Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Should your dog be an Only Dog?

I wish someone could have answered this question for me years ago. Should my dog be an only dog? The question has bothered me for years, flustered me, nibbled away at my dog mama guilt. It got to me when Kelly was my One and Only, and quite frankly, the question still nips at me even after adding another dog to our family.

So I will try to answer it for you now. Should your dog be an only dog? Or, do dogs need, crave, dog companionship?

Well let me start of by saying that most of my experience is having one dog at a time. When I was a kid I grew up in a busy household with two brothers and the family dog. Later, when I got married my husband and I had one dog, a dalmatian, who was more or less our only child. (You know how it is, you may have been there too.) And after our dalmatian crossed over, we got a beautiful yellow lab.

At some point, then, it occurred to my husband and I that our aging yellow lab might love a pal to perk him up. With the empty nest settling upon us, it seemed like a perfect time for some youthful energy.

You may have guessed that the newcomer was Kelly. We adopted her when she was 1 year old.

So based on that decision, was it better for Hudson to be an only dog, or to have a dog friend?

Well, I can't tell you that he despised Kelly, and became miserable or withdrawn. And I can't tell you that he and Kelly became the best of pals. But there were times, in the evenings, when they curled up together. Kelly licked his face and ears like a nurturing mama dog. Every morning she rushed to wake him up from the spot where he slept behind the couch. And the morning after he'd crossed over, she went to wake him up and looked for him, and missed him.

Fast forward to about a month ago. Kelly had been an Only Dog for about 6 years. She got all the attention and all the food and the best seats in the house. But I found myself struggling, wondering what  she was missing? Community, if you will, with someone like herself? Romps with another four-legged friend? We didn't have play dates or a dog park to go to. Was she missing something that--no matter how hard I tried-- I couldn't give her all by myself?

So we joyfully adopted Brooks. It hasn't been an easy transition. Kelly made it clear that she is not in favor of sharing her place, her toys and especially our attention. Slowly she is adjusting to having Brooks in the house and not wanting to rip him to pieces. (haha, a little exaggeration there!) We are showing both dogs lots of love and affection, trying to set boundaries, taking them on LOTS of walks to tire them out, giving them alone time, etc. I think it's working out pretty well.

So the question remains: Should your dog be an Only Dog? 

Well, sadly, I do not have a very satisfactory answer. As you probably can imagine, I think it depends on the dog. Some dogs may thrive on socialization with others. While other dogs might be overwhelmed or distressed. It also depends upon the mix: boy/girl, young/old, active/sedate, shy/assertive. There are probably a million and one other factors.

No matter what, I just want to assure you of this. If you provide for your dog's needs, give him food and water and shelter, and additionally lots of love and attention (because who doesn't need that?!) then he will be okay with or without siblings in the home. I truly believe that.

We can't magically know what is best. Most of us are only picking up on cues and trying to guess. We are just living within our own circumstances and limitations.

So, is Kelly happier and less happy with another dog in the house? I really don't know. It's only been a month. Maybe that will become more clear later. But I do know this. I still take every opportunity to snuggle up with her, stroke her soft fur and tell her that she's a wonderful dog and that I love her very much.

And then I tell Brooks the same. And if she and Brooks can add some other dimension to each others' lives, something that I can't give by myself, then that is a bonus.

*If you like true stories about bonding with animals, you'd like my new book, Heart to Heart, Hand in Paw. Check it out, and tell me how you liked it!

* Are you joining us at K9kamp? It's fun, bonding and fitness with your dog! (or cat). Check out our link for great prizes!  Dog books, dog toys, collars and leashes and more!
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* It's Tasty Tuesday over at Kol's Notes. Find out which are the best Lo-cal commercial treats.

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