One of my recent separation anxiety clients asked me a common question during our initial call, “Will getting a second dog help?”
My heart swells with appreciation for guardians whose dogs display separation-related anxiety.
There’s a technical difference between separation anxiety, when the dog is anxious when not in the presence of a specific person; and isolation anxiety, when the dog is anxious when left alone without any person. Either way, the dog is experiencing anxiety similar to a panic attack. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use the term “separation-related anxiety” to refer to both.
These folks are some of the most caring, compassionate and committed dog guardians I’ve ever worked with.
They’re usually frustrated because they love their dog to the moon and back, but they also feel trapped in their own home because every time they leave, their dog displays one or more of any number of separation-related behaviors including continued and progressive vocalization, serious damage to the home, and even self-mutilation.
These guardians are heartbroken and often nearly at their wit’s end.
By the time they find a certified separation anxiety trainer, they’ve also read and/or received some pretty ineffective and often downright harmful advice on how to help their beloved dog.
It’s no wonder that they’re ready to reach for a solution that’s seemingly as simple as adding a second dog. In reality, it’s not simple or easy. So when clients ask the second-dog question, I offer the two most repeated words in dog training: “It depends.”
Here’s a hypothetical human analogy: If your spouse or significant other passed away and you were feeling terribly anxious while home alone, would any other unknown person relieve your anxiety? Bringing a new dog into your home would be like asking a stranger to hang out in your home to relieve your anxiety. I’d venture a guess that even good friends might not alleviate your anxiety. One or two of your friends (you know, the ones you love but who seem to find a way to get on your last nerve) might even exacerbate your anxiety.
Admittedly, I’ve seen situations where a second dog has been slightly beneficial, and a few situations where adding another dog has helped. Usually, though, a second dog isn’t the solution.
Here’s one example:
Ollie, a dog with a separation-related behavior, was comforted by one particular doggie friend named Brody. When Ollie and Brody were together, Ollie was relaxed during short absences. That was pretty exciting progress. However, when Ollie was left alone with any other dog, he was still anxious.
And while that second dog may help alleviate the first dog’s symptoms, his presence doesn’t fix the underlying separation-related anxiety. What happens when that new canine friend has to be away from the house for grooming or spaying/neutering or even an overnight at the vet? You guessed right. The dog with separation-related anxiety is still anxious.
It’s possible that the excitement of the new doggie friend could wear off and the anxious symptoms reappear. There is also a risk that the second dog could be negatively affected by the first dog’s anxiety and develop his own anxiety issues. So now you have two dogs with separation-related anxiety – certainly not what you bargained for.
If you really DO want a second dog, the first course of action is to help your existing dog overcome the separation-related anxiety before bringing in the new addition.
If you’re still determined to get a second dog, here are a couple of things to consider:
Try dog sharing. If you have a friend with a dog that gets along well with your dog, arrange to leave them together, alone, while you and your friend go to lunch. It would be wise to set up a remote viewing device so you can periodically check on them while you’re out. If that works out well, try it with another friend and their dog. Again, be sure these dogs are familiar and happy with one another before leaving them alone together.
Foster to adopt: Decide what type of dog you might enjoy adding to your home (consider temperament, exercise and grooming needs). Visit your local rescue and select a dog you believe might fit well in your home. Arrange for a meet and greet on neutral grounds for your dog and the rescue dog. If all goes well, find out if you can foster this dog with the potential to adopt.
Adding a second dog to any home comes with all sorts of change, so be ready to do everything necessary to help the two dogs learn to live comfortably with one another. Change can be particularly challenging for dogs with separation-related anxiety, so you’ll need to be patient when making changes to their lifestyle.
The best reason to bring a second dog into your home is because you truly want the love and companionship of that dog and you’re ready to accept the 10- to 15-year commitment, the added time and financial responsibility that comes with adding a new dog to your family. Otherwise, it’s best to work with a qualified trainer to help your favorite furry friend overcome his separation-related anxiety before bringing a second canine kid into your home.
Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior, a dog*tec Certified Professional Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities and distance consults for clients, dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. and Europe. www.coldnosecollege.com