Choosing a second dog

All dog lovers want to adopt more dogs. Our significant others and family members have learned this the hard way.

I know that at some point there will be a second dog in our household. This very day, week or month is not the right time, but that could easily change.

My problem is not whether or not to adopt a second dog, my problem is deciding on “the right” dog.

I know the correct way to adopt a dog – take my time, set my emotions aside and find a dog that will compliment the energy in our house. That’s exactly what I did with my mutt Ace when I adopted him almost three years ago through a great rescue in Fargo called Adopt A Pet.

The second time around will be much harder for me because I’m more involved with dog rescue and it’s hard to set my emotions aside now that I spend time with so many dogs in need of homes. When I adopted Ace, I had no connections with any rescues in town and in many ways this made it easier to find “the perfect” dog.

‘The right’ dog

The dog I have always wanted to adopt does not fit that “ideal” profile for our household.

Ideally, a new dog should be more submissive and less energetic than the existing dog (and cats) so she can fit nicely into the order of the house. Most people make the mistake of adopting a hyper, young dog that ends up bringing chaos and stress to everyone.

I know from experience as a foster owner and Fargo pet sitter that the above advice should be taken very seriously. Higher energy, dominant dogs will create problems. Calmer, laid-back, submissive dogs will mold with the other animals almost seamlessly. It’s pretty amazing, yet it’s a very simple concept.

If anyone were to ask me for advice on adopting a second dog, I would highly advise them to choose a dog with less energy than their current dog. At the same time, I am going to have a hard time following my own advice.

Most dogs are more dominant than Ace. In case you forgot, my 9-pound cat will sit in an entryway blocking Ace just because he can. Ace will sit and cry until I come and “rescue” him.

The ranking in our house is very clear – humans, cats, dog.

The dog that I have always wanted to adopt is a dominant animal. Although she has no trouble following a consistent, knowledgeable human, there would naturally be a power struggle between her and my more dominant cat, Beamer. Not only that, but this particular dog has shown aggression with other animals.

Rescuing a dog

I’m writing this post because my conflict is one that every dog lover should think about.

At what point is it OK to adopt a more challenging dog?

That answer is different for everyone, and some people should never adopt certain dogs. It’s something I struggle with. I know how to properly choose a “perfect” dog, but I am also willing and capable of offering a great home to a dog with a few “issues.” We all know there is a lack of homes for these dogs.

I work with a lot of rescue dogs, and I can say that I am better than most as far as not getting too attached. I never want to keep my foster dogs. I don’t even want to foster a dog right now.

But … there has always been this one dog.

Am I “the one” for her? It’s easy to believe I am, but I know it’s mostly my emotional needs getting in the way again – a danger for every dog lover involved with rescue.

This dog doesn’t need me, as much as I want to believe she does. She needs someone – me or any other capable dog owner.  I imagine there must be hundreds of dog lovers out there who could be right for this dog. They just haven’t met her, at least not at the right time.

So … for now we are a one-dog home (with a lot of visiting and temporary dogs). Sooner or later though, there will be a second. The “right dog” for us is yet to be determined.

Why did you choose the dog/s you have?

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  1. Nic. on February 15, 2010

    When the time came for my (now ex) boyfriend and I to adopt a dog, we spent a lot of time searching -just like you said. He was the realistic one, telling me we needed to look for more, where I wanted to take home every dog I saw, let alone touched or walked.

    After more than a month of checking out rescue shows and the shelters each weekend, arguing over which breeds would be suitable for our household, we both instantly melted and subsequently agreed on a rescue who was in search of “Special” owners.

    A German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix who suffered the wrath of heartworm. A sickening 31lbs, there was absolutely no guarantee that the treatment this dog had gone under would be successful, and in fact he could easily die at any time, but they were trying to adopt him out regardless. We loved him right away. From behind his fenced cage at the shelter we took him to the runs to see what he might do when faced with genuine loving human contact.

    Rather than run up to us or slink away, the first thing he did when he got outside was relieve himself. Both #1 and #2. The dog was already housetrained. At somewhere between 3 and 4 years old, a spunky guy, he was very weary of people. Any people. But with breeds loyal and smart enough to be the well trained dog we sought, we needed to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    We adopted him that day.

    We anxiously awaited for the 6 months before the heartworm test could be drawn again, slowly nursing him back to health through his time of no activity, to reintroducing exercise and eventually running him each and every day. We were delighted to find positive (or rather negative) results when that test in April 08 came back finding no remaining traces of heartworm.

    Jack is now 55lbs, somewhere around 5 years old and a very healthy and happy Canine Good Citizen.

    Sometimes, you have to take the chance on the difficult dogs.

  2. Karen on February 15, 2010

    I always knew I wanted a 2 dog household and was drawn to my first dog, Taffy, because both her and her brother were available for adoption. When I called to set up a meeting, I was told the brother had been adopted. I politely declined to meet Taffy, yet I was drawn to her and after 2 weeks, I made the decision to adopt. I didn’t do the common sense thing with my second dog, When Angel was dumped at the Fargo dog park, I took her home. She’s been the pushy one from the first day, but it worked for us for 2 reasons. Taffy was so laid back she didn’t care, she gladly let Angel be the dominant one. My knowledge level as a dog owner was high enough that I could successfully establish my place as top dog over Angel without much difficulty. That said, she would not be the dog I’d recommend to a new or inexperienced dog owner. But she worked well in our household. Likewise when I added the third dog, I was able to easily work through the initial adjustment period and have 3 female dogs that adore each other and know the order of things.

    So, that said, I think that you have enough experience and knowledge of dogs to take on a more challenging 2nd dog. Of course the safety of your cat needs to be a priority and should factor into your decision, but I think Ace would quite happily concede his position to a more dominant dog.

  3. Jan on February 15, 2010

    I know that second (and third and fourth) dogs should be carefully chosen. But sometimes the heart rules, dogs come into your life and it just seems right to keep them. That is what happened to me and my little pack is happy and totally well adjusted. I think starting with an alpha dog, Misty the Poodle, made it easier because she just took charge of the pack and is smart enough to make me think I’m the leader.

  4. Shay on February 15, 2010

    We’re not going to add a second dog to our home for another few months, but I’ve already started “looking.”

    Before we adopted Lady, we did a lot of research (breed, organization to adopt through, etc.) & then actual searching/conversations looking for the right fit. The funny thing is that with all the lists we made, Lady wasn’t even on any of them, because she was younger than our age cut-off! A rescue coordinator who saw our application suggested her to us anyway, and we agreed with the recommendation. Once we got a chance to meet her, there was no question in our mind – she was perfect for us. We felt bad because there was another dog we hadn’t met yet on our list who lived a lot further away and had been in foster for a lot longer, because he was significantly older, bigger, and more high energy. He also sounded like a decent possibility, though there were enough potential deal-breakers that we needed to meet him before we’d adopt. Even though we were willing to adopt an older, bigger dog, and we were capable of taking on a dog at the high end of “medium energy” (for a lab), there was really no reason to drive for hours to meet the other dog, given how wonderful Lady was. At the time, we promised to consider the other dog if he was still not adopted when we looked to add a second dog.

    Now that we’ve had Lady, and we’re thinking of adding another dog, I know that our guilt would make for a terrible reason to adopt this other dog. (As of now, he’s still not adopted, which is sad. I heard from Lady’s foster mom that this poor dog does not do well at adoption events.)

    Our responsibility, though, has to be what’s right for all of us, including Lady. She has been submissive to other “big brother” dogs before, so I’m not too worried about dominance/submissiveness if we add a boy. I am more worried about energy levels and temperaments. Lady is definitely the low end of medium energy, and she still has some puppy energy mixed in with that, so she’s only going to get even more mellow. Her favorite dogs to play with also play hard & rough, but are more ‘chill,’ not hyper. We have to be careful not to adopt a dog with too much energy that will pester her or that can’t come along on our rollerblade trips. I feel bad that we’ve “reduced” the energy level of a dog we can adopt now, but the truth is that while we could have handled a higher energy dog, we enjoy having a mellower dog who loves to go for a run and then cuddle.

    Lady is submissive about food to all people. She is also very dainty with her treats and food. She will gently lick a treat before even chewing, she’ll eat a small cookie in 4 bites, she even removed the beans from the pods inside cooked green beans pretty neatly (no, we don’t know why she didn’t eat the outsides – she’s not a picky eater. she’s just weirdly “lady-like” about food.). She doesn’t gulp down her food, even though she eats at a decent clip. I don’t want to introduce another dog who will make her feel rushed or pressured around food.

    We’re also working with Lady to become certified for animal-assisted therapy. We’d like to adopt a dog with the potential for that, so we can do visits together as a family.

    When we adopted Lady, we started to feel that pressure of wanting to adopt EVERY dog. I think that’s pretty common. What I’ve been doing to help prepare for the second dog is looking online at the dogs available for adoption. I expect that very few of these dogs will still need homes when we want to adopt in 3 months from now. Yes, sometimes I see a dog (or two or three or more) that I’d love to be able to adopt right now. But what it lets me see is that many of these dogs ARE being adopted, so they are finding homes (even if it’s not mine) AND that there is always a new bunch needing homes, of which a bunch sound like good potentials for us AND Lady. It reminds me that there will be -sadly – plenty of dogs around for us to adopt when the time is right.

  5. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 16, 2010

    Thank you all for the thoughtful comments. It’s nice to hear the experiences of others and how they obtained their dogs. It is a hard decision and not something that can be taken lightly. It would be much easier to take a more difficult dog if I did not have other animals. It is my responsibility to put my existing pets first.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 16, 2010

    Glad to hear you sent in an application!

  7. Marie on February 16, 2010

    Well, I don’t think there is ever a “perfect” time or “perfect” dog. That’s just my opinion though. I think the best you can do is be aware of what your current pets need and what you have to offer and I think that you are doing both of those things. I can’t wait to hear what you decide to do…

  8. Shay on February 17, 2010


    True, but I believe there can be a “perfect fit” or a “perfect match.” As I wrote in my comment above, we adopted a dog that was “perfect for us.” But I think we should just be looking for a good match, not a perfect one.

    This discussion, btw, has come at the perfect time for me (hehe). First, it made me think of the dog that we did not adopt, so I decided to look and it turns out that he was recently adopted! So that’s cool.

    Next, and more important, we had already made some plans to have a playdate for Lady with her former foster brother. It turns out that they are taking in a new foster dog this week whose listing I had been interested in during my “let me start looking now” search this weekend. We’re keeping an open mind about meeting him and introducing Lady to him, because while waiting a few months would make things a little easier for us, we aren’t “unready” right now to take in a dog, if a good match is there.

  9. Jen on February 17, 2010

    When we were looking for a second dog for our home, we knew there would be some very important criteria that would need to be met. Our existing dog, Jack, has a lot of herding breed tendencies in him and he plays much differently than other dogs – all about chase and wrestling, with a little heel nipping thrown in if the other dog is not moving fast enough. A lot of dogs do not appreciate that! He is also high energy, but not very assertive. The playing style was the hardest to match, but we eventually found our newest addition, Allie, on a rescue site. She’s (possibly) a border collie/chow mix, and plays just like Jack. She’s a bit more dominant than he is, but in a laid back way that helps to calm him, and they get along very well. It definitely paid off to really pay attention to Jack’s needs and look for a friend that was good for him, and not pick the first dog that WE liked. Hard to do, but worth it.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 17, 2010

    I agree with Marie. There is never a perfect dog or the perfect time! Ace is “perfect” for me but only because I spent a lot of time looking for a possible dog and then spending even more time training and exercising him. I think we’ve molded together to become “perfect” for each other. But that could’ve happened with any dog.

  11. Apryl on February 17, 2010

    Gus is definitely the perfect dog for us. We have also discovered that he’ll probably be an only dog. Mr. High Maintenance doesn’t like it when you pay attention to anyone but him and we’ve spoiled him rotten. Our fault.

  12. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 17, 2010

    At least Gus tolerates your cats.

  13. Ross on February 21, 2010

    When I “adopted” my dog I wanted a small dog and preferable a dog the didn’t shed much mainly because I have a small house and my last dog was a German Shepherd and they shed quite a lot. Although my heart really wanted another German Shepherd I found a little Silky Terrier that someone had found wandering the streets. At the time I wasn’t sure if she was the right choice, but How do you really ever know until you have the dog dog a while. She grew on me pretty fast and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. We have an amazing bond and I can’t imagine not having her around, she has such a personality. 🙂

  14. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 21, 2010

    Aw, she sounds like a cute dog. You’re right, you never really know what the dog will be like until you’ve lived with her for awhile.

  15. PSM on March 1, 2010

    I have a friend before that getting a companion for her dog just turned out to problems changing her 1st dog behavior while she didn’t completely train the him while the new dog just as timid and very self-protective resulting to always fight, everything’s end up letting the two dogs go. Perfect time and perfect dog is truly necessary, bringing the 1st dog to meet the prospective dog is good step too.

  16. Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 1, 2010

    The second dog will almost always cause the first dog to pick up bad behaviors. This is why it’s important to be consistent and a good leader for both dogs right from the start.

  17. Lana on May 10, 2010

    I got to your website because I want a second dog but haven’t been able to decide. My husband and I have a sweet 3-year-old Chihuahua Terrier mix Coco. We adopted her from a local shelter 2 1/2 years ago. She doesn’t have any of typical Chihuahua temperament. She is not yappy (She’s barked only several times since we got her), is not protective, and not aggressive either. What stopping us getting the second dog is her submissiveness. She is very shy and timid around other dogs. Once she warms up to a new dog, she is fine and becomes playful, but when a strange dog approaches her, her tails goes between her legs and tries to walk away. Size doesn’t matter to her. She was chased by a little teacup Chihuahua before. We petsittered my friend’s 5 months old Chihuahua puppy for two days. My dog which was more than twice the size of that puppy got jumped on and bitten by him. She yelped. When the puppy ran to her, she curled up and didn’t defend herself at all. The scene almost made me cry. Not only my dog was hurt but she was frightened of a little puppy. This incident made me reconsider about getting a puppy. My friend’s puppy was submissive to me when I saw him, and all puppies have that puppy rambunctiousness and biting (teething) that seemed to scare her. It is very difficult to choose a second dog. We almost adopted a young female mutt that seemed calm at first and even friendly with my dog. At the second visit (we were ready to adopt), the new dog snapped at my dog and chased her away. We definitely don’t want to make my dog miserable by adopting a second dog.

  18. Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 10, 2010

    It is hard to find the right match sometimes. You may want to find an older, calmer dog rather than a puppy, and realize that it will take a few weeks for the dogs to adjust to their new routines. I would avoid high-energy dogs, but in your case it wouldn’t be so bad to have a slightly more dominant dog to help balance your dog.

    To help your dog feel more comfortable, avoid having other dogs approach her head-on with direct eye contact. Instead, take the dogs for a walk side by side and then allow them to smell one another once both are comfortable. If your dog is abnormally shy, submissive or anti-social, other dogs will pick up on this and will cause some to attack or act more dominant around her. That’s just something dogs do around other dogs they see as “weak.” Others might completely ignore her. If you aren’t already, try introducing her to new dogs as often as you can in order to boost her confidence and social skills. Obedience classes are great for this, or set up playdates with your friends’ dogs.

    I would talk to some rescue and shelter directors in your area and explain to them the kind of dog you are looking for to match your dog’s energy and personality. They will notify you if they have a potential candidate.

    Good luck!

  19. Lana on May 11, 2010

    Thank you for the great advice, Lindsay.

  20. Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 11, 2010

    No problem. I’m glad you are thinking of getting a second dog. I’m sure the “right” dog is out there somewhere.

  21. Thea on November 23, 2010

    Sasha sounds like a wonderful dog and she’s clearly made a real impression on you. It sounds like she and Ace might get along well… Have they ever met?

    I fantasize about getting a second dog even though I only JUST got my first one. \She’s cute, and a rare breed (although I wanted a mutt), and I love her, but she’s kind of a handful. My second dog, when I’m older and more settled, will definitely be chosen for TEMPERAMENT. A quiet dog, who is friendly to strangers.
    I love my dog but she is so not perfect. She is scared of a rawhide. I have to micromanage her interactions with other dogs. She sometimes pees on herself when she’s scared. When she barks, people look around for the big savage dog because they don’t believe such a nasty bark could come from the cute little pup in the little pink jacket.

    Lindsay, you’ve been thinking about this Sasha-dog for a long time… I hope she gets adopted soon so you don’t have to brood over her any longer. There are just SOOOOO many homeless dogs. I think you’ll find a better fit when you’re ready.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 28, 2010

      Thanks, Thea! I can’t wait to adopt a second dog when we find the right one and realize we are ready. Your dog sounds adorable.

  22. Denise D on October 24, 2011

    I have a 20 week old male beagle he gets bored very easy and I was wondering if getting him a companion would help with his boredom. I have never had more than one dog so I’m not real sure if it is a good idea? I had a lady at the pet park tell me your dog will behave better if you had another dog. So I was needing some advice if I should go with a second dog and if so same breed or a different breed.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 24, 2011

      If you get a second dog, you should get one assuming you will have to spend twice as much time entertaining, training and exercising your pets. Not less time. So getting a second dog because your current dog is bored may not be the best idea. However, if you want a second dog because you want two dogs for you, then go for it. It’s not so much the breed that matters. It is more important to find a personality that compliments your other dog. Usually it’s best to find a second dog that has less energy than your current dog.