How many dogs are just too much?
That’s the question you’ll be asking if you have one pooch and you’re considering getting another to keep your pup company. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, 38.4% of U.S. households own an average of 1.6 dogs, so you’ll be in good company.
However, many factors will determine what the perfect number is when it comes to dog ownership. For example, people living in urban areas of the northeastern states tend to have fewer dogs than those who live in the mid-west, where the population is sparser and more outside space is the norm.
How Much Is Too Much?
As dogs are pack animals, a family of two or three dogs is thought to be better than one solitary animal that relies solely on you for company. However, the more dogs you own, the less individual attention each dog will receive from you. And that can be where problems begin.
The relationship and bond between you and each dog in the group become diluted, and rather than being seen as the pack Alpha, you become just another pack member. That can lead to insecurity within the pack, and scraps may break out, as dogs jockey for position in the pecking order.
Of course, if you have a large family, the human-to-dog attention ratio can be more balanced, with each family member having one or two “favorite” dogs. In many cases, that can be all it takes to rebalance the harmony within the pack.
So, the number you should take on depends on several factors:
- your availability
- your ability to humanely care for them
- your resources
- the amount of space you have inside and outside your home
Generally, most people can comfortably own one or two dogs, although that’s often a full-time job! Some folk who maybe have a large family and live in a vast place with lots of indoor space and land outside may be able to balance four to six. However, owning more than six dogs takes an extraordinary person with exceptional devotion and the resources to go with it.
Now, some people take dog ownership a step too far, taking on scores of dogs that run wild around the home. That situation often leads to both dogs and humans living in unsanitary, unhealthy conditions. Also, most often, they are not de-sexed, leading to litters of unwanted puppies being born and a population explosion that continues unchecked.
Such hoarding often leads to the authorities becoming involved and seizing all or some of the dogs for the animals’ welfare.
A classic case of dog hoarding was recorded in 2012 in Pennsylvania. Two brothers pleaded guilty to animal cruelty after almost 200 were discovered on their property. Like most hoarders, the brothers genuinely loved their pets, describing them as their “boys and girls.” And when veterinarians checked the dogs, mainly Chihuahuas, they found them to be in overall good health.
Even the bodies of 30 canines that were discovered in a freezer on the premises were reported to have died of natural causes. The dogs’ bodies had been kept after death simply because the brothers could not bear to part with their pets.
The dogs, in this case, were fortunate in that the two brothers, although perhaps misguided, did care for their pets properly, and potentially damaging in-breeding did not occur. However, most animals owned by hoarders are not so lucky, suffering severe health problems, emaciation because of a lack of food, and untreated injuries caused by fights due to overcrowding.
Handling More Than One
While we’re not suggesting that owning several dogs makes you a hoarder, there are three vital questions you need to ask yourself if you’re thinking of adding another pup or two to your family:
Can you give proper care to all of them?
Before adding another dog to your tribe, you must first ask yourself whether you will be able to continue providing the proper care to your existing pet, as well as to the new ones.
Be honest in your answers. Think about how much time and money you currently spend on your dog. All those expenses, including veterinary care, food, insurance, etc. will be multiplied by two or three or even more. Can you truly afford that?
Do you have enough space for two or three?
Now, take a look around you, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you live in a house that’s big enough for more than one dog?
- Do you have a large, fenced backyard for them to play in?
- Do you have near neighbors who might complain about excessive barking when your pups are playing?
- Check the laws in your immediate area. Some cities and states have strict rules on how many pets each household can keep. Make sure you’ll be on the right side of the law.
- Do you live in a condo? If you do, you’ll need to check the regulations that apply to the number of dogs you can keep there.
- Does your local dog park restrict the number of dogs that are allowed per person? If so, do you have the time to take your dogs to the park in shifts?
Can you care for them humanely?
Finally, you must ask yourself if you will be able to give your dogs the humane treatment they need. There are far too many unwanted puppies in shelters, so you’ll need to neuter or spay to prevent “accidents.”
If you intend to breed from your dogs, do you have the right housing arrangements for the parents and the puppies? And, can you afford the veterinary bills that will potentially rack up?
If you can answer “yes” to all those questions, then you may be in a good position to welcome one or two more dogs into your life. Now, you need to think about how your new dog(s) will get along with your existing pet.
All dogs have different personalities, even those of the same breed or from the same litter — some get along brilliantly, whereas others just don’t. You only have to take a look at the dynamics between groups in your local dog park to see that. Some pups seem to buddy up right away, while others are more standoffish and keep their distance.
When introducing a new dog to a household where a dog already lives, you’ll need to consider the following:
In pack hierarchy, it’s usually the eldest dog that’s the king of the castle. So, initially, you’ll need to favor the older dog over the younger one. However, if a younger dog has a very dominant personality, you may have to reverse your support program in favor of the older animal.
In cases where several dogs live in the same household, it’s not unusual for there to be some occasional disagreement between them. Often, this aggravation will take the form of posturing and growling over something that’s of importance to the individual. That behavior is perfectly normal and can mostly be ignored unless there are more serious incidents of biting.
However, if fights break out that result in injury, or if one dog is relentlessly bullied by the others, you’ll need to consult with a dog behavior specialist to see if the situation can be managed. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to consider rehoming one or more of the dogs for their well-being and to restore peace and harmony in your home.
Generally, the more dogs you have in a household, the more the likelihood of inter-pack spats increases. So, two or three dogs may get along just fine, whereas more than that could result in problems.
Even the friendliest dog could cause problems if the size difference between your pets is too great. For example, if you have a tiny Chihuahua, even a friendly Golden retriever puppy could injure the little guy if playtime gets too vigorous.
Breeds That Do Well
Some breeds of dogs do better in a pack situation than others. If you already own one or two dogs and you’re looking to add another, or if you’re considering buying a dog that has a natural pack affinity, you might want to consider the following breeds.
Siberian Huskies are probably the best-known of the domestic pack breeds. Working Siberian Huskies live in packs and work together too, hauling sleds across ice and snow.
The Husky is a very active breed that needs lots of exercise. These are also highly extroverted, social dogs that typically thrive in a multi-dog household where lots is going on to keep them interested.
Although many Border Collies work alone in a sheep herding role, plenty of Collies work in groups of two or three.
Border Collies are highly intelligent and super-active dogs that need lots of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy. So, if you enjoy lots of walking or you want to participate in canine sports, a trio of border collies could be a good pick.
The Beagle has become a very popular pet over the last decade or so. Beagles were traditionally hunting hounds that lived and worked in packs, tracking and pursuing hares, while the huntsmen followed on foot. In a working role, beagles live in large packs that are kept together in hunt kennels.
Thanks to their natural affinity with other dogs, beagles are very sociable pets, enjoying the company of others both in a household and at the dog park. Beagles are busy, active little dogs that enjoy plenty of exercise.
Foxhounds come from a similar background to Beagles. As their name suggests, these pups were used to working in packs, scenting and hunting foxes while the huntsmen and supporters following the pack on horseback. In the U.K., foxhunting in its old form is now banned, although most traditional hunts continue the sport using a pre-laid scent trail for the hounds to follow.
Today, you’ll also find some foxhounds living as pets in domestic households. The breed is not the easiest to train, but if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll find the foxhound to be a friendly, active dog that will thrive in a mini-pack setting.
The Alaskan Malamute is similar in looks to the Siberian Husky, and he also has a comparable history. Like the husky, the malamute traditionally lived and worked in packs where he was used as a sled dog, hauling heavy loads of supplies across the harsh terrain of the far north.
Alaskan malamutes kept as pets are highly social extroverts who love canine company and usually do well in a multi-dog setting. The Malamute is often everyone’s best friend in the dog park too.
Breeds Best As Lone Wolves
Although there will always be the exception that disproves the rule, reputedly aggressive dog breeds such as American Pit Bull Terriers and Kerry Blue terriers may not do well in multi-dog households.
If you’re thinking of rehoming a crossbreed dog from a shelter or rescue center, try to work out what breeds the mix is made up of. Also, most shelters carry out tests to find out what pups get on well with others and which prefer their own company. Some shelters offer a “try before you buy” type of arrangement. Here, you take a dog home for a trial period to see how he gets on with your existing pet. If the trial works out, great, you keep the dog. But if things don’t go so well, the shelter will take them back.
So, the answer to the question of how many dogs is too many can vary, depending on a lot of different factors.
Before you rush out and take on an extra dog or two, take stock of your situation. Do you have the space, time, and resources to care for more than one dog humanely? If the answer to that question is yes, then you’ll need to make sure that you choose breeds that will get along well together in a multi-dog household.
Owning one dog is a very rewarding and joyful experience. With the right forethought and care, owning two or three can be even more satisfying.