Splitting up pair of dogs
January 9, 2014 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Within the next few weeks, I need to split up a pair of rescue dogs. My main question is whether there is any particularly “best” way to manage this split. Also any assurance that I am not going to permanently emotionally damage the doggies would be much appreciated.

All of my research online talks about “bonded” pairs of litter mates or dogs who have spent very long periods of time together, which doesn’t match my situation.

Both dogs are rescues that have led very topsy turvy lives since this summer. They were brought from separate high kill shelters in California to Toronto in August. As they got along so well together, and there was a shortage of foster homes, they were placed together in the home of my colleague (and then with my fiancé and me when my colleague unexpectedly had to go overseas for a prolonged period in late November).

They are delightfully mutty mixes, with one appearing to be primarily dachshund-chihuaha while the other is more of a beagle. One is about 1 year old, while the other is estimate to be about 3. They have very different energy levels and so it can be challenging have both of them together for walks, etc. One would rather walk a block and go home, while the other would go on forever if he had the chance.

To get to the point, both my colleague and his girlfriend and my fiancé and I decided that we could give one of the two dogs a forever home. But, for a number of reasons (including, admittedly, our own personal preferences and convenience) not both animals. Since we each have fallen in love with a different dog, deciding who would get which animal was easy.

The dogs are not what I would call a bonded pair. They’ve lived together for only since August. They get along well, playing together, sleeping nearby to one another and walking together nicely. We will also often take them on walks separately (especially when only one of us can do so) and they’ll usually be pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. While generally together in the house, they also on occasion will pursue separate activities in separate areas of our home. They do notice the other’s absence though, and will always greet each other pretty enthusiastically when reunited.

We plan to separate the pair in a couple of weeks. Right now, I am thinking the best course of action would be to drive them together from our home (where they have been living since late November) to my colleague’s home. We would then get the one that would be staying with my colleague briefly acclimatized and then bring “our” dog back home with us alone.

Does this plan make sense? Is there anything we can do to make the separation easier? Any warning signs I should look out for? I feel very guilty about the whole thing and need assurance that by giving the dogs permanent (if separate) forever homes, we are cancelling out the negative of separating them.

Am I just really over-thinking this?
posted by elkerette to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Be easy on yourself. You're giving great homes to dogs that were in a bad spot.

I do work with rescue dogs in Colorado and have noticed that placing dogs in a new setting causes unexpected behavior for a few days but they settle down and reveal their true self in no time. Be patient with the dog that is getting a brand new home (without his mate!) but be confident that he'll be back to normal in no time.

Dogs are resilient. Just do it.
posted by shew at 7:55 AM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are over-thinking it just a tad bit but there's nothing wrong with being concerned about this.

I agree with shew, just do it. They will be okay.

Give the separated dogs extra attention, love, and treats.
posted by royalsong at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2014

Right now, I am thinking the best course of action would be to drive them together from our home (where they have been living since late November) to my colleague’s home. We would then get the one that would be staying with my colleague briefly acclimatized and then bring “our” dog back home with us alone.

I think this is perfectly reasonable. Probably not absolutely necessary if it's a hardship, but fine to do.

Whenever I start to get in that place you're in, I remind myself of dog pounds. "Is this better than the pound?" If yes, then it's fine.

Dogs enjoy company, and these two enjoyed each other's company, but they will enjoy other company of other dogs in the future. They may be rattled for a couple of days just by the change in routine rather than any specific aspect of separation, but it will pass pretty quickly. Both you and the new family should make sure to express all the normal reassurances of a benign dictator (you are safe, you are being provided for by your pack leader, I am making everything okay) because that makes a dog feel normal.

(There is always the possibility that one or both dogs will actually do better without each other. Dog politics are crazy subtle and sometimes one dog is actually quite oppressed and you had no idea.)
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 AM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Don't feel guilty. They'll be fine. Dogs are amazingly resilient. I wouldn't expect any trouble - although they'll cue off you, so try to keep a stiff upper lip.

I've got two dogs (profile pic) and the younger one has been with the older his whole life. They are 1200 miles apart now, and have been for the past few months except for a couple weeks over Christmas.

They barely noticed. There have been some changes in behavior and personality, but nothing a person not familiar with them would notice. The biggest challenge was for the dog that came with me - he had a new house in a new state with new noises and routines. That was hard for him for a couple weeks, then he settled right in and loves his new normal.

In any case, give them both lots of exercise and lots to do. The distraction will help and in a few days or so, they'll be back to normal in no time.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:59 AM on January 9, 2014

Dogs are interesting, in that they can be super happy to have someone, somewhere or something that they love in their lives, but also be super happy without that person, place or thing.

We recently took my brother's dogs with us to visit the house my brother lived in when he got those dogs, and where they lived until last year. They were *super* excited. Jumping, barking, running around to check out all their favorite pee-spots in the old hood. Super excited.

But you know what? They're super excited like that whenever they get to see something they haven't seen in a while. Find Lola's squeaky toy after it's been under the couch for a few months? Super excited. Have a person they like come to visit? Super excited.

I point this out because at some point in the future, you're going to get those two dogs together again, and they're going to be super excited -- more excited than they are when you come home from work -- and you're probably going to think "Oh, god, I can't believe we tore them apart." and feel guilty.

Don't. They're dogs. They get super excited about things. It doesn't mean they aren't pretty damned happy the rest of the time.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:06 AM on January 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

You may be overthinking it a bit, but that's okay. They're your buddies, dogs are. I would also plan to spend a little more play time with the dog you bring back home, to disrupt the usual routine it has with the dog that's left.
posted by xingcat at 8:20 AM on January 9, 2014

They're young, and they haven't been together all that long. Whatever you do will be fine.

(Though it is true it's sometimes very serious to break up a truly bonded pair of dogs. My childhood dogs were together for 13 years before one of them died. The other fell into what could only be explained as deep grief and died only a couple months later. But that's not what's going to happen with these young, not-bonded dogs.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:21 AM on January 9, 2014

The be fine, like the others have said. If you can spare it maybe take some of the food the dog is used to, also a favorite you out two, if the dog had its own bed then maybe that as well, but I if nothing else makes sure it's got good it's used to. Change and stress can upset doggy tummies so no sudden changes in diet can help. Keep the same routine with the one you are keeping as routines make dogs feel safe and secure and you will all be fine.
posted by wwax at 8:23 AM on January 9, 2014

When my parents divorced, they split up their two dogs. The dogs were about 2 and 1, and they played together, they had lived together a year. They also wrestled and fought for dominance.

The dogs were a lot happier without each other, and it gave them a closer connection to their people.

It sounds like these dogs are more bonded to their respective people anyway. I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by Llamadog-dad at 8:27 AM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dog, who is also a rescue, very clearly lived in a household with multiple dogs before he ended up in the shelter and ultimately with me. I have no knowledge of whether he was "pair bonded" with any of said dogs, but I have some hints that he's not used to being an only dog.

He does pretty OK as an only dog, with one caveat:

Separation Anxiety.

If I were you I would take precautions to avoid separation anxiety in the dogs and watch carefully for signs of it after they've been separated. Especially if either dog is going to a new home for the first time, and super especially if they will be only dogs in their new homes.
posted by Sara C. at 9:01 AM on January 9, 2014

I don't think you're doing irreparable damage by splitting them up. They're dogs. I love my dogs and anthropomorphize them way more than necessary but I try to remember they don't have as complex feelings as I do.

He may have some separation anxiety at first, but he's going to be confused and anxious for a little bit no matter what. Every time we move, my dogs freak out a bit. But hey, so do I! Your dog might act weird, have accidents, not eat, or whatever, for a few weeks. Totally normal.
posted by radioamy at 11:31 AM on January 9, 2014

Dogs embody the saying, "If you're not with the one you love, love the one you're with." Once your new dog settles into your home he'll be fine.
posted by workerant at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yay rescue dogs! Isn't it customary in these kinds of posts to link to a pic, btw?
posted by désoeuvrée at 5:02 AM on January 10, 2014

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