Two are NOT More Fun than One: Why you should only get one puppy at a time

It seems like a great idea: buying or adopting 2 puppies at the same time to raise together. They will have automatic playmates! But I’m here to tell you (and the vast majority of those in my profession agree) that raising 2 or more same-age puppies (they don’t even need to be related) simultaneously is a very bad idea. It almost never turns out to be good for the dogs themselves, and it is very difficult to do well.

Let’s address some of the common misconceptions that often lead to heartache for dog owners, and sometimes tragedy for the dogs themselves.

MYTH: They’ll already be sad having “lost” their mother; therefore, separating pups from each other is cruel and it’s what causes them to cry the first few nights in the home.

Sounds plausible, but it’s wrong. Dogs, like people, do best when they “leave the nest” at a young age, and for domestic dogs, the best time to do so is between 7 weeks and 9 weeks.* They are fully weaned by this time, and are ready to join a new pack: yours.

Puppies are at a crucial socialization period at 7-12 weeks of age, and this is when they need to learn how to be members of a human household. They need to bond with the human (and resident pet) members of your home, and they need to be away from their siblings to do so. Puppies who go to a new home together, or continue to remain with siblings or mom beyond this time, will bond so strongly with one another that they will have little use for humans. This is not a recipe for a happy pet experience, or a happy pet, and can actually cause severe problems later, as they mature (see below). Therefore, it is actually somewhat cruel NOT to separate them as young, impressionable pups, and give each the best chance for a good life.

When the pup cries the first few nights in your home, he is not crying because he will never see his Momma and siblings again. He cries because he is adjusting to his new environment, and he has not yet learned to be alone. You spent all day holding him and playing, and he has bonded to you, and now he is on his own in a crate. This will get easier for him in a few days, so please get him started on the right paw and let him adjust. It’s not cruel to let him cry it out to teach him that he will survive being alone—but it is definitely not helpful to feel badly for him and “rescue” him. Ignore the noise and in a few days, he will have settled into his new routine.

MYTH: Since I’m planning on having two dogs eventually, it’s better to get them both at the same time so they “grow up together.” Otherwise, they may fight later.

Actually, the opposite is true. Sibling aggression is quite common in domestic dogs, especially 2 of the same sex (although opposite-sex sibling aggression certainly does occur). This type of aggression is far more common than aggression in a multi-dog household with different aged dogs where no one is related. And since aggression doesn’t usually manifest itself until maturity (between 1 and 2 years of age), new puppy owners think it won’t happen to them. “They love each other! They don’t want to be away from one another. They would never fight.”

In the beginning, when it is all tumbling and snuggling, the above is frequently true. But as the pups reach adolescence (between 6-8 months of age), owners often notice that their friendliness starts to seem strained at times. They may become less tolerant with each other, especially around resources: food, toys, sleeping spots, and human caregivers. And by the time it starts to get bad (or worse, deadly), the horse is out of the barn emotionally for their humans, who are attached to both dogs and cannot imagine “getting rid” of either one. If the aggression is pronounced, rehoming is not negotiable. Dog-to-dog aggression within a household is never fixed easily, and may not be able to be resolved. It’s far better to prevent problems than have to resolve them later.

Even if the pups don’t actually fight, there is probably still some tension between them, often over resources (food, toys, furniture, human affection) or space. One will almost always “dominate” or “bully” the other at least some of the time, which is no picnic for the “victim,” who never really develops fully into his or her personality because of this dichotomy. Sometimes, one will become intensely possessive of the other, and be unable to be separated from him/her. This makes vet visits and other necessary separations very difficult. It is not healthy for sentient beings to become overly dependent on one another, especially when this is preventable.

It is far, far easier to acquire one puppy, train it well, and let it get settled into the home and become well-behaved and relaxed, then add an unrelated companion later (6-8 months later, at least). Dogs are mostly very congenial, and when socialized and trained, can accept most other dogs without question, especially if a few simple directions are followed.

MYTH: Oh, what the heck–raising 2 at once can’t be that much more work than raising one. Plus, I have a fenced yard, so I won’t have to actually “walk” them.

I am not a mathematician, but I can assure you that, unlike raising two kittens at once (which is actually preferable to raising one in most circumstances), raising 2 puppies at once is somehow more than twice the work and difficulty. Having two pups to care for is definitely more expensive, but in the context of time, it seems to quadruple the workload, rather than just double it (see instructions in the next paragraph). Furthermore, walks outside of one’s fenced yard are necessary for our dogs’ well-being, so they cannot be overlooked.

The pups must be crated separately–no exceptions–and crating does not end when housebreaking is finished. They must be walked to potty separately until they are housetrained, and walked on leash–not just “let out” to do their business. They must be played with separately, and often must eat separately (to make sure each gets enough food). Each must be socialized separately, trained separately, and spend time with family members separately. In order for them to not become too dependent upon each other, or too closely bonded to one another at your expense, they need to spend more time apart than together. This requires much more work than the standard family has time for…especially a family with children. It also flies in the face of what your emotions tell you, so it gets overlooked and most people don’t realize how problematic that is.

One other thing on the amount of work. Some parents want 2 puppies so that Bobby has a pup to care for, and Susie has a pup to care for. Whether they are thinking in terms of “fairness” to the kids, or just that this means the parents’ workload will be less because Bobby and Susie will do most of the caretaking, it’s still a very imperfect idea. Children forget, and in pretty much every household with dogs, adults will have to step up and do the work–including making sure the pups get the necessary separation. It’s not fair to the kids OR the pups to expect children to do most of the work.  It simply isn’t realistic, and once the novelty wears off, who suffers?

MYTH: Since I’m not home much, having each other will mean they’ll get plenty of exercise and companionship.

While it is true that puppies playing will burn up energy, their time together will not be enough (see above) to meet all their exercise needs. You must be involved in exercising them, and guess what? Most of this must be done separately. Also, two left unsupervised for even a few minutes can get into twice the trouble as one can, make twice the number of spots on the carpet (and who was the culprit?), and frustrate you twice as much as one can. They will have to be confined when you are not watching them, and this confinement needs to be in separate crates or areas, so they won’t be getting any exercise when no one is home.

Raising a puppy correctly takes time, money, and energy. Most people find out the hard way that they don’t have enough of these resources for just one puppy, let alone two. If you aren’t home much, even one puppy is not the right pet for you, anyway.

The hassle of owning two may not faze you now–you are in love, and the problems won’t show up until the damage has been done! Many people shrug off the warnings that two together will create unnecessary and avoidable problems, but once reality sets in, what will happen to one (or both) of the dogs? Even if time or money is not an issue, the propensity for later aggression or unwholesome relationship imbalances is a real possibility–and should not be taken lightly. Which dog are you willing to part with if they are fighting? Which dog deserves to live in their sibling’s shadow forever, and not ever fully develop? It is not usually possible to mitigate these problems with training alone.

And once the fighting begins, it is extremely difficult to stop, and it isn’t play fighting—it is very intense, and people become collateral damage. No one wants to live in a home with 2 dogs bent on killing each other. It’s very stressful for everyone.

Set yourself and your new family member up to be the best you both can be. Stack the deck in your favor by choosing the one puppy that is best for your family and raising it right. Owning a pet is a privilege, but it should also be an enjoyable experience. Your pup’s brothers and sisters will all go to new homes where they, too can have the best start.

*It is not uncommon for reputable breeders to keep puppies until 12 weeks of age so that they can give the pups a better start with crate training, socialization, handling, and the like. As long as the puppies are getting the proper stimulation and exposure to the world, this can be a good thing when it is done purposely. How will you know? Ask what they are doing with, and for, the puppies during this time. How are they being socialized? What is their enrichment protocol? Who is handling them and how often?

NOTE: I am sure some who read this have (or know someone who has) raised puppies together previously and possibly had none of the problems I depict above. It IS possible to raise same-age puppies simultaneously without problems, though my decades of experience working with people and their dogs has shown me that when it works out well for all the parties, it is because the humans put a lot of work in to counteract the stress and prevent problems early, or they don’t notice that their dogs aren’t living their best lives, or they just get lucky. Trust me: the latter is the exception, not the rule. Possible and probable are not the same.

NOTE 2: A reputable breeder of quality puppies will never try to guilt you into taking two or more puppies. In fact, good breeders hardly ever even allow it, because they know the potential problems outlined above, and they care about how their puppies are raised. Disreputable breeders and puppy adoption sources will pooh-pooh this information and may recommend multiples so that their workload and expenses are reduced and they don’t get stuck with puppies that are too old to sell. They will play on your emotions, so beware. Walk away from these people.

UH-OH! Did you already get 2 puppies? You shouldn’t have, now you know. But it’s done, and if rehoming one of them is not an option, you need help. Contact me and let’s discuss!

Check out the protocols for doing it correctly.