Double-Dog Dare: Why Two Dogs Are Better Than One
The search for a new dog
In early 2005, a few months after we lost our beloved dog Petra at the age of 16, our family decided to was time to get a new dog. We checked the local animal shelters for a couple of weeks, but could not settle on the right dog or puppy. We had to feel "right" about the potential new member of our family.
Then one Saturday in April 2005, we answered an ad placed by a couple who said they rescued unwanted dogs. They showed us a litter of seven adorable puppies with various color combinations. The mother, said the man, was a black Labrador retriever and the father, a brown and white Springer spaniel. The man had papers documenting the puppies' parentage and more papers showing records of their initial shots. We called them Springadors and only later discovered that this, along with Labradinger , is one of the official names of this increasingly popular hybrid breed.
An impulsive decision
The boys, who were twelve and eight at the time, each chose a puppy and we couldn’t decide between them. My husband and I had a quick discussion. We both worked and the kids went to school. We reasoned that dogs don’t like to be alone and they don’t much care whether their companion is human or canine, and we made the crazy impulsive decision to take them both. We probably broke every rule in the book of conventional wisdom about finding a puppy, except the one about not buying one from a pet store. The puppy pen was set up in a shopping center parking lot and we did not check out the sellers very carefully.
But it turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made. Both Cocoa and Pippin turned out to be friendly, fun, delightful family pets, and other than the double veterinary bills, having two dogs in the family turned out to be better than having one. Of course, if you decide to go the two-dog route, you have to consider the size of your living space and yard. If you rent your home, be sure to check your landlord’s pet policy. But if you have the space, there are many advantages to being a two-dog family.
Two dogs equal freedom from loneliness and boredom
A big concern of ours was that our new puppy would be lonely when we were not home. Loneliness is real suffering for a dog and may even cause behavior problems such as excessive barking. Without company, dogs also get bored and bored dogs often bark continuously to release energy, according to Jenna Stregowski, RVT, in her article Barking Dogs: Why Dogs Barks and How to Stop Excessive Barking . I believe both our dogs are happier together than they would have been alone. Like all dogs, Cocoa and Pippin will bark a little at animals or strangers, but they have never barked or whined for long stretches of time out of emotional distress.
Crating two puppies together
When we had to leave the house for a period of time, we put the puppies together in a large crate along with some old towels. Crating is a way to keep puppies from destroying your furniture, carpets, and shoes when you are not home. It also helps with housebreaking. Even though our puppies were only eight weeks old when we brought them home, they only had a few “accidents” inside their crate. It is instinctual for dogs to not want to soil their space. Some of us feel guilty about crating dogs because locking them up in a small space for hours seems cruel; but this is transferring human values to another species that, believe it or not, may not share them.
The truth is, if you treat the crate as a happy place, your dog will not perceive it as cruel treatment. It can be merciful way to prevent problems that could damage the developing relationship between you and your pup. How much better it is to come home to an undamaged house and fling open the crate door so that you and your dog can greet each other joyfully than to come home to a living room covered with the stuffing from your living room sofa (yes, this has happened to me with a previous dog). The feeling with which you will greet your dog under such circumstances will be something less than joyous. But still, reasonable or not, the fact that Cocoa and Pippin were together in the crate made me feel a lot better about the whole thing. We got the largest size crate we could find so they had plenty of room, we know they were safe, and they had each other for company.
Transitioning out of the crate
Springadors are fairly large dogs – they can end up anywhere between 50 and 90 pounds. So when the pups got too large of comfortably share the crate, we got a second crate, and put them side by side where they could see and nose each other. We put them in locked crates when we were not home for well over a year. Just before leaving, we’d say in a warm happy voice, “Time to go to Place!” and in they would go, tails wagging. Then we’d give them each a biscuit – something for them to anticipate. Once we were sure we could trust them not to destroy the house, we began leaving the crate door open so they could go in and out at will. Eventually we got rid of the crates altogether and replaced them with big dog pillows in the same spots.
Two dogs get more exercise
In addition to being good for their mental health, having a canine companion is also great for your dogs’ physical health. Puppies love to play and romp for hours at a time and can out-romp most humans. Since our two were able to romp with each other, they got the exact amount of exercise they needed. As they grew older, they continued to chase and play until their activity needs were satisfied. Dogs often become overweight due to overfeeding and inadequate exercise. You’ll have to take care to feel them the right food in the right quantity, and you will want to walk them regularly, but with two dogs, you can be sure they will help each other use up any excess energy. Pippin has a tendency to be on the heavy side and without Cocoa to run with, he probably would have been overweight by this time; but at six years old, both dogs have maintained a healthy weight.
The emotional bond: Connecting with another species
Much of the joy in having dogs is observing and enjoying your pets’ unique personalities and behavior quirks and forming that special human/pet bond. There is something fantastically satisfying about forming an emotional bond with a creature of a different species. Perhaps it soothes some deep feeling of human isolation from the natural world. In fact, although some people own dogs primarily for their utility – hunting, protection, retrieving, etc., I believe that the vast majority of people own dogs for the emotional connection. This joy is more than doubled with two dogs – you might say you get the emotional satisfaction squared. Our two dogs each have their own very different personality and it is great fun to not only form our own relationships with each dog, but to watch their funny relationship with each other. Generally they are great friends and are usually together. But there are occasional jealousy issues.
Dogs don’t care about equality
Cocoa likes to be the center of attention and has developed many techniques to get her desire for affection satisfied, such as looking at our faces soulfully, lifting her paws, and rolling onto her back with her tail thumping. Pippin is more laid back and seems grateful for any attention he happens to get, but doesn’t seek it as vigorously. When Cocoa notices one of us petting Pippin for a while, she will make groaning noises in her throat and if we keep petting him, she will attempt to insert herself between us. I recently learned that when you have multiple dogs, you should not attempt to treat them both equally. Because dogs are pack animals with a rigidly hierarchical mindset, they are happier when they know their place in pecking order.
So here is another area where my human values run smack up against the alien values of the canine species. As a parent, my mindset is to make absolutely sure I treat both my children with perfect equality, and I also have a hard time not anthropomorphizing my dogs. They seem so well integrated into our human life and they are such individuals, it is hard to accept that dividing line between human and animal. So I have definitely been guilty of trying to treat them as equals. Fortunately, the jealousy has been mild, perhaps because my attempts to treat Cocoa and Pippin as equals has not been entirely successful. Cocoa is cuddlier and sheds less than Pippin, who inherited the long hair of a Spring Spaniel and sheds in constantly in tufts. So Cocoa has insinuated herself as a resident on the bottom of our bed, while Pippin sleeps on a blanket on the floor. With my newfound knowledge of dog psychology I am liberated from my guilt about this unequal treatment. Anyway, pippin does get his special privileges: He gets to chase away the flocks of migrating geese that frequently land in our front yard because he does the job and comes back immediately when we call his name. Cocoa insists on doing some exploring before she responds to our call and comes back only when she decides she is ready. So while Pippin gets to go chase geese, which always gives him a thrill, Cocoa has to stay inside. No need to feel guilty about that in equality either!
Two dogs can be a good choice for everybody
So if you are in the market for a puppy, consider getting two! Many people introduce a new dog to a home that already has an established canine resident. This can work well too. There may be an adjustment period and perhaps some territorial issues, but dogs generally take well to a new companion.
About.com. Jenna Stregowski, RVT. "Barking Dogs: Why Dogs Bark and How to Stop Excessive Barking." Accessed 26 Jan 2011. http://dogs.about.com/od/dogtraining/qt/barkingdogs.htm
Pawprints and Purrs, Inc. Dog Health Care. "Aggression: Sibling Rivalry." Accessed 27 Jan 2011. http://www.sniksnak.com/doghealth/aggression2.html
Suite 101. Carol Apple. Springador or Labradinger: A Good Bet for a Great Pet