Ask Dr. Leigh: How do we go about adding another dog to our family?
Q: I have had a dog – one at a time – for most of my life (as a kid and now as a mom of 3 adult children). Our family is on our second consecutive rescue. Our first lived to be almost 18 and our current dog, Bridie, a 3-year-old terrier-lab mix, is the perfect dog. She loves other dogs and gets to spend plenty of time playing and running in a pack on the weekends at our friend’s farm. She also spends time with one or more other dogs when she stays with the dog sitter while we are away. Her only fault is that she becomes extremely possessive when any of us (especially me) pays attention to another dog. She allows them in our car and in our home so long as we don’t try to pet them! We are moving and would like at least one more dog – one that is a little more territorial (for some security) – do you have any suggestions as to how we can make the transition easier on Bridie and the rest of the family? Thanks! -Erin
A: Erin! First of all, congrats on the long life of your first rescue dog. What a gift! Second, I am so pleased you found Bridie and that she is such a perfect fit for your family. It sounds like Bridie is living the life: free play on a farm, a loving family, and hopefully soon a canine companion! In order to consider bringing another dog into the mix, we need to correct Bridie’s current behavior. What behavior is she showing when you pet another dog? Does she react the same whether you are at home in her environment or elsewhere (a more neutral territory)? It sounds to me like she is guarding her person (you!) in which case I would recommend desensitizing her to this behavior.
Before you begin any training regimen, have Bridie checked out by your family veterinarian. Many animals behave certain ways due to pain, anxiety, or underlying disease. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and run a full blood panel to check for possible illness. In addition, your veterinarian will be able to talk you through desensitization training.
Desensitizing an animal is not easy, but if you are unable to change her current behavior, it is likely your second dog will pick up Bridie’s habits or the two will not be the companions you want them to be. So, it is best to commit to working with Bridie before bringing a second dog into the family.
It is also important to consider the type/breed of dog you intend to get. Another rescue dog? Fabulous! There are many rescue dogs that will be loyal guardians of the home. Most rescue organizations will allow trial runs if you currently have another dog at home. Do your research and take your time finding the best possible companion for Bridie.
Thank you, Erin, for reaching out. I hope Bridie is able to modify her behavior with training and happily welcomes the new addition!
– Leigh Hofmeister, DVM