Pairs or Singles ?

In Rescue sometimes one takes in two dogs from the same home. Should they stay together or be placed separately ?
For Adopters, what are the benefits of having two dogs rather than one ?

Pairs or Singles ?

when Rescue takes in two dogs from same home

adopting two dogs together

by Pam Green, © 2009

No, "Pairs or Singles" is not about figure skating (eg Kristi Yamaguchi having to decide whether to focus on Pairs competition or Singles or Ekaterina Gordeeva determining to skate on alone as a Single after the death of her husband and Pairs partner)..
This article is about the situation where two dogs origninating from the same home are brought into Rescue together.
How does the foster home decide whether it's better to try to place the two together in the same adoptive home or better to prepare them to be placed in separate homes ? How might the foster home prepare dogs used to living together for living apart ?
For adopters, when is it wise to adopt a second dog to join your resident dog ? When is it good to adopt two dogs who have previously lived together ?

for Rescuers or foster homes

OK , your situtation is that two dogs previously living in the same home have been surrendered to a shelter or to your Rescue organization. How do you determine if they should be fostered together and whether the attempt to get them adopted together should be made ?

Ideally you would have some history from the former owner as to whether the two have always lived together (eg littermates purchased together is not an uncommon situation), how the two have gotten along with one another up to now, how each behaves when separated from the other either briefly or for longer period, and whether or not either or both have shown aggression or predatory behavior towards people or dogs or other animals. If you don't have history from the former owners, perhaps the shelter is able to share some observations.

Ideally you have available a foster home willing to foster both and also a second foster home willing to take one or the other separately. Alternatively perhaps the foster home has the ability to separate the dogs part of the time, eg has a kennel run available.

Couples who PREY together should NOT stay together.

When there is a history or an evaluation (test) that one or both dogs have prey chasing or prey-aggressive behavior towards people (eg joggers, skateboarders, bicyclists, playing children , or any other moving person),towards other dogs (often smaller dogs) or towards other animals (especially cats and livestock), then it is essential that they NOT be placed together into the same home. . Indeed they should be fostered separately if at all possible.

Almost always predatory behavior is increased when there are two dogs rather than just one. Hunting is an activity that dogs normally pursue more vigourously in concert with other dogs. For the ancestral wolf, while small prey (mice, voles, rabbits, etc) can be hunted by a single wolf, the more desirable large prey (reindeer, cariboo, moose) can only be taken by a coordinated effort of the pack. So dogs are primed to be aroused to predation the moment another dog gives the signal that a hunt is underway.

I'd advise testing each dog singly and later testing both together for their reactions to joggers, skaters, bicyclists, etc. Ideally you'd have a human helper who would do this as instructed, but if not then you have to find a public situation that provides these temptations. You also need to test each dog's behavior around other dogs, especially small dogs. One way to do this is to take the dog wearing a basket muzzle to the dog park. A more controlled way is to get a friend's very dog social smaller dog to be your helper, but again the dog you are testing should be muzzled.

Testing for reactions to cats is needed if the dog is to be adopted by someone who has cats or if neighbor's cats are likely to invade the adopter's yard and put themselves at risk.

It's probably not necessary to test for predation towards livestock unless the dog is going to be placed in a rural environment, though I suppose there is always the possibility that the adopters might move to a rural environment at some later date during the dog's lifetime. Of course if you are knowledgeable about herding and have access to suitable "school sheep" , you may want to test the dogs for herding potential with a view to possibly placing the dog in a home that would want to train for herding. (I'm thinking of dogs from herding breeds, such as Bouvier, in this regard.)

If the dog will be accompanying a horsey owner to the stable, then the dog does need to be tested for reactions to horses or the adopter be warned of the need to teach the dog that horses must not be chased or harassed.. (Note : if the dog is a terrier, any predation on rats and mice would be considered a virtue at a stable.)

I also wouldn't worry if the only predatory behavior is towards squirrels and rabbits, because of course almost every dog regards these as something to chase or at least to bark at.

If one dog is predatory, but the other is not, then I'd advise that the predatory dog should be placed in a home where he is the only dog and where the owners are watchful and competent handlers. The non-predatory dog could go to a home with or without other dogs. If both dogs are predatory, then absolutely they MUST be placed separately and must go to people who are very vigilant and competent handlers.

Seriously predatory dogs may not be placeable even as single placement. Some years back the club I then belonged to was asked to take in a pair of Bouvier being exiled from Hawaii. This pair was under court order to be gone from the islands by a given date or else be euthanized. The pair had killed several other dogs who had come onto their territory. This case is an excellent illustration of one of the serious pitfalls of relying on "invisible fence" without an accompanying physical barrier fence. The victim dogs had entered the "invisibly fenced" property and been attacked and killed. Our Rescue Chair asked for my opiion and asked if I would be willing to foster. My reply was that if we did take them they must be immediately separated, but that I strongly advised to refuse to take them as I did not consider it ethical to place a dog likely to kill someone else's beloved pet in the future. I totally refused to foster either dog, because I was unwilling to put my own dogs at risk. Later I learned that no one else was willing to take on this deadly duo and that they had been euthanized as per court order. Unfortunately the owner announced the intention to acquire another pair and keep them in the same manner. What a pity the court did not see fit to enjoin the owner from having another dog or at least from having more than one at a time.

Couples who PLAY together MAY stay together.

Obviously if the two dogs do NOT get along peacefully with each other, then they need to be placed separately. Ideally they would be fostered separately in two different foster homes. If two foster homes are not available, then separation can be achieved by "playing musical dogs" with crates or kennel runs, ie alternate which dog is free in the house and which is confined. When two dogs have an ongoing quarrel, it's a good idea to test each of them for ability to get along with other dogs of their own sex and of opposite sex. Obviously any dog who is same sex aggressive will have to be placed in a home where there is no other dog of that same sex, and obviously a dog who is generally dog aggressive, ie who can be aggressive to a dog of opposite sex, needs to be placed as an only dog with an adopter who is well aware of the dog's quarrelsome potential.

If the two dogs are not predatory and if they get along well with one another, then the next step for the foster home is to determine whether the two are so interdependant that they MUST stay together versus whether they simply enjoy one another's company (whether or not they actually play together or merely like to hang out together ) or possibly pretty much ignore each other..

When dogs have been together most of their lives, and especially for littermates who have been together all their lives, it can happen that one or both becomes emotionally dependant on the other. Dr Benjamin Hart DVM published on this problem more than 30 years ago. The dependant dog can "fall apart" when separated from the other. It's like the dependant one never became self-reliant and never became an individual in his own right. This is why so many dog writers advise against getting littermate puppies unless you are dedicated and capable enough to frequently take each of the puppies out for separate activities. (Note : littermates who were reared in separate homes but later come to live together are almost certain to recognize each other and may become very good friends , as did my Chelsea and her brother Smokey, or may have serious conflicts , depending on their prior relationship and personalities as adults.)

The first test can be as simple as putting up a stretch gate between two rooms and placing the two dogs on opposite sides of that gate. Is either dog upset by this ? Is the upset dog unable to calm down and accept the situation within a reasonable period of time ? If so, you may be dealing with a dependant dog. For the next level of difficulty , try putting one dog on leash and leaving the other in the yard, then walk the leashed dog a short distance away and observe reactions of both dogs (it helps if there is a second person to observe the second dog). Does the dog left behind become excessively upset ? This test can progress to walking the leashed dog further away or even taking one dog for a walk while the other stays behind. Repeat these tests with the other dog being the walked one while the previously walked one stays behind. If you have two dog handlers, both can go for a walk , starting out together and then going their separate ways and later re-joining at a pre-arranged spot.

(Update on technology 2020 :
There are now many ways to set up a "security camera" and have it send video to your desktop computer at work or to your smart phone or pad while you are mobile. Thus you can have real time monitoring of the behavior of the "home alone" dog.

If you have dogs who show some anxiety when separated, the next step is to try to help them learn to be more independant. The steps for this are the same as used in testing. Start with the stretch gate, or possibly with one or the other crated. Make sure to provide pleasant experiences for the dogs while separated. Separate them for meals. Separate them for playing games with people or for training sessions with positive reinforcement.. Separate them and give each a food-stuffed Kong or Buster Cube. Bring another very social dog over to play with one while the other is crated, then at some point swap the crated dog for the other so that second one gets to play with the visitor. With two handlers, do simultaneous training of each by his own handler, within sight of one another but each being asked to focus on his own handler and respond to that handler's cues. With two handlers, take the dogs for a walk and initially walk together and then go separate ways and then re-join, then separate again, and so on. With two handlers start for a walk in separate directions and plan to meet up later on.

If the two dogs do not seem very upset by being separated, or if by working with them as suggested in the previous paragraph, you have gotten them to the point of being comfortable when separated, the next test (if possible) is to let one be fostered elsewhere for anything from a few hours (which would simply be a visit to a collegue's home) to several days. If they are both fine when fostered separately, you now can feel confident that you have the choice of placing them into separate homes or of placing them together if the oppertunity occurs.

It is probably a happier solution for the dogs if you are able to place them together. But as of mid 2009, the economic situation is such that families able to afford to adopt two large dogs and provide ongoing care for two are much less frequent than families able to adopt one dog. Lowering your adoption fee for a double adoption may well be appropriate but does not solve the issue of whether the adopters can afford long term care, including vet care, for both. Also if adopters have another dog already in the home, there might be concern about the new duo ganging up against the resident dog.

If the two dogs remain unable to tolorate separation calmly, then it becomes necessary that they be adopted together. This will likely take more time than doing two separate adoptions, but it is very far from being impossible. There are many homes who are accustomed to having two dogs (or more). Perhaps one of the previous pair is now dead and the other quite old or is lonely and would welcome two new friends as readily as one new friend . Perhaps both of the previous pair are gone or are old and nearing the end of their lives. I'd advise the double adopter to continue working with both dogs to try to get them more comfortable about being apart. After all it is inevitable that in the future there will be times of separation , such as when one dog is ill and must be hospitalized or , alas, that mournful day when one pre-deceases the other.

In your advertising of the dogs for adoption, I suggest you be very clear as to whether it is a case of "these two dogs MUST be adopted together" versus "we would prefer that these two dogs be adopted together but will consider applications to adopt one by itself". If the two dogs must NOT be adopted together, be very clear about that and do NOT let any adopter talk you out of it : be firm about your decision, but educate the potential adopter as to why you are making that decision.

for adopters

Perhaps you already have one dog and are considering adopting a second one. Perhaps you have no dog currently and are debating whether to adopt one dog or two, and if two whether to get both at the same time or get one now and a second one later. Perhaps you already have two , but are wondering if you'd like to have still more. (Note : if you already have 3 or more and are contemplating further additions, I hope you are dog-wise enough not to need further advise.)

The advantage of having only one dog at a time is that the dog will look to you, the human or humans, for all of its social needs, all of its exercise needs, all of its needs period. Thus you have your dog's total attention and your dog has your undivided attention (assuming you don't have children or spouse competing for attention). A one to one relationship between a single person and a single dog can be very intense. A futher advantage is that there will be no dog fights or conflicts within the home. Futher, you will only have the expenses of one dog, and those expenses can be quite high enough for your resources.

The disadvantage of having only one dog at a time is that the dog will look to you, the human or humans, for all of its social needs, all of its exercise needs, all of its needs period.. You may find it quite difficult to fulfil all those needs, especially if your need to earn a living takes you away from home for much of the day. A further disadvantage is that at some future dreaded day, your dog will die and you will come home to an empty house, which can be quite devastating.

The huge advantage of a well chosen compatible pair of dogs is that they will enjoy one another greatly and by playing together will burn off a great deal of energy that they might otherwise put into activities you would find disagreeable. Also watching dogs interact and play can be fascinating entertainment. You won't feel as guilty about leaving home to go earn a living or leaving home to go out to dinner with a friend. Other advantages are those implied above by the discussion of the disadvantages of having only one dog.

The disadvantages of having two (or more) dogs are largely those implied above by the discussion of the advantages of having only one dog. If the two are seiously incompatible, the potential conflicts and fighting can degrade the quality of life for yourself and for the dogs. If your dogs share your bed, the issue of whether your bed is large enough may well arise (though I must say it can arise even with only one dog , as some dogs (my Pixel being the poster child for this) can sprawl over an amazing amount of bed space). If you fail to do sufficient training of both dogs, training them singly and as a pair, you are likely to find you have more than twice the ordinary difficulties of a single dog. Two dogs in any event may think up more mischief and pursue it with more vigor than either would do by itself.

If your plan is to have two dogs, the best formula for ensuring peace between them is to have a spayed bitch and a neutered male. Opposite sexed dogs almost always get along peacefully and usually will wind up liking one another. Even if both dogs are dominant types, a dog and a bitch will see each other as consorts rather than as rivals.

If you are to have two dogs of the same sex, ie two males or two females, it helps a lot if they are several years different in age and several levels diffferent in social rank tendency, ie if one is much more of a dominant personality and the other much more of a submissive type. And it helps a lot if at least one of the pair is altered, preferably both altered. In males, testosterone is known to increase potential for male to male aggression, with the intact male being both more likely to be a target for other male's hostility and more likely to be vigourous in a fight once it starts. In bitches, the two most likely times for an emnity to begin are when one of them is in heat and when one of them has a litter. Once two bitches decide they dislike one another , this opinion is not likely to ameliorate. It also helps if they are both of a breed that tends to be very dog-sociable or at least dog-tolorant. They don't necesarily need to both be the same breed, but both need to be dog-socialable breeds. And it may help if they both come from the same functional group and thus are more apt to like the same games. Some breed pairs are more compatible than some other pairs. In my experience Bouvier tend to be live and let live, though individuals can vary a lot (my Sweetie was quite quarrelsome with other bitches, but most of my Bouvs have been quite congenial.). Now there are people who consider Bouvs to be same sex quarrelsome, but these people are almost all breeders who have two or more intact dogs of each gender, a situation that makes same sex conflict more likely.

The other good strategy for having two dogs is to adopt two who have perviously lived together congenially. If both of these are already of "age of social maturity" , ie 3 or older, then the relationship is not likely to change in the future. Note that if you do adopt two together from the same foster home, you want to ask if the two have any problem of one or both being dependant on the other. If so, you will want to do remedial work with both of them.

If you already have one dog and are seeking a second one or if you have none but want ultimately to have two, it's a good idea to get the first dog pretty well trained, socialized, and civilized before you go looking for the second one. Working with two untrained dogs is a fair bit more difficult than working with one at a time, but of course rescue people do this often enough and do so with sucess. Also see above for advice on choosing second dog to be compatible with first one.

If you already have two dogs and are thinking of a third one, well it's impossible to obey the rule of opposite sex because there is no third sex. But you can obey the other guidelines as to age and social status tendency. Don't even think about a third if the two you already have are a handful or quarrelsome or in any way taxing your abilities.

For any multiple dog household , and indeed even for a single dog household, I'd advise reading "Feeling Outnumbered?" by Dr Patricia McConnell , PhD. This booklet gives excellent advice on teaching all dogs that they can best get what they want by being calm and polite, polite to the human leader and polite to one another. The more dogs you have, the more essential it is that you be the always calm and always benevolent and always respected Pack-leader of your pack. See also the advice in my article When Dogs Collide, dealing with play behavior and conflict behavior in dogs, and Family Feuds, discussing ideas on treatment of conflicts between dogs within the household.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 7/18/09 revised 7/18/09
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