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Can Separation Anxiety be solved by adopting a second dog?

I know someone who has a dog with separation fears. She adopted a second dog and says that that has solved the problem. But has it really?

While I totally get that it’s immeasurably valuable to relieve a dog’s distress in the short term, there are disadvantages to this form of management (we must be clear that it can only manage the problem, not solve it) compared with the long-term strategy of managing absences and doing the desensitisation training:

 

  • Her first dog is utterly dependent on her second dog. What happens if he can’t be around for some reason?
  • Her first dog hasn’t learnt the new skill of feeling safe alone at home, so she is still living with that fear which, without desensitisation training, will be deepening in the background.

 

Yes, it is tempting to adopt a second dog. Don’t I know it!! I am so often ‘broody’ and find myself thinking about adopting another dog.

So why don’t I recommend this seemingly simple solution to the problem of SA?

Because, in practice, it’s an illusion in most cases. It normally doesn’t work, even as a form of management. My friend is in fact a very rare example of a second dog helping at all.

 

  • The number one social partner of domestic dogs is their human family. So for most dogs, adopting another dog doesn’t help. They can’t usually replace the companionship and safety of their human.
  • Dogs often learn their fear of being left alone at home from another dog. So you’d most likely find yourself with two dogs distressed when you leave the house instead of one. (We can definitely help multi-dog households with SA, but that won’t be your aim in adopting a second dog!)
  • If a dog in the family has died, and your dog is grieving for the loss of their canine companion, there is sadly no guarantee they would regard a newly adopted dog as a replacement for the loss of their friend.

When would I recommend getting a second dog in a SA scenario?

Only if…

  • you simply want a second dog for their own sake. That is the best of all reasons.
  • you’re aware of all the extra costs of adopting a second dog, on every level.
  • you have available capacity in case your second dog comes with their own issues and sensitivities.
  • you’re still prepared to do the desensitization training.

In that case, and if the two dogs get along, that’s wonderful. Go for it! Otherwise, I can’t advise adopting a second dog with the intention of solving your dog’s separation distress – even though I really really wish I could..