three dog fight
May 7, 2007 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Is a third dog one dog too many?

My wife and I are debating the adoption of a third dog. OK, to be fair, I am pro-third-dog, she, being much more practical than I, is on the fence.

We have two 40-lb border collie/heeler/basenji-type crosses, one about 13 and the other about 6. Both were adopted from rescue agencies when they were pups. They are both very high energy, and we walk them frequently, take them on backpacking trips and hikes on weekends, to the park to play fetch, etc. We live in a city, own our own home, and have a typical urban yard -- fenced, with grass, trees and plenty of shade, but not a lot of space to run.

Both of the dogs we already have are pretty crazy and needy, and we've worked through destructive phases with each. They are very good friends, though the younger one, a spayed female, is very dominant over the older one, a fixed male.

For some ungodly reason, we want another one. Pretty much another mutt, just like the dogs we already have. We are not concerned about the additional expense or hair. Our vehicles are large enough to accommodate an additional canine.

I'd like to hear from experienced dog owners as to what a third dog might do to the household dynamics. Friends have told us that a third dog will reduce an established two-dog pack to chaos. Or that each dog in a family needs a specific human to bond with. We have no other humans.

Some have also questioned our sanity, and have gently suggested that we might be trying to fill some sort of "hole" in our lives not filled by work/relationships/etc. We have discussed this, and are pretty sure that while our work lives are exceedingly stressful, we are not becoming crazy pet hoarders.

What do you think?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I live in a house with eight dogs. I can patently guarantee you that your friends are wrong about the dog social structure in your home falling into anarchy, and their need of a specific (read: not having been claimed by another dog) human to bond with.

Also, having three dogs does not make you a crazy pet hoarder. Four might be pushing it, and everything after that makes you a masochist.

I say go for it.
posted by invitapriore at 9:21 AM on May 7, 2007

if you have space and $ and willingness to take care then go for it!

i want a second dog but my short cab truck only has room for my little 40 pounder, so, no second dog

but (not to make you sad) the 13 year old is nearing its end of days and so getting a third might be a good idea, it can socialize with them and help you to cope when the eldest passes on
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:25 AM on May 7, 2007

I grew up in a house full of animals; at one time we probably had ten dogs. There will be a period where some sort of pecking order is established, but I think that there's no truth to the "specific human" bonding theory.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:31 AM on May 7, 2007

Some people might roll their eyes, and a lot might not want to visit you anymore, but it's your life and you've got to do what makes you and your pooches happy.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2007

That "pack" and "bonding" stuff is a little silly. Yes, there will be an adjustment period, and maybe some scuffles, but things should settle down after that. It sounds like you take good care of your dogs and train and manage them well, so introducing a new guy shouldn't be anything you can't handle. (Of course I'm presuming you know your current dogs well enough to know that they would welcome a third, and I'm presuming you would make sure a third dog is a good 3-dog-household dog, which are the two biggest dog-related factors.) It might make life a little crazy sometimes, especially when 2 people are trying to corral 3 energetic dogs, but that's part of the fun of having them!

The only real other potential problem I see is that your wife isn't as into the idea as you are. If she honestly wants it too, then yeah, go for it. If she goes along reluctantly, there's always the chance of her becoming resentful of the 50% increase in cleanup, walks, play time, training, etc. But, it sounds like both of you really like dogs (as do I) and are willing to deal with a lot to have them (crazy and needy and destructive - oh my), so chances are you'll both be madly in love with your third dog.
posted by boomchicka at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2007

Can each of you walk and control if something happens your current two dogs on your own, as now one you will always have to have 2 of them at a time when walking them? Can each of you handle all three of them at a time in case the other of you is sick or out of town?
posted by jacquilynne at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

You'd probably be better off if your third dog is a male — less potential disruption to your existing dynamics. Your senior dog is probably past caring all that much about his place in the pecking order and a male will probably be less likely to challenge your dominant dog.

My only concern would be whether the old guy would be able to deal with the annoyance a new puppy would bring, but it sounds like he's still lively enough to stand his ground.
posted by timeistight at 10:18 AM on May 7, 2007

I have had three dogs for a couple of years now, but we adopted them all at once (all males - a chow mix, a pit mix and a husky mix). In hindsight, not a great grouping. They are all varying ages (3, 6, 7 - we think).

If you are comfortable with the idea go for it. As long as you're not fooling yourself and genuinely want the challenge it can be rewarding. Walking three dogs can be tricky - backpacks for them with ankle weights in them can make a world of difference in slowing them down and pulling. All three of mine have gotten in many scuffles that have required stitches (on them and us) but we finally (god I hope I don't jinx myself) seem to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We almost got rid of the pit mix twice now but relented and refocused. People might think you are insane, but as long as you are being reasonable about the whole thing you might find it very rewarding.

Since I had a three dog pack from the get go, I can't speak to the adjustment. With big dogs like that you must always stay in control and constantly have to be aware of what's going on. But I can honestly say having them has made me grow up more than anything else in recent memory and has given me perspective on family, life, etc.
posted by dig_duggler at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2007

I am not a dog owner, but this sort of criticism of your plans:

"Some have also questioned our sanity, and have gently suggested that we might be trying to fill some sort of "hole" in our lives not filled by work/relationships/etc."

seems to miss the point. Even if that lies behind your desires, what's wrong with trying to fill that sort of "hole" constructively? It's not like you're getting trashed every night to avoid thinking about problems at work, etc.
posted by voltairemodern at 10:51 AM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I love dogs, and I love my unplanned 3-pack, and I won't say you shouldn't...but I miss having just two dogs. There's the pack dynamics thing, but it's just mostly that three dogs seem to take up a lot more psychic (and physical, we need more couches and a bigger bed) space than you'd expect two plus one to take up. It takes both of us to take them to the vet or anywhere else, we can't take all three to visit most people because they're too overwhelming, it is hideously expensive to board them (our preferred kennels will put two together but not three), and a lot of times I don't feel like each dog gets enough one-on-one attention.

I'm biased this time around; our third dog did not have a very good life, up until her owners moved out and left her behind. Because of her neediness and escapiness and general brokenness, the other two dogs don't get to do things that they otherwise would. I think if she were a different dog, or getting better a little faster, I might feel a little differently, but there would still be 3-dog-sized accommodations to be made. I've had up to 5-6 dogs at a time when I was fostering, and the difference between 3 and 4 or 4 and 5 dogs seems to be much smaller than the difference between 2 and 3. I don't know what that's about but other people have agreed with me.

That said, with the ages you're talking about, I probably would bring in maybe a young adult. Your 6-year-old's got a lot of romping left to do yet, and the senior dog is going to slow down. Two dogs train a third better than one trains another, I think you'll probably have a short span of chaos and then they'll fall into a new routine not terribly different from the previous one. You may, however, need more couches.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:00 AM on May 7, 2007

For my family, going from 2 to 3 dogs was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. (We had two for years and then added a third.) I didn't feel like it made all that much more work, I was still doing the same things but just with one more mouth/four more legs. It does feel like a lot of work when it's just me with them though (for an extended time) - wrangling all 3 of them by myself can be a challenge.

The third dog found his place quickly - the dogs just sorted it out on their own. The third is a border collie mix, and as sweet and easygoing a fella as you ever will meet, so I bet that helped - he was pretty much willing to go with the flow.

I'm sure that each dog would love to have his own human - but they don't need it. Besides, what if you had three humans and three dogs but two of the dogs wanted the same human to bond with? They can and will share.

But -- we never take them off leash, or backpacking. How well do the two that you have now listen - i.e., will they come right away when called, even when tempted? If they listen well, and you get a third that you train the same, then it's probably okay. I would just worry that you would want to take all 3 to the dog park, and if for some reason you needed to grab them you only have 2 humans but you have 3 dogs.
posted by KAS at 11:13 AM on May 7, 2007

Great advice, all.

I probably should have added that our two existing dogs do come when called and are pretty obedient, but are both very boisterous, prone to pulling on leashes and jumping on guests. I can see where this would be difficult with three in the equation.

Also, the 13 year old has yet to show a single sign of slowing down, he is still frequently mistaken for a puppy.

They are not allowed on any furniture, couches, beds, etc., and nor would a newcomer.

Also, Lyn Never, I hadn't even thought about kennels, I'm glad you mentioned it. We don't board them often, but I can foresee that it will inevitably be necessary someday when the dog sitter isn't available.

timeistight - the old guy is still very playful, and if we got a third dog, I think we'd get a 2-year-old or older this time around.

boomchicka - I'm still trying to figure out if my wife is really, honestly into the idea, or just into it because she knows I am. Amazing how that works.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:35 AM on May 7, 2007

and jaquilynne - very good point about whether or not one of us could handle all three in an emergency. Their combined weight and strength would be about twice that of my wife!

Thank you all for helping me parse this out, it's been on our minds for three months.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:38 AM on May 7, 2007

I agree with timeistight, if you get a third dog I would suggest a male dog. They seem to be, pardon the pun, less bitchy. My girlfriend has 8 dogs, yes 8. (She has a large piecce of property to house them too. She has 7 males and 1 female and the female seems to manages the boys. The female passed away recently and my girlfriend bought a female puppy to replace her. Even as a puppy she seemed to have a calming effect on the rest of the pack.
posted by brinkzilla at 11:42 AM on May 7, 2007

Also, Lyn Never, I hadn't even thought about kennels, I'm glad you mentioned it. We don't board them often, but I can foresee that it will inevitably be necessary someday when the dog sitter isn't available.

A friend of mine and I had this problem, and ended up finding a smaller kennel outside of town that had oversized runs for two large dogs that could easily accomodate three normal sized dogs. It isn't so tough to go out of town with dogs, you just need to plan a little better and have more than one pet-sitter that you can call upon... or better yet, figure out if some of the people you know through rescue societies or dog parks can take yours in while you're away, which is what I usually do.
posted by SpecialK at 12:00 PM on May 7, 2007

In the last couple of months we added a third dog. In most ways, it wasn't a huge difference. However, feeding became an issue because our other two are grazers and he is a gulper. Do you crate your dogs? Three large crates takes up an extraordinary amount of space and they are ugly. Walking three dogs is interesting. If one misbehaves, they might all start acting up and it can be dangerous. Going to the vet is interesting and funny, can you put all three of them in sort of vehicle and bring them in?

However, they provide tons of entertainment and love and they quickly became great friends with each other.
posted by stormygrey at 12:53 PM on May 7, 2007

stormygrey - we feed our existing dogs a measured amount, in separate bowls, so any new family member would have to abide by the same rules, and would get his or her own bowl of food.

We don't crate 'em, though the garage does occasionally serve as a confinement, when we have guests with kids over, or if it is horrendously cold outside.

Our existing dogs are so energetic (and enjoy cat chasing so much) that we really couldn't leave them with anyone as is - instead, we pay sitters to stay at our house. So this wouldn't really change, I don't think.

Interesting advice from a couple mefites to get a male dog, I always assumed females were less prone to fighting amongst each other. Apparently, I'm a canine sexist!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:34 PM on May 7, 2007

My 3 cents:

When I left the former Mr. DamnJezebel, I took one of our three dogs. Once on my own, I looked around for another dog to get so Olivia (the dog) would have a companion. Through a string of events, I ended up getting a sibling pair of chihuahuas. My reasoning: They weigh a combined total of 16lbs. Might as well get both.

I was under the assumption that because I had three dogs in the house, they would all play together.

Uh, no.

The "twins", as I call them because it's too long to say "the boy and girl chihuahuas", interact with Olivia maybe 1% of the time. Don't get me wrong - they all tolerate each other, and can lay around without fighting at all. But the "twins" don't play with Olivia at all. Which, of course, makes me feel bad.

(olivia doesn't really "play", though, so there you)

Other issues? None, really. No fighting over food or anything like that. They eat out of the same bowl and sleep together. And if Olivia starts barking, the "twins" will follow suit, for fear of not being cool. Aside from that, I like having my own little herd.

Granted, the combined total weight of my herd is under 30lbs, but a herd's a herd.
posted by damnjezebel at 3:40 PM on May 7, 2007

We have three dogs --- here's my three-dog story.

We never intended to have three dogs. When we got our first, we thought we'd just have him and no more. Then, one day driving to work, I found our second dog, mangy and tick-covered, trotting happily through a rush-hour intersection, and brought her home. After a rough adjustment period (including her snapping frequently at our first dog, and sleepless nights with her whining) we ended up falling in love with her, and kept her. Then, we thought we'd serve as a foster home for a local dog rescue organization. The first foster dog we had came in and immediately claimed his favorite spot on the love seat in our study, and we couldn't bear to part with him when the foster organization called about a possible new "forever family" that was interested in seeing him. (They never saw him --- we kept him!)

Each step of the way, we never thought we'd want the next dog. Now, we can't imagine any of them not being with us!
posted by jayder at 6:25 PM on May 7, 2007

Sorry, I forgot to answer your specific questions.

I'd like to hear from experienced dog owners as to what a third dog might do to the household dynamics ...

The third dog didn't change them very much. We've got more tails to keep track of. Each of our dogs has dramatically different personalities: one is kind of quiet, serious, and philosophical; another one is silly and outdoorsy, and loves playing with toys and chasing birds and squirrels; the other is very needy and protective, and would be happy to be held all day. Because each dog has its own personality, it never has felt like there was a diminution of the affection that any of them receive. They all get their own kind of affection. Also, it has not really seemed like having three dogs is much more work than having two.

Friends have told us that a third dog will reduce an established two-dog pack to chaos.

No, not in my experience. One thing I have noticed, is that the most recent addition seems to be the most protective of them family/pack. For example, when we got our second dog, she was the one who would be most hostile to a new, visiting dog. Now that we have our third, he is the one who is most hostile to the visiting dog. We haven't seen anything like chaos break loose.

Or that each dog in a family needs a specific human to bond with.

Our dogs aren't really that way. I think our third dog seems a bit more attached to me, but maybe that's my imagination. In general, our dogs seem to like each of us a great deal.

We have no other humans.

Neither do we.
posted by jayder at 6:34 PM on May 7, 2007

I know lots of people with three dogs so it is surely possible. I personally would tend to want all three relatively close in age, if we were to keep three. It depends an awful lot on the individual dogs and how you manage them. We've had three in the past and found three to be an occasionally unstable number and it introduced us to a few experiences of Unbridled Nature that shocked us - seeing two dogs gang up on an obviously weaker third was eye-opening. Shame on us though we should have had more control over the situations as they developed. We 'read' better these days and have become practiced at preventing or managing situations that can escalate, and setting dogs up to 'do the right thing.' While we found two dogs to be less than twice the work of one, I think three can be more than three times the work of one. As a couple, you move from man-to-dog to zone defense. Logistics and expenses also scale up, with some extra overhead. We've never had more than six dogs at one time and currently have four.
posted by cairnish at 1:18 PM on May 8, 2007

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