Updated January 2023
As a separation anxiety dog trainer, there are many frequently asked questions that come up on a regular basis. “Does getting a second dog help with separation anxiety?” is one of the most common questions I receive via Facebook, Google, and email. Basically, the common sense thought by owners here is if their dog is lonely while they are out of the house, a second dog can keep them company. It may seem logical, but it actually may do more harm than good.
There is a lot to cover when answering this question, but it is important to first address the basics. Regardless of how many dogs are in a home, if a dog has a behavioral problem – including separation anxiety – they need help with behavior modification.
In the case of separation anxiety, the root cause of the issue is an underlying fear of being separated from a specific person or persons in the home. Many dogs have a debilitating fear of being left alone in general, but separation anxiety is typically tied to the guardian(s) in the home. The stress SA causes can be seen by a trained eye. In fact, even when not alone you can often see these dogs constantly scanning the environment looking for cues that they will be left alone. As you can imagine, this causes a huge amount of stress for the dog and impacts their quality of life.
The behavior modification protocol for treating separation anxiety in dogs is a very gradual process. However, if followed properly there is a high success rate.
So now back to ‘will another dog fix separation anxiety’ question…
Some people are ready, willing, and able to take on a second dog, and it has nothing to do with their first dog’s behavior issues when left alone. Their motivation comes simply from a love of dogs and wanting to add a new member to the family. I’ve personally been in this situation. After my senior dog passed, I wanted a second dog for both personal reasons (I find it fun and gratifying) and for my current dog (Tini DeMartini) who loves to play an interact with other dogs.
On the surface, these reason seem like enough to get a second dog, right?
These reasons are certainly valid to add a new family member to the household. But, it is important to note that motivation is not the same as wanting a “problem fixer”. I appreciate and admire people who are able to bring another dog into their home, but there are a few words of caution to consider if the current resident dog has separation anxiety.
The current dog with separation anxiety may or may not be helped in any way by the introduction of the new dog. If that is the case, you still have the behavior problem on your hands, but now you have to coordinate both of the dogs during training, which can sometimes be a bigger feat.
Change Is Stressful
Both positive and negative changes in routines are stressful. Consider the love and excitement of adding a new infant to your family. It’s wonderful, but it inherently comes with new routines and stress. For dogs with separation anxiety, any changes may make the current level of anxiety worse. It’s possible your existing dog will love the new dog, but the change itself can bring about new issues of stress and impact their separation anxiety.
Additionally, let’s remember that if the current dog IS helped by the presence of the new dog, it is really only when that dog is actually there in the house during alone-time. What if the new dog has to go to the vet, the groomers, or on a separate training walk? Sorry to be a bit morose, but what happens if that new dog gets sick and (Ugh, forbid) passes away? The underlying problem will continue with the first dog as it was never truly addressed in advance.
The Human Element
Most dogs that are experiencing separation anxiety are particularly sensitive to a human being present (sometimes even a particular human), in order to not experience anxiety. The addition of a second dog for those dogs will make no significant difference at all. It is hard to know whether your dog is one of those dogs that will be content during alone time as long as there is another dog present. Committing to bringing in a new dog is, therefore, a risky prospect if your hopes are riding on the newly acquired dog to fix things.
I often hear in internet discussions that the “key” is to bring in a confident dog that has no alone-time issues. My concern with this is that we can’t always discern whether a dog is or is not confident, particularly in the face of another dog that is distressed. What if this assumed confident dog actually becomes anxious when the resident dog starts to pace, howl or chew stuff up? Having two dogs with separation anxiety is absolutely not what most people’s goal is, and that is a real possibility.
Fostering & Friends
It is a nice recommendation that I hear about “trying” another dog with the resident dog to see if it helps. While I absolutely appreciate this suggestion, there are a few things to keep in mind.
A “one off” with a doggie friend is not conclusive evidence that the resident dog will continue to do well. The new dog might not become as much of a buddy, and/or the novelty of a playmate could certainly wear off. While I do support fostering in many different situations, we have to remember that we cannot conclusively state that it will all remain good with the new dog after a few weeks or even a few months.
The best example that I would give is a human one. If you have ever experienced a panic attack, you will relate to this personally. If not, I suspect you know someone who has or have at least seen someone panic on TV or in a movie.
Dog separation anxiety is truly a panic disorder about being left alone. When people experience a panic attack in a movie, there “might” be a few people to help talk them off the ledge. However, those people tend to be in an exclusive group, if they even exist at all. For example, a best friend, a beloved partner or spouse, or even a professional counselor that is a positive influence. The random stranger (however kind and lovely) is generally not able to stop the panic and anxiety.
So, let’s look at this with respect to dogs. We bring in a new doggie friend that the resident dog is not familiar with. They may or may not become the best of friends, the new dog may or may not be affected by the resident dog’s separation anxiety, and at the end of the day, even if it works in theory, there are still those times where the new dog may have to be separated from the resident dog which means the underlying behavior problem of alone-time anxiety will still be there in full force.
Consider All of the Options & Impacts
If you are considering bringing home another dog to help with your first, please take time to consider all of the above reasons why that may not be the best answer. Consider starting dog separation anxiety training with the resident dog first to help them be more comfortable with alone time before bringing in another dog.
The mainstay of separation anxiety training is called desensitization, and while that may sound straightforward, there are many nuances to the protocol. Feel free to look through our separation anxiety blog on training or contact a certified separation anxiety trainer for a consult to learn more!