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Why bonded pairs matter when considering dogs for adoption

A bond too strong to break?

Everyone knows a dog is a man's best friend, but a dog can be a dog's best friend, too. But can a bonded pair of dogs — two dogs that are strongly attached to each other — be separated? Should they?

Like their human companions, dogs too find comfort in having a doggie companion to rely on. Sometimes the bond is so great that when separated, even for a short time, the dogs each react anxiously and will even bark or whine until its other half returns. So how big of a problem is it to split a bonded pair when adopting them out together isn't an option? And can they find happiness in their forever homes apart from each other?

Benefits of adopting a bonded pair

First, adopting a bonded pair of dogs can be a rewarding experience for the dogs and their human. Amy Bowman, VDM, mid-Atlantic regional medical director for Banfield Pet Hospital, points out, "A pair of bonded pets is often less work than single pets — they keep each other entertained and help prevent some of the separation anxiety issues that we often see when pets are left alone." Besides, if you're looking for a pair of dogs, it's easier to adopt two that you're sure will get along, she notes. Happy dogs equal a happy owner.

Two types of bonded pairs

Bonded dogs might be siblings, a parent and offspring or just friends that were raised together from a young age. Regardless, a separation has to be done delicately and is not possible or even recommended in every situation. Emily Gear, founder, executive director and president of Louie's Legacy, a rescue organization, explains two types of bonded pairs. "If a pair is truly a bonded pair, and their relationship with one another is balanced and healthy, splitting them up can cause a grieving period and contribute to considerable behavioral turmoil in a new home," Gear explains. "They give each other some stability, and often one follows the other's lead, helping the more passive one to adjust more quickly than she/he otherwise would have." In this case, breaking up the pair can introduce new issues that were never present before, such as destructive behavior, fear aggression and separation anxiety, notes Gear.

The other type of bonded pair can benefit from being split up. Gear explains that this is the case when "the animals are young and they do not have a balanced, mutually beneficial relationship, or they are codependent, just like with people." She continues, "If one of the pets is considerably more dominant than the other and beats up on the weaker member, while the weaker member clings to the stronger member for security, splitting them allows the stronger member to learn appropriate, healthy social skills and the weaker to learn confidence and develop an individual identity." In this case, the dogs thrive after the split, and the weaker one develops in ways it never would have if it had remained with the other dog.

What's best for the dogs

No one likes to see a happy family broken up, and that goes for dog relationships as well. Geralynn Cada, certified dog trainer, author and dog-behavior specialist, reminds us that "even Noah loaded his ark in pairs. We, dogs and people, should run in pairs or groups, as we are pack animals after all." She says that "a great deal of trust is built within that pair. It's a shame to see that connection broken." But if a pair does need to be separated, she says that with time, each dog will be OK. "As long as they pair up with another one of their furry four-leggers, they will bond again."

The bottom line on bonded pairs is that if the relationship is healthy, they should remain together whenever possible. Always consider what's best for the dogs' quality of life first and foremost.

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