Updated: Sep 22
“If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, then just get another dog.” This is common advice that I’ve heard, and it’s also one of the biggest myths about resolving separation anxiety out there.
Logically it seems to make sense. Separation anxiety is the fear of being alone, so shouldn’t getting a second dog to help with separation anxiety take care of that problem? The answer is it can in some cases, but unfortunately it doesn’t in most cases.
Does a second dog help with separation anxiety?
First of all, there many dogs suffering from separation anxiety that live in a multi-dog household. The dog barks and howls when left alone, paces and gets destructive when their humans leave even with the second dog for company. If getting another dog to help with dog separation anxiety was the sure fire cure, then there shouldn’t be any cases of it in homes with more than one dog.
But what about the stories on the internet or the person you know that got a second dog and the anxiety disappeared? There’s always an exception because dogs are individuals. Not every dog suffering from separation anxiety is going to present with it the same way, and different changes will impact each dog differently. It’s also possible that some of these dogs weren’t actually suffering from separation anxiety, but were just bored or under-stimulated.
There is no guarantee that just because adding a second dog worked in one case, that it will work in another case.
Adding another dog to the family
For most dogs separation anxiety is about being without a human, and there is research that indicates adding a second dog isn’t likely to make a difference in a dog’s emotional state of panic when left alone.
But if you really want to see if adding another dog to your family will make a difference, I would suggest you find a way to test it out. If you have a friend with a dog, you could borrow that dog for a day or two, or even offer to dog sit for someone going vacation.
There may be a rescue or shelter looking for foster homes for a short time for adoptable dogs. Some organizations do a “foster to adopt” program where you can foster the dog in your home for a short time to see if it’s a fit for your family before you make a commitment to adopt.
Another advantage to “testing out” an additional dog is to see if it’s a good idea for your family. Do you enjoy having two dogs to exercise? Two dogs to clean up after? Do you mind when they decide to wrestle just as you’re settling in to read or watch something on TV?
When does another dog help separation anxiety?
Where adding a second dog could make a difference is if a dog developed separation anxiety after the loss of a companion dog. Grief and loneliness in that situation may be tempered or even resolved with getting another dog.
However, there is no guarantee that the new dog being brought into the household will be seen by the traumatized dog as comforting. It would be a bit like a person grieving the loss of a friend or family member, and someone bringing a random person in to fill that loss. If it’s the right person and you click it could help. If you don’t develop feelings for that person it might make things worse.
The best reason for adding a second dog to the family
If you have a dog suffering from separation anxiety the best reason to get a second dog is if you’ve decided that you would enjoy having two dogs, and you don’t carry an expectation that it will help your first dog cope with human absences.
Just remember that not only will a second dog be twice as expensive, but will also require a lot of your attention initially as the new dog settles into a routine, may need housetraining, and will most likely need some manners training. If you’re already putting a lot of time and energy into working with your dog’s separation anxiety, make sure you are prepared to spend even more on a new dog.
Additionally, be prepared for your second dog developing behavioral issues such as fear of strange dogs resulting in reactivity, fear of new people, or even separation anxiety. If you get an adult dog whose personality is already established and you can see the dog in a variety of situations they are less likely to develop issues. But even a puppy from a great breeder with parents that have stable temperaments can develop issues as they grow into maturity. Can you see yourself able to handle two dogs with behavior challenges?
I’ve had at least two dogs at a time for over 20 years, so I don’t mean to be hypocritical and discourage anyone. As challenging as it is to live with, and financially and emotionally provide for multiple dogs, there is a tremendous amount to be said for it.
Because my two dogs have such distinct personalities, they make me laugh for different reasons. Quinn loves getting his back end scratched and will rock back and forth on his back feet as I do so. Whimsy is so sassy she “yells” at me at dinner time. This dog trainer knows it’s rude, but I overlook it because it’s cute. I also greatly appreciate that the dogs enjoy each other’s company, play so enthusiastically with each other. Not only is it nice that they enrich and exercise each other, but as a former client of mine said, “It’s like watching dog TV”, so I get some entertainment value from it as well!
If you have a dog suffering from separation anxiety it’s completely normal to want to find a way to fix it, and do so quickly. Unfortunately in most cases of dog separation anxiety there aren’t any quick fixes, just using desensitization and possibly medication to help your dog with recovery.