What to know before adopting a second dog

May 30, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. ET

When my daughter was a newborn, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the attention my dog, Radar, required. His needs hadn't changed, but my abilities as a pet parent had.

Radar needed regular exercise and affection, but I was maxed out by breastfeeding, diaper changing and exhaustion. Something had to give, and in a postpartum haze, I dreamed that another dog would solve my problems. It's perfect, I thought. I'll just give them food — and they will exercise and tend to each other!

dog and baby

Image: Mary McCoy

According to veterinarian Dr. Amber Andersen, I should thank my lucky stars that my postpartum follow-through was exceptionally poor. "It's common for owners to consider getting a companion for their only dog, and others just want to provide a home to a needy pet," she said, "but owners must make sure they have the time, energy and financial resources to care for another animal."

If there were three things I was short on, it was time, energy and money. For me, it wasn't the right time for another dog. I would have ended up even more depleted and broke since a second animal would have required more exercise and care than I was able to give.

Of course, many owners with a solo pooch approach the second dog question from a different position. Andersen said that if an owner has time, energy and resources, there's no reason to fear getting another animal — and there are many benefits to the decision, too. "Both dogs and humans can benefit from living in a multi-dog household," Andersen explained. "The dogs can entertain each other and also provide a lot of love to people."

The trick, of course, is to locate a second dog that meshes well with the first dog in the household. Andersen says that you can select a second pet by considering temperament — like choosing a submissive dog if your first dog tends to be dominant — but you really can't foresee how the dogs will interact until you see them together. As a result, she suggests that owners should start the process by doing a trial period with the new dog. If it doesn't work out, no harm and no foul.

Finally, once you select a dog for a trial period, make sure that you're setting the animals up for success. "The meeting of the new dog and old dog should occur outside the household," Andersen said. "Owners should pick a neutral area for the meeting, like a park or street."

Once the new dog and old dog meet, owners can walk them into the home together, which will neutralize displays of dominance and minimize territorial threats in the home. "Monitor the animals closely for the first few weeks to make sure everyone is getting along," she added. After a few weeks of successful interaction, you can breathe easily in your new normal.

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