How Much Does a Dog Need Other Dogs?

Sierra is a furry social butterfly. Not only does she love people, but she loves to play with other dogs. Most mornings I take her to the dog park early, before the other dogs arrive, to meet canine friends for play dates. We let the dogs run and wrestle, and then, when unfamiliar dogs begin to arrive, we take our dogs for a two-mile walk around the park perimeter. It’s fun for the dogs and nice socialization for us humans as well.

On the days I don’t take Sierra for play dates, my husband takes her for hikes. They warm up by walking around a local park, and then head out into the arroyo, a vast, unpopulated area where Sierra can roam as far as the long-line will allow, following scents and having a great time. It’s great exercise and fun for both her and my husband. In addition, we periodically engage in sports like urban mushing, where Sierra and her best husky pal can indulge their breed tendencies by pulling a person on a scooter. I recently realized that my wall calendar is filled with many more “Sierra dates” than special activities for me!

Even with all of the exercise, and the endless Kongs, chewies, training, games, and tons of affection Sierra receives daily, I’ve wondered whether she would be better off having a dog buddy at home. It’s true that she sleeps for a large part of the day after her morning workout, but as is natural with canine biorhythms, she becomes active again around 5-6 p.m. This is the time when I look at her and say, “See, if you had a buddy, you’d be wrestling now.” I’ve perused various “boy toy” candidates online, and we’ve met with a few. So far, we have not found the right dog. After introducing Sierra to a husky from a rescue group this past weekend—he jumped on her in a rough way, she said, “I don’t think so!” and a skirmish ensued—we are regrouping and questioning whether Sierra actually needs another dog at home or not.

I’ve noticed the way Sierra inserts herself between me and whatever dog I happen to be petting at the park. It makes me wonder just how jealous of attention she’d be with a new dog in the house, and how much of a problem it might cause. And, perhaps selfishly, we like our life with just our girl. She knows the daily routine, and is an easy keeper in the house, especially for a young husky mix. She’s practically non-destructive, and if she steals anything, well, she has an odd habit of bringing it to you with her ears back and eyes squinting as if to say, “I couldn’t help myself!” It’s hard not to laugh. And there are the long cuddle sessions that make me feel just as good as she does. Of course, there would still be cuddling with another dog present, but it is divided attention any way you look at it.

Sierra is not completely baggage-free: we’ve been dealing with her separation issues since we brought her home seven months ago. She’s made huge improvements, especially for a dog who’d been in the shelter four times before we adopted her. A second adult dog would come complete with his own issues, some of which might make him more of a “project” than I’m looking for; it’s easy to rule some dogs out immediately, but harder to see the underlying issues until the dog has been in your home for a while. It is true that having another dog might well solve Sierra’s separation issues entirely, since she’s got more of an “isolation distress” than a true separation anxiety from a particular person. But it might not solve the problem, and either way, that’s not a good enough reason on its own to get another dog.

Right now, we’re regrouping and considering what would be best for all of us. But it got me thinking about how many “only dogs” are out there, and how many opinions there are on the subject. I’ve heard behavior specialists who I respect lecture that dogs need to have other dogs at home. I respectfully disagree, assuming the dog gets some form of regular socialization with other dogs, and plenty of exercise. In a way, it takes more of an effort to have a singleton dog, because you are responsible for all of the exercise and play. You’ve got to work hard. But to us, Sierra is worth it, and whatever we decide in the long run, for now she’s our one and only.

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19 Responses to How Much Does a Dog Need Other Dogs?

  1. Jaq Bunn says:

    Nicole, I used to think that dogs needed their own species at home to be truly fulfilled. However, over the years of having to help owners deal with the problems of introducing a new dog to their family, I’ve come to realise that if they could voice their opinion, most dogs really would like to have their owners all to themselves (if they’re great owners of course!). I see too many results of bad owners getting another dog for the wrong reasons. If your dog loves having you all to themselves, has ‘doggy buddies’ they play with on a regular basis and you have the time for them, don’t feel bad about not getting them a doggy playmate at home – they might not thank you!

    • 'Nette says:

      I did to, but we had a dog that I added a puppy to, as the two grew together and then the older one died, the younger dog mourned his pal. We eventually got another dog and they got along great. Then the older dog died, and left this dog along. She seemed ok but I thought she need a playmate and took on two puppies. The dog we had a female, is three, the puppies, a male, and a female are now just over a year. Atfirst they got along good, now the older female seems to be acting as an Alpa yet mother to the female dog and seems to scold her harsley at times, then they play as if nothing happened. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.?

  2. We’ve been thinking about adding another dog to our family partly as a companion for Penny, and partly because we are enjoying raising her so much that my wife is interested in getting another Bichon or perhaps a toy or teacup poodle mix.

    The stumbling block for me is that I’ve heard too many stories where a family will get another dog (usually a puppy) to keep their current dog company and they will not get along due to personality conflicts or just puppy-energy conflicts with the older already established dog.

    We got really lucky with Penny as my wife’s first dog. She is very sweet, well mannered in public, does not bark excessively, and is not overly destructive to household furniture etc. She tends to be more reserved around other dogs and people so I have a feeling if a more active dominant dog was introduced, they might usurp her from her alpha standing.

    I have to be honest…Penny is and always will be “my baby” and it would be hard not to be protective of her, especially with her personality type. So if push came to shove and there were any problems, the new dog would have to go…which is something I don’t want to have happen.

    Whenever we start thinking about adding a new member to our family, I always think about it in human terms like if suddenly my wife brought home a total stranger and said that he/she would be living with us “forever”.

    Not only that, but this new “family member” would take it upon themselves to always take my “stuff”, grab my food off of my plate before I could eat it, and when I was feeling tired and wanted to just relax, they would run up, pin me down to the ground in a full nelson wrestling move and proceed to bite me with needle sharp teeth and drool all over my back…! Not exactly my picture of a “happy home”. :D

    It is true that adding another dog won’t necessarily help your dog’s separation anxiety problems. It wouldn’t help with Penny’s because she gets anxious when she is separated from either my wife or I and having another dog around wouldn’t help with that.

    If we do decide to get another dog, it will be after much serious thought and because it is a good fit for everyone in our family. Until then, Penny can continue to get her human and doggie social interaction fix from our daily trips (weather permitting) to the doggy park.

    Speaking of which…it’s funny, but I notice that when we go to the doggy park, it usually ends up where all the boy dogs play with the other boy dogs and the girl dogs end up playing with the other girl dogs for the most part. Guess it’s just a hormone thing or maybe because those boys play too rough. :D

  3. D. Sakurai says:

    Currently, I have 3 dogs (female akita 3 yrs, female shiba 11 yrs, male akita 13 years). My two akitas play a lot despite the age difference but eventually my old male gets tired so I end up doing play dates for my youngest dog anyways with other younger dogs. I think that even if you have a multiple dog household, you still need the socialization of outside dogs so that dogs learn different play styles and learn to tolerate and be around non-resident dogs.

    Some dogs like my female shiba probably wouldn’t mind being the only dog in the house and get all the attention. She keeps to herself and prefers the company of humans and does not play that much compared to the other two. When I used to take her to the dog park as a young dog, she just hung out with people and did not really interact that much with the other dogs. She is very independent and do not need or seek that much interaction with other dogs. When she was the only dog in the house (her first 2 years), she was fine with it.

    For my youngest dog, having two other dogs was a big help when she was a puppy. The much older dogs kept her in check when she got out of line and provided an outlet for her puppy energy because they were willing to play with her. I sometimes wonder what will happen when she is eventually the only dog in the house but I notice that lately she often spends hours at a time alone in the yard when the other two are in the house. She does not seem to mind being alone and actually seeks solace.

    So, I think it boils down to the personality of the individual dog. Some dogs are very independent and don’t need that much social time with other dogs.

  4. Dog says:

    I agree that you no longer need to get another dog as a buddy to Sierra. A potential problem I can foresee is giving your time and attention to two dogs. Your time is already consumed with just one dog. How much more if you already have another dog? I read from http://www.trainpetdog.com/dog-adopting.html that getting a dog is like having a baby- you have to provide for its needs. So, of course you need to give it as much time, care, cuddling and attention as you are also giving to Sierra.

  5. Amanda says:

    This is a GREAT post – I’ve been wondering the same thing about my dog. The vet thinks I should socialize him more, but when we do bring him to doggie meet ups, he just mostly keeps to himself, which makes me wonder if he actually likes the company of other dogs. I do think about getting another puppy some time in the future, but I think that’s something I will think long and hard about.

  6. Mandy says:

    I’m thinking about the same thing. Although my boy loves his playtime with other dogs, he seems to enjoy the time he spends with us just as much. My boy also suffers from separation anxiety and it breaks my heart that he’s home alone for so long during the week, but I honestly don’t know if another dog would help or perhaps make things worse. It’s such a tough decision.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Mandy,
      You could “borrow” a dog a few times and leave a video camera (or webcam) going to see whether it helps.
      Take care,
      Nicole

  7. Ntombi says:

    My Bichon is an only dog, and I’m pretty sure he likes it that way. He socializes with other dogs at the dog park, and sometimes with friends’ dogs, but he clearly prefers the company of people. At the dog park, he’s polite to the dogs, but actively seeks out attention from all the dog people. You’re more likely to see him sitting on a bench with a human than playing with the dogs.

    When we get back from visiting a place where there are other dogs, he seems relieved to get back to our quiet home. I got him as an adult rescue, so I didn’t have to go through the puppy stage, where another dog might have done the most good. I have to admit, I’m relieved as well; I’m a one-dog person, with neither the energy nor the money to add another to the household.

  8. philospher77 says:

    I am debating this very question right now. But my problem is that I have a noise-phobic dog currently at home, who is VERY uncomfortable outside the confines of her yard. When I first got her, she was terrified to go out into the yard at all, so she has come a long long way. But, if I look at the “dog I have”, not the dog that I wish she was, she would be perfectly happy to never set foot outside her yard. I, on the other hand, would like a dog who wants to go on walks and meet people, but at the same time, looking at “the person I am” and not “the person I want to be”… I do not have the time, energy, and ability to counter-conditon her adequately outside the yard. The number of sounds she reacts to is huge (essentially, any noise a human makes… kids playing, balls, cars, trucks, planes, doors opening/closing, people talking… all those sounds that we screen out as background noise), the level low (kids playing blocks away will set her off), and the ability to control when and how the noise is presented is minimal (even if I set up a situation, I can’t stop my neighbors letting their kids out to play, which will spike the sound above her threshold). On the other hand, the only times she is happy when outside her yard is when we meet up with the other greyhounds. And I want a dog that DOES like to be outside the yard, a dog that I can take to classes and out into the world. So I ponder whether getting a second dog to fulfill some of my dog-needs, and to provide a companion and playmate for Katie, is the best thing to do or not.

  9. Michele says:

    We have the best of both worlds, I think. Because we travel a lot (in an RV) and always take our dog with us, we don’t have the space for more than one. Loki is an 80-ish pound “husky mix,” takes up a bit of space. ;) My daughter and her dog live with us, though, so when we are home Loki gets tons of exercise and companionship, then gets to rest/relax and have his people all to himself for the rest of the time. When we’re away, we also try to find socialization opportunities for him at dog parks, etc.

  10. Best way to find out is to foster. :) I have to say that my years fostering told me they benefit so much from having another dog around though. The fosters benefited immensely and my WGSD gained lots of confidence. Plus, with all the millions being killed why not open up your home to a second, or third, or fourth?

    • Galina says:

      I agree with you Alexandra! We had 2 females and we found a small pup, one of them had fake pregnancy, so she accepted Maya as her daugter.. after few months we rescued one more labrador girl, after that one wolfdog and not so long ago one more labrador.. All of them are females and not sterilized.. The first week for new dog was always tensed.. But after we lost one of them for 17days and after we found her the rest of girls were singing from happiness that Woody is back.. I spend 24hours a day with them and see them playing (for me it’s a bit more easier to do my stuff when they play with each other).. :) even the 11 cats that we have play with them (with wolfdog we had many killed kittens, but hard work helped make them friends).. now she’s protecting them from other dogs. :)) Every dog should have a friend dog with him.. they are spirits like us.. and try human be without other humans.. it’s hard.. they have they instinct to have a pack.. :))

  11. In 10 years of rescue, I have come to the conclusion that each dog is definitely an individual. There are dogs all across the spectrum. Some dogs LOVE playing with other dogs but would happily part with a longterm canine pal to get the consistent affection of a human. Some dogs want both. Some dogs like SOME dogs and the affection of humans. And of course there are dogs that are not big fans of other k9s and another dog had better not come in between him and his person!

    But what I find MOST from the hundreds of dogs that have come thru me, no matter how they feel about other dogs, is a desire for positive attention from a human. Love from a human. Even the really shy dogs tend to love the human love once they have been given the time to build confidence enough to accept it.

    Sure dogs that have fun with other dogs have a great time with them, but I think they would prefer a good relationship with a human most every time. I have seen dog pals separated time and time again, and long as they go to loving homes they do not mourn their pals. More dogs seem to want the great relationship with a human most.

    I have a really interesting learning experience coming up. I adopted out a dog who was a bit hard to place because he is a BIG bully mix. I had lots of applications from people wanting him to guard their boats and such nonsense. So he was here for a while before the right home came along. But while he was here he was pals with a dog who came here REALLY shut down from a few years in a very abusive situation. The big dog, Pedro, is ALL ABOUT PEOPLE! But while he was here he helped the shy dog gain confidence. Through Pedro, I was able to make the shy dog that I thought may never be adoptable, make loads of progress. I even think he is adoptable now. And that shy dog is not real crazy about most other dogs.

    I told the people who adopted Pedro, about his pal. SO soon we are going to have a meeting and see their reactions after a couple of months apart. I am sure they will be thrilled to see each other.

    And I agree with Alexandra. The best way to find out is to Foster!
    And of course take care to pick the right fosters.

    • Ruth Patton says:

      I appreciate Madalin’s comment. My five-year-old pit was rescued from a fight bust and came to me a year ago with a history of resource guarding. She’s crazy about other dogs, but I’ve set up a number of play dates, and the majority have been cut short by my dog getting unexpectedly aggressive.

      It’s just her and me and the cats. I feel sad and guilty sometimes because she’s alone so much of the time, but I’m not sure what else to do for her.

  12. Cathy says:

    The last two comments really spoke to hy heart! I have a 7 year old female (spayed) Golden who really needs more exercise/play time than I am able to give her. Rosie adopted me when I found her in a really nasty shelter when she was a year old. We worked through the terrible case of kennel cough, chewing, and all the other things that come with being abandoned and then put in a cage. The past year and a half I have been sick and can’t keep up with her energy. The result is that I believe I am seeing a sad dog who thinks she has to “take care” of me! This breaks my heart, but I also am in no position to care for another baby on a permanent basis. I think the “foster” idea might be an option for us…..she just loves all dogs, people, (not cats, lol), but would love to have a buddy around her age to come play in the backyard and go on walks but then “leave” when the adoption happens! I did have a “Granddog” and they got along wonderfully even though they were very different in size because they had the same play style. (Sadly, through divorce, my son lost custody and Rosie won’t be seeing her best friend again.) No human kids involved. Great post, great thoughtful comments. I’m new, so thank you all!

    • Galina says:

      Cathy, don’t feel bad!! I believe your girl is enjoying caring for you.. That’s how I see the Goldens. I’ve got two- Karma is 6 year old and Alto 8 years old. We have 6 other dogs (+2 horses and 11 cats + everything that lives in forest around), but getting back to Goldens, inside their nature is to take care of others. They have they own magic world where they can stay for hours (trying to catch lizard or running after butterfly), but from the bottom of the heart they feel first of all their owner.. If u will get another dog, be sure you will not need a TV again. :)) If u observe them – it’s better than Discovery channel.

      And Golden Retrievers are really a pet therapists. They feel very well the energies and they know what person needs.

      In any way, till you are able to hug your girl – forget worries. If u decide to get another dog, get ready to have lots of fun watching them playing till they will make u join them!!!

  13. Jerry I says:

    Nicole,
    We do an assessment on every dog that comes into the Ruff House. Not all dogs are social butterflies. Some have best friends and even worst enemies. I don’t think dogs are any different than people with respect to how social we are and how social we need to be.
    We have dogs that play with any dog, but that’s not the norm. We also have dogs that don’t play, but don’t seem to mind the others being around. There are dogs that go off to the side when others play rough. Some dogs need time out of the mix and some can play seemingly endlessly. Every day, every crowd is a different personality and we have to stay on top of it.

  14. Jenn says:

    Both as an adult and as a child, I’ve always had a multidog home and so when I lost one of my (two) girls several years ago, we jumped on the opportunity to adopt a second dog. There was something truly disquieting for us about having a single dog in the home. But on every level, I know the lone female in the home was never happier than the month-long period where she was an only dog. We adopted again because WE wanted a second dog again, rather than suggesting that it would enhance her quality of life. While she likes her new sibling well enough, and they get along well 99.9% of the time, I’m fairly certain that the one month period where she was an only dog, with all the benefits that come along with that, was the best month of her life.

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