Multi-Dog Homes and Considerations

Introducing another dog to the home needs careful consideration to avoid potential distress to a resident dog

Dogs are far more social than cats so it is a reasonable assumption that there should be fewer issues surrounding the decision to introduce a new dog in to a home. While this is true, there are still a number of factors that deserve careful consideration because it is not always as straightforward as you may think.

Owners of older dogs

There are a number of reasons that dog owners may decide to introduce a new dog in to the home. Owners of older dogs often believe that introducing a younger dog to the home is a good idea because;

  • It will reduce the owners emotional distress when the older dog dies
  • The presence of a younger dog may rejuvenate the older resident dog
  • The older dog will ‘teach’ the younger dog its good habits.

Unfortunately for the older dog, age brings with it a number of potential problems that it struggles to cope with normally, let alone when its routines are disrupted by another dog. Age often is accompanied with arthritis, illness, pain, physical frailty and possibly senility, which can make older dogs irritable and intolerant. The introduction of a young dog may make the ‘twilight’ period of an older dog’s life insufferable, alternatively it may genuinely rejuvenate it. It is not easy to predict what the outcome may be, but I think it is reasonable to assume that if your old dog is not coping with the effects of old age, it will probably struggle to cope with the arrival of a puppy.

Unfortunately many owners fail to recognise that their old dog is in pain or discomfort and it is the arrival of a younger dog that is the factor that pushes the older dog over the edge. Ideally owners should have the health of the incumbent dog assessed by a veterinary surgeon to determine if there are any issues that may affect its ability to cope with the arrival of a new dog.

Owners of young dogs

Sometimes owners of young dogs often believe that introducing another dog into the home will benefit it if the younger dog has;

  • Insufficient companionship because the owners have busy lifestyles
  • Separation related problems such as vocalisation, elimination, destructiveness and anxiety
  • Anxiety or fear related problems that may be helped by the influence of a steadier canine presence.

Things to consider before introducing a new dog

It is important that an owner makes sure they can actually afford the financial costs and time commitments associated with another dog. Owners should also consider their own health status and personal circumstances. It is much easier to re-home one dog compared to multiple dogs, which ideally are kept together in a social group. Unfortunately divorce is the most common change in people’s personal circumstances that results in dogs being relinquished to animal shelters currently.

In an ideal world owners would be able to take a new dog for a trial period to see if any problems were encountered. Unfortunately, if the newcomer was rejected, particularly if it was rejected from a number of potential homes, the instability could have serious negative consequences for socialisation of the newcomer.  An alternative is to borrow a dog from family or a friend over a weekend to see if any problems are encountered.

Resident dogs are less likely to tolerate a newcomer if;

  • Owners divert too much attention toward the new dog and away from the resident dog
  • Changes in an older dog’s routine because of the arrival of a younger dog may speed up the onset of gradually progressive disease in the older dog
  • If the resident dog is in discomfort or pain which may not be obvious to the owner. Unrecognised pain is a common cause of inter-dog aggression within a household
  • If the newcomer challenges the resident pet for resources or status and this will be made worse if the newcomer were to retaliate
  • If there is insufficient space or resources such as beds, food bowls and toys in the home for the number of dogs.
Summary
  1. Make sure your financial, health and personal status as well as work schedules will enable you to cope with another dog.
  2. Get the health and well-being of the resident dog checked by a vet
  3. Assess the resident dog’s attitude to weekend boarders in their home
  4. Introductions between 2 prospective house mates should occur on neutral territory, such as a park, and should be managed by adults in the household, not children
  5. Make sure there is sufficient space and resources in a home for the number of dogs present.

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

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