      But the best way to know is to contact a good positive dog trainer and have him/her also come and observe to pick up anything you might be missing.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  2. This is such a great post and super helpful comments. Thank you for giving so much time and generosity.
    I wondered if you could advise.. We are in the UK and have a pair of litter sisters black labs (rehomed from a breeder when age 3) who are now 6. We’ve only had labradors – they are our 5th dogs. One is more dominant than the other and can sometimes show aggression to a passing dog. When other dogs are in the pack ( like when we dog sit for a neighbour) she is perfect and accepting. They are very well trained and super calm but are slowing up and no longer want to go running or hike long days… we are big runners and hikers. We like to take them away and hike for miles and hours in the hills and spend our weekends running with the dog. They’ll go for 5 or 6 miles but not 10-12 which is what we like to do. When will be the right time to introduce a new dog? we’ve done a lot of breed research and would like an English Pointer for it’s running and hiking ability combined with gentle nature. My kids are grown up and away at Uni etc. I’m worried about the ageing labradors and combining with a puppy.. is it better to do it now? leave it a while or wait until we are down to one dog? we have the finances and capacity for exercise and training (I work at home and feel confident to train a pup) but I’m concerned about the dominance of the stronger lab.. plus the logistics of 3.. especially hiking trips etc. and girl v’s boy? what are your thoughts? Thanks

    Reply
    • Interesting dilemma…

      First, if you decide to get another dog while your 2 labs are still alive, definitely get a male. As to when is the right time, it really depends on how much you feel hindered by your labs tuckering out at 5-6 miles when you want to go 10-12. What would you do with the labs when they hit the 6-mile mark, but you and the new dog are ready to keep going? Or would you leave your labs at home and only run with the new dog?

      I don’t think handling the adding a 3rd dog now is the issue so much from what you’re telling me about your circumstances. But rather how you manage your labs when they’ve hit their limit. If they are left behind, it’s possible they could feel–abandoned is too strong a word–but it could instigate some separation anxiety.

      That all said, your labs are only going to continue to slow down…

      If it were me, and I were to choose my dogs’ needs over my own, if the purpose was primarily to add a younger running buddy, I would wait until both labs are gone before getting a new dog. But please realize I am at the extreme end of the spectrum of putting my animals first. : )

      Reply
  3. Karen,
    We have 2 female dogs now, an approx 11 yr old American Bulldog who is very sweet & laid back., & a 7 yr old Australian Shepard who has lots of energy. The Bulldog is ‘mommy’ to the Aussie as we got her as a puppy after having to put down another dog. We’re thinking of adding a 3rd. A mini doodle. We were wondering how that would go because our Aussie can get jealous, but not aggressive. And should we get another female or a male if we do it. And should we even do it? My boyfriend wants another so bad & I hate to upset the Apple cart. But would love another dog just the same, but of course, I would be the main one training it. Please advise. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Hi Joy, if you are going to add another dog, it should be a male. Another female may pose problems for your Aussie girl. Adding a 3rd dog is a lot. You don’t say how much yard space, time for exercise and training that you have. Without knowing that info, I can’t really advise. But I can go either way here. No, you don’t want to upset the happy apple cart. Yes, your 11yo is getting up there and it may be the right time to get another dog so your 7yo will have established company when your bully goes. Clear as mud, right? : )

      Reply
  4. Hi, Karen! Thank you for your very logical explanation about adding a third dog. I would love it if you could share your thoughts on adding a third dog to our family. I recently saw that an 11 year old female yellow lab was needing a home because her second owner could no longer care for her due to serious medical issues. We currently have an 8 year old male yellow lab and a 6 year old golden retriever mix that we rescued at 4 months (and he had a hard start in his first 4 months). The lab is a lab. He has a heart of gold, loves food, loves life, is super chill. The golden is the alpha dog, he always wants to be the alpha dog and gets jealous when we pet the next door neighbors dogs at the fence. Do you think an older dog who is female and has a laid back personality could work? I would love to give her a good home to love our her golden years, but I don’t want to put her or my dogs in a situation that would make them unhappy.

    Reply
    • Hi Shannon, on paper there’s a good chance this could work. How you introduce them and manage first couple of weeks is key. Is there a neutral place where you could introduce them on loose leash to see how they do? If they do okay then when she’s in your home, make sure to continue to support him as the alpha dog to avoid him needing to escalate to hold his position. Let the 11yo simply exist in your space for a while without a whole lot of attention when the Golden is around. Eventually he should get over himself in regard to her and then you should be able to give her all the love you want. Slow and steady wins the race.

      Reply
  5. Hi Karen, I have a 4-year-old female rescue who appears to be some kind of Jack Russell mix. We get along great, except for her separation anxiety. She’s been with me for 2.5 years and I’ve been considering getting her a little brother. The people I got her from recently found two five-month-old puppies, one male and one female, which look to be Greek hounds. Do you think this would be an OK combo?

    Reply
    • The quickest way to find out if this would be an ok combo would be to aks the person who has the puppies if you can do a meet & greet with all 3 to see how they do.

      Other than it is a LOT to take on two 5-mo olds at once, since they are neither the same breed nor age as your girl, that would tend to limit potential aggression issues.

      But please keep in mind, this is all said without knowing the temperaments of any of these dogs.

      If you can, it would be wise to enlist the help of a local positive trainer who can observe all 3 dogs with you to help you make this assessment

      Reply
  6. I have a 7 year old boxer ( female ) who is the alpha . She is a very well balanced dog who gets along with all dogs .
    We added a mixed breed who will be a large boy .
    He is 5 months old and laid back .
    Listens very well and easy to train
    We are considering adding a brother for him in the fall ( same parents )
    That would make the boys be roughly 6 to 7 months apart .
    Reasons to add
    We find the female is a great teacher and has taught the current pup manners
    She is getting up in age and we feel getting the make a playmate closer to his age would be great .
    We have 2 acre yard and also do training and walks daily
    I know with the boxer breed the life span isn’t long why we don’t want to wait to get another .
    Was originally thinking a female but am now leaning to a male

    Reply
    • If you’re going to add another dog, I agree with getting a male–it’s the safer choice. Adding a female with an alpha female could get tricky. Might be fine, but why risk potential upset?

      Reply
  7. Hi,
    This article is really helpful thank you! We currently have two female border collies – a 7 year old who we’ve had since she was 10 months old as she was a failed sheepdog, our second girl is almost 2 who we’ve had from a puppy. Our youngster is the more dominant of the two as the elder has always been quite timid (we think she was left alone a lot when she was younger after the shepherd realised she wouldn’t work). Neither of them has ever shown any aggression to each other and have always eaten/ slept in different areas. The only time they become slightly aggressive is when our older dog is feeling threatened by another dog on a walk and our younger girl will defend her.

    Do you think adding a third collie into the mix would work? We’d ideally be looking for a slightly older pup 4+ months, or another failed sheepdog/ rescue up to 18 months as we’d like the new dog to be the youngest. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you :)

    Reply
    • I wouldn’t say their current behavior is a deal-breaker for adding another dog, but definitely something to think hard about. Remember that pack energy ALWAYS intensifies when adding another dog. Even if that dog is mellow on its own.

      To safely add a 3rd dog that you’d hope to include on walks with the other two, you’d have to do serious retraining with the help of a positive trainer to help with walks and meeting other dogs. Or you could drop the walks altogether and find another way to exercise them on your property.

      If you do decide to go ahead, I would strongly suggest adding a male and not another female.

      Good luck! :)

      Reply
  8. Oh how I wish I had seen this article 6 months ago, I grew up in a home with 3 dogs So when my partner and I decided we wanted to add a 3rd to our family I never thought twice about it. We had a 12yr old yorkie male and a 6yr old chihuahua/terrier that got along excellent, always choose to sleep next to one another .. eat out of the same bowls by choice and just over all a very healthy relationship. We got a new little yorkie puppy male as well and ever since I feel horrible because the puppy and the older yorkie are both picking on ( pouncing, humping etc) the chihuahua/terrier, and the weird part is that he’s the only one that’s not neutered due to him not being able to be put under. I don’t know how to control this and have been hoping they would kind of figure it out and work it out but it doesn’t seem to let up. It’s not aggressive at all just seems like a lot for the poor middle guy.

    Reply
    • Hi Ty, I feel for you. Whenever you add 2 of the same breeds with a 2nd breed, this can often happen–the same breeds will dominate. Your best option is to find a positive trainer to help you get it sorted out. It won’t go away on its own.

      Reply
  9. Hello :)
    I have 2 dog currently a male and a female :)
    My female is 1 year and 4 months old she is a golden retriever, German Shepherd, hovawart and Alaskan malamute mix, she is very sweet, layback, good with other dogs and people, protective and has a lot of energy when playing but a good off switch.
    My male dog is 1 year old and he is a Rottweiler and boxer mix, he is also very sweet, loves cuddles and is good with other people but needs to spend some time with other dogs to accept them, he is also high energy and is working on a better off switch lol he is also protective but a little bit more than my female.
    Both don’t want to share when they have something (which of course makes sense), they play good together and my male walks good on leash (working on that for my female) they can sit, come when I call, wait and other normal “tricks” and such.
    They eat beside each other without any problems.
    My female gets jealux sometimes but only because my male don’t want her close when sleeping, cuddling and such and she wants to be close to him.
    I had both from 8 weeks old.
    So have been thinking next year after my dogs have been neutered and have been recovering to add a third pup (from 8 weeks).
    I wanna wait till next year because I want to be finished with the training I’m still working on now and I want to have my dogs neutered before too and of course see how they respond to it first.
    I have been thinking I want another male but I’m not sure if I that would be smart since the male I have now is the more dominant..
    I have been thinking it’s most likely is gonna be an English staffordshire bull terrier mix or a Great Dane mix.
    Of course if they start to have problems with each other or some things turns for the worse I’m not gonna add a third dog.
    But since there’s still 1 year till I’m thinking about adding the new pup i feel like there’s a bigger chance for it to work? I live in the country in a bigger house I would have space for another dog and I have a big yard too planning on getting more of it fenced in next year :)
    I have the time for another dog and the money.
    Before the two dogs I have now I had another male that was my first dog but sadly had to say goodbye to him too fast ..
    I am very happy but I have been thinking about a third dog for a long time and when my moms dog is over I always think about how it would be if I had one more dog..
    I have always wanted a pack and read and learn about a lot at the moment to get a more realistic feel to it..
    But I’m not sure yet if it’s a bad idea?
    If you want to know more you can just ask :) thanks :)

    Reply
    • Hi Kameron, given the description of breeds and behaviors that you’ve provided for both of your dogs, I would strongly advise against getting a third dog. You have 2 dogs who are already demonstrating protective behavior. Adding a 3rd dog will intensify the existing pack behavior, which means that even if you get an easy-going dog (which I wouldn’t classify as an English Staffordshire bull terrier mix ) that protective energy could easily slip over into aggressive behaviors. It’s a recipe for potential disaster.

      And even though you say they eat fine next to each other, I would also recommend that you not feed them side-by-side but rather separate their eating spaces. Doesn’t have to be a separate room but just separate sections of the room you feed them in.

      Reply
      • Thank you for your reply :)
        I’m curious as to why I need to separate them when they eat? They have always been eating next to each and they have never had a problem at all they have learned to wait until I say go and they don’t even eat fast.. Of course I’m not a professional so I’m just interested in learning why :)
        And yea I see how it could be a potential disaster but what if I’m training them about the protective behavior? I still have 1 year plus minus.. and as I said of course I won’t get a third if things doesn’t seem to work :) again I’m just curious nothing I’m saying is trying to be negative or such :)

        Reply
        • Hi Kameron, you’re asking good questions, so no worries. Both of your dogs have a mix of breeds that can be intense. If they presently have sharing issues (say with toys), another name for that in dog training speak is resource guarding. Resource guarding of toys is only a hop skip and a jump from starting to resource guard food. Separating food bowls is a preventative measure. Because they don’t have issues eating side-by-side now doesn’t mean that wouldn’t or couldn’t happen in the future. It’s just one more potential problem to thwart ahead of time. Having them eat separately would also help to lessen the tendency to gobble their food because there’s another dog right next to them.

          Protective behavior is a hard-wired breed trait that’s difficult to completely train away from. It’s a trait that can be improved or worsened both by nature and nurture. So big Kudos to you that you recognize the behavior and are working with it to help mitigate it.

          While two dogs make a pack, three dogs make a PACK. The pack energy intensifies significantly with a third dog, emboldening all dogs to act more assertively. Whatever is present in the 2-dog pack gets magnified in a 3-dog pack. And again you already have 2 protective dogs.

          Is it possible you could significantly and successfully train away from the protective trait and add a third dog without issue? It’s possible but not the most likely outcome.

          To me, it wouldn’t be worth the risk of the resulting potential nightmare.

          Reply
  10. We are considering getting a third dog and I would like your opinion we have a 15-year-old Bichon cockapoo mix who is blind and almost 2 year old morkie the morkie is very aggressive with the older dog anytime you go near the older dog the Morkie barks awful bark and nips.
    We have been working with the vet and have him on prozac not helping much. We were thinking about getting a Morkie puppy from the same breeder wondering if the morkie had a playmate, that he would leave the older dog alone. I know 3 is a lot.

    Reply
    • Hi Kathy, in this instance adding a third dog is not likely to solve the aggression problem. In fact, you could just be adding fuel to the fire. Until the issues with the 2 yr old are under control, I would not add another dog.

      Not all dogs want to be with other dogs.

      Reply

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