Potentially adding a second dog - but what kind?
August 14, 2018 2:18 PM   Subscribe

In a few months I'd like to get a second dog, but my current dog is rather finicky. Trying to think this through.

So my 6 year old dog, Rooney, is a female terrier mix, 30 lbs, and kind of neurotic. She can be shy and fearful though she ultimately loves all people. She gets an anxiety pill every day, which helps, but I'm not sure she's happy. She lives for human attention and snuggling and I work a normal 9-to-5. I would like to get a second dog to be a companion for her, and because I love dogs too of course.

But here's the issue. Rooney doesn't really like other dogs. At least, she is very scared of them when she first meets them, and she goes into flight or fight mode. As in, if she can ignore them or get away, she will, but she interprets normal dog behavior as a threat when it's coming from new/strange dogs. Then she does a very panicked scream/growl/bark and her body gets all tense. I'm not sure if she would actually bite or not because I've never let her get into a situation where she could.

There are some exceptions. When I got her as a puppy, we lived with another (smaller, male) dog, and they got along well, even though that dog was kind of a dick. My sister has a french bulldog (smaller, male) who doesn't seem to set off her fear at all, although she is still a little touchy about him getting on "her" couch or taking up too much attention from the humans. And some days we will go to the farmer's market or whatever and she will be curiously sniffing the other dogs and slowly wagging her tail. I do think she WANTS to be with other dogs but she's afraid.

Okay, this is getting long. I am very willing to have a long, cautious introduction. Like over a couple weeks, gradually letting her get used to the new dog. And I have some tips and tricks from a rescue agency for introducing two dogs. So assume I will do my very best to keep both dogs safe and happy. On to the question:

1. Dog breeds. I'll be adopting, so obviously I won't be getting a purebred, but if anyone has some recommendations for breeds that tend to be medium-sized (or a little smaller), patient, gentle, calm, etc, I'd appreciate it.
2. Age. Originally I was thinking I would get an adult dog, so I could tell if its personality would be a match with Rooney and my household in general. But, since she does better with smaller dogs, I was wondering if a puppy would be a better choice and feel less threatening to her. She might not even perceive it as a dog if it was small enough. Plus, puppies are so resilient and joyful, I feel like they would be less likely to be like "Okay bitch, what is your problem?!" On the other hand, I don't want the puppy's psyche to be affected by Rooney's attitude.

Thoughts? Opinions? Anyone else had a problem like this and what did you do?

Thanks all
posted by ohsnapdragon to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
Have you considered that it might cause more anxiety, at least in the short term, to do this? I would be concerned about causing an unpleasant environment for her, especially given your description of her behavior around many other dogs. I’m probably just being overly cautious, but I would strongly at least consider this before making any decision.
posted by Alensin at 2:28 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

@Alensin, yes, of course I have considered this and will continue to do so. My first priority is what's best for her. My instincts, though, say that she would appreciate having a companion once she is adjusted.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 2:33 PM on August 14, 2018

our first adopted dog was sort of like this - maybe not as severe, but seriously - he was afraid of riding in the car, frisbees, his own water bowl if it wasn't flat on the ground, paper sacks, you name it. very defensive with other dogs when on a leash and any dog we had to take in temporarily, he pretended didn't exist. he is same size as your dog

my daughter adopted a dog last year. puppy, but even at 4 months already 25 pounds. the key was that the puppy had NONE of the fearful traits of our dog and just went about his business. he was willing to be dominated (and still is even though noone believes the act anymore) and willing to ask original dog to play over and over again no matter how many times he got rejected.

so, i think an easy going confident personality is more key than size, but i do think a puppy would be a good idea for you, so your dog can stay the top dog.

the "puppy" is huge now (part boxer, part shepherd) and his goofiness and confidence has bled over into our dog, who now actually sticks his head out the window on car rides and will literally walk under the puppy, where he wouldn't even look at him a year ago.
posted by domino at 2:42 PM on August 14, 2018

Before considering adding a new dog, consider helping your dog be more confident and less anxious. Obedience training at any level, even if you've done it before, is one way for your dog to see a bunch of other dogs in a safe environment. Interacting with you in class will also give her confidence, which could also help with the anxiety. Then, consider how to add a new dog.

For adding a new dog, your thoughts are good. Adopt for personality, energy level and a compatible play style with your dog. Don't worry so much about breed or looks. It's usually best if they are similar in size.

Work with a reputable rescue or two near you, and go slowly. I'd suggest starting by looking for chill male dogs (two female dogs are the most likely to initially fight), who are being fostered in a home, and talk to the foster. Tell them about your dog, and ask them to suggest a dog that would work well with yours.

Then, meet potential dogs in neutral territory first, like a park, or somewhere your dog is comfortable that isn't the home. I take fosters on a long walk with a potential adopter and their dog; no touching or sniffing at first. You're looking for a low-energy, low-stress meeting. If they're too excited to meet each other, back off and keep walking. If there's growling or a fuss, back off and keep walking. Over time, if they ignore each other, this is what you're looking for. As they get tired, you can move them a little closer together, but not so close that you can't guide them away if there's a ruckus.

If things go well, you may want to do another meeting, in a neutral location. If you're feeling confident, you can do a meeting at your home, which should start in the yard, which can be less stressful than being right in the home. Keep everybody on the leash at first, and see how they do.

Most reputable rescues will let you do an overnight or two prior to adoption, and/or will take their dog back if an adoption doesn't work out. Even if you choose to do an overnight or a trial adoption, the dogs initially only interact when supervised at first; crate them or put them in different rooms when you're not there to observe. See how they interact. In a few days, you should know if it's going to work out, even if you need to do some training and supervising at first.
posted by answergrape at 3:04 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think a puppy is your best bet. In my experience, most dogs, even anxious ones with reactivity issues, just seem to "get" that puppies are not a threat and are to be treated gently (my dog, for instance, has had leash reactivity issues, but even at his worst, would get down on his back on leash to play non-threateningly with a puppy). I bet that once your dog is comfortable with this new dog, it won't matter as much what the new dog's breed or personality is, because your dog will see them as part of the pack. Also, if you get a puppy, your dog will essentially teach the puppy how he (the older dog) wants the puppy to behave.

Puppies can be hard to adopt, but I think even an older puppy (like, 6-8 months, sadly the age at which puppies start getting surrendered to shelters) would work for this strategy.

As for breed, I honestly don't think there's much of a difference between breeds when it comes to energy levels, except at the margins. ie, you've got dogs like border collies and labs at one end (though labs can be pretty lazy when they get older). And then at the other end, you've got dogs that were bred literally to sit quietly with royalty, like Japanese chins. Between those extremes, it really varies so much by individual.
posted by lunasol at 3:26 PM on August 14, 2018

She might not even perceive it as a dog if it was small enough.

This is incredibly unlikely.

Some adult dogs just can't stand puppies, probably because they no social skills. If you don't know whether your dog is one of these, it's probably a bad idea. I'm leaning towards thinking that you getting another dog is a bad idea in general, but a puppy could be worse than a compatible adult.
posted by karbonokapi at 3:59 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Please take your dog to classes now and make socializing her your responsibility, not the responsibility of a newly rehomed rescue or a newly adopted puppy. A poorly socialised dog who is unpredictably aggressive and has a new pack member introduced to the home is a potential threat in a way that can end very badly indeed.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:09 PM on August 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

I agree that socializing your current dog is a great first step before you introduce any new dogs to your home. Tackle that first! I might be wrong but it doesn't sound like your current dog is meeting other dogs often at all, probably as a result of your negative past experiences. I had a foster dog that was afraid of everything and it just took consistent and gentle positive exposure to social interactions to turn things around. Maybe get to know some friends with dogs and see if you can all meet regularly for walks!
posted by belau at 4:39 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Foster first! So in addition to being a totally awesome thing to do, fostering let's you figure out what will make your dog the happiest with zero long term commitments and you save a dog from being euthanized. You'll figure out pretty quickly if your dog digs the company and if you want a second dog.
posted by KMoney at 4:42 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, back when I was married we had a medium-large (female) Dalmatian mix (about 60 lbs at fighting weight) who had a traumatic puppyhood and was Teh Absolute Shit with foreign dogs when her people were around. And yet she really didn't have any problem when we introduced a small happy-but-submissive (then-3-yo male) Pomeranian into the household without any sort of major machinations. I know people tend to poo-poo the Alpha Dog paradigm these days but I believe there are definitely dogs that want to be Top Dog and dogs that are happy to take second billing. The latter category of dog, and a male dog, is what you are looking for, moreso than any specific breed.
posted by drlith at 7:03 PM on August 14, 2018

Training classes are a great idea. I don't know why I didn't think of that. I think I associated them with just learning come/sit/stay/etc which she learned easily on her own. But I see there are classes near me specifically for fearful/anxious/reactive dogs. We had tried a private trainer a couple years ago, but didn't have any dog friends to interact with so I didn't feel like we were making any progress (although she learned the other tricks very quickly and enjoyed all the treats.)

By the way - she had Parvo as a puppy and so had to be kept isolated from other dogs for much of her important socialization period after she recovered. I think that's definitely part of it, she didn't get a chance to really learn how to interact with other dogs. I would be over the moon if she got over her fear of new dogs and we could foster regularly.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 7:14 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Please foster to adopt rather than just adding another dog. What would you do with the second dog if it turns into such a problem you can’t leave them alone? Crate them both all day? Another option would be seeing if a senior neighbor would like some dog company during the day for a reduced price. Your dog would get daytime attention without a second dog coming into their space.

I have a terrier that I thought would love another dog. I fostered three different dogs and he did ok with one of them after a month. The other two he fought with and peed all over my bed repeatedly. I finally got the message. I stopped fostering.

He is unpredictable in the way terriers are. He likes some dogs for unknown reasons and hates others. Your terrier sounds similar. Please spare yourself and your pup future agony by exploring all your options before taking the plunge. You have all kinds of choices. Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:52 PM on August 14, 2018

Oh also people will tell you not to put two females together and definitely get a male. My lead bitch will constantly put the smackdown on male dogs who come into our home as fosters but we are now on our second long term female companion for her. There is grumbling and shoving at the beginning regardless of sex and we initially always feed seperately. At the start is feels like those stressful days will never end but now they are just two throw cushions lumped up on the couch together.

And these are big, big 100lb+ dogs who could tear the face off one another very easily if they were committed.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:04 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have done exactly this -- successfully introduced a second dog into a house with a first dog who is dog-reactive. I got some really great advice here both before adopting the second one and afterward as well .

Training the first one (Licorice) in specific classes for dog-reactive dogs was an early step, and while she is better, I still have to be pretty vigilant in situations with dogs who are strangers with her. She was still in training when I got the second dog second dog (Black Jack). Ideally, I would have kept working with her a bit longer before bringing him home, but it did work out well. I had to manage their interactions for a few months, and not leave them out together while they were alone. There is still a skirmish every once in a while (always over food), but , we are now at the point where I can confidently leave them out uncrated together while I'm gone.

They still ignore each other 90% of the time. They don't really interact with each other, but they do a lot of things in parallel (chase squirrels, stare at the chickens next door, play with me. Example.) They ignore each other, but want to do it in the same room. I still avoid stressing Licorice with interactions with other dogs, so when dog parks or similar are in the mix, Jack's the only one who goes with me.

I think the fact that he is older than her (he was 10-12 when I got him and she was 4) and much chiller helped a lot. A puppy would have been absolutely out of the question. Licorice HATES puppies, both because of their energy level, and I think because she ended up at the rescue from which I adopted her because her former owners got two consecutive puppies so puppies = threat to her.)

Honestly, the initial period where I had to supervise them constantly was much longer than I had anticipated. Probably 6 months - a year. A lot of that was me learning how to manage them, what the warning signs were, etc. I've had Jack for 1.5 years now, and they just got the uncrated alone together privileges this summer.

This is rambly, so tl;dr = training, patience, time.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 9:16 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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