Why the correct number of dogs might be N+0

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I recently read an article on Outside Online titled “Why the Correct Number of Dogs is Always N+1”. The article, advocated a number of reasons why adding another dog to your family is a good choice, and easier than you will think. 

As a professional dog trainer, I cringed while reading the article. I support multi-dog households. I myself, have two amazing dogs. But adding another dog to the mix is not always the right decision and should not be described as “easier than it looks”. 

Full disclosure, I have two dogs, have considered a third and I think multi dog homes are awesome. If you add another dog to your family you’ll have one more furry friend to keep you company, to keep your other furry friend company, and to provide love to and make you laugh. Dogs are amazing companions and adding another will certainly add more love to your life. But it’s not always the fantasy that you think it will be and that’s what this article is about. 

Training Another Dog Is Both Easier and More Effective 

Training another dog is just as much work, if not more

The article, advocates that training another dog is easier and effective than a single dog. It mentions that “one of the easiest ways for a young dog to learn is by modelling the behaviour of older dogs. So, each additional dog is easier to train than the previous one”. It is true that modelling behaviour of other dogs is one way that dogs can learn. But it is hardly the only way. Think that your adult dog will make sure that your new puppy behaves better in no time? Think again. Getting a new dog, puppy or older dog, is square one for training. You will have to put in just as much time as you did with your older dog. If your older dog has some behavioural issues, then you will have to work twice as hard to ensure that your new dog does not adopt these behaviours. This is the problem with learning through modelling. The dog who models the behaviours of the other dog does not distinguish between what we identify as good or bad behaviour. So if you have trained the perfect dog and add a puppy to that mix, you might get lucky and your puppy will pick up on some of those good behaviours, but if you have any problem behaviours present already, such as barking and jumping, your new addition is likely to pick up on those behaviours if you don’t put in the extra training. 

If you are doing it right with your new addition, and putting in the work, that’s good. You’re on your way to having a well balanced new addition to your family. But don’t think this extra work comes without consequences. The typical outcome is a decrease in behaviour reliability with your older dog. Dogs strive on routine and adding a new dog will change your routine and will alter the amount of training you do with your current dog, it’s inevitable, especially if you have added a puppy, so you will more than likely see some behaviours drop or new ones appear. Thankfully, if you have put in a good amount of time with your dog already, getting back on track is possible and you’ll get there. 

A good real-life example of how modelling can backfire recently happen to me. A neighbour I had got a new puppy to add to their family. This was done on a whim and, in my professional opinion, too soon for the young dog they already had who had some behavioural issues already. I provided some general training and puppy rearing advice with the most important advice being to ensure that the puppy be exposed to a lot of other dogs, so that it could reduce the potential of only modelling their older dog’s behaviour. Unfortunately, my advice wasn’t followed, and I say that without judgement. Life is very busy and sometimes things get away from us. A few months later I was walking with my dogs and encountered them walking with both dogs. Their dogs lunged and barked at mine with the puppy being the loudest of the two. They looked so defeated and sighed “I can’t believe it, she is worse than our older dog”. They are not bad dog owners, they just didn’t realize the amount of work that would be required and frankly, articles like the one on Outside Online, make it sound much easier than it is for most.

More Dogs Aren’t More Difficult to Take Care of

More dogs are more difficult to take care of

When you add another dog, not only will your management of your environment have to revert back to those puppy months when you had your first dog (yes even if you are adding a new dog), but you will have one more mouth to feed, four more paws with claws to clip, another fur ball to brush, twice as much dog poop to clean up, more leashes, harnesses, toys, beds to buy. It is unrealistic to think that adding another dog will be easy. 

Management is important when you bring a new dog home, regardless of age. One of the most important principles in dog training is setting up your dog for success. That means you shouldn’t keep that beautiful decorative antler on the coffee table, even if your other dog has learned it’s not a toy, the new dog doesn’t know your house rules. When a dog manages to get something fun like an antler off a coffee table, or a slice of bread off the counter, it is incredibly rewarding and increases the likelihood that you will see that behaviour again. This is why management is so important. You can manage the space so that your new dog can explore without being lured into bad behaviours that come naturally do them. 

The article talks about house cleaning strategies for handling extra fur such as a Dyson vacuum and a robot vacuum. These items come at a high cost. So it’s not realistic to think that everyone who gets another dog can afford these luxury items. Not to mention they do not mention the horror stories that can occur with robot vacuum’s and dog accidents (google if you want to be horrified). 

The other important thing which is omitted and that I see on a regular basis, is that your new dog, may not get along with your older dog immediately. Not all dogs instantly love every dog they meet and that can be especially true when the new dog comes into the home. That’s normal and doesn’t mean that your older dog is a bad dog, they just need to ease into the transition. Which could mean that instead of having two instant best friends, you will have to manage and supervise their interactions. So they will have to be separated at times either through pens or crating. If you do bring a new dog home and are having trouble leaving them together, hiring a Certified Professional Dog Trainer is always the recommended approach.

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More Dogs Aren’t That Much More Expensive

More dogs are more expensive. 

The article discusses the cost of food for an additional dog. The author feeds a raw diet and advocates that buying raw through Costco is affordable. I will not disagree with what they stated however I think financial costs are personal. Not everyone can afford another mouth to feed and the cost of food is not the only factor. Although the article touches briefly on boarding costs, these vary heavily depending on where you live and the quality of the service. 

Lastly, and possibly the most important factor to consider: veterinarian costs. Annual visits are not cheap and unplanned emergency visits can be an enormous cost. It’s important to consider if you can financially handle another level of risk. With another dog, you have that much more likelihood of something happening. Pet insurance can be a good solution to deal with this, but also comes with a hefty monthly cost. Therefore this should be carefully considered. 

More Dogs Are Always Better

More dogs can be better

I love having two dogs and would probably have three if I had more time, but between my two dogs, and two jobs, the reality is that I don’t have the time. So I could get a third dog, the financial component is not an issue, but what would the other costs be? I would be reducing the amount of time I spend training and interacting with my other two dogs, which is not fair to them, and in trying to juggle it all, I would likely not spend the amount of time I know is required to properly integrate a third dog into our family. There is a good chance it would work out well since my two dogs are well trained and dogs are incredibly forgiving to us when we cut corners on training since they have had thousands of years to become good people interpreters. But it would be unfair for everyone involved. 

So if you are considering adding another dog, make the decision to go for it while considering the following:

1. Your costs will increase. Both monthly and annual costs go up with another dog. There is no way to do it properly without costs increasing. 

2. Does your current dog (s) have problem behaviours that you would hate to have another dog join in on? If so, consider working on improving those problem behaviours before you add another dog. This will make you a better dog trainer and owner and will make adding a new dog a lot easier.

3. You need to commit to this new dog the same way you committed to your other dog which means spending a lot of time training and teaching your new dog all of the rules. This isn’t something you can expect your other dog to do. 

4. You need to also spend time with your older dog (s). Dogs feel jealousy and even though they may be well trained and might not need the same amount of socialization, they need time with you and training and exercise is a great option to keep that bond strong. 

5. Go in knowing it will not be easy. It might end up being easier than you expect, but you need to commit to your new family member to give them the best chance at integrating well. Expect the worse and hope for the best. 

If you have considered carefully everything that I mentioned here and still want that new addition, then you are probably ready to go! Don’t forget to consult with your local science based dog training school about integrating a new dog, most of us trainers have multiple dogs and can provide lots of tips to help prepare you for success. 

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