While looking through Facebook, Google records and other social media requests, I discovered that there are a few questions that come up very commonly.
One of these questions is about getting another dog to stay with the separation anxiety afflicted dog in order to alleviate the stress.
There are certainly different angles to consider when reviewing this question and we will go over a few of them, however, initially I do want to address the basics.
A dog with separation anxiety needs help via behavior modification, even if there is another dog in the environment. The root of the problem is an underlying fear of being left alone and that can be debilitating for many dogs. Even when not alone, some of these dogs are constantly scanning the environment waiting for any possible cue that they will be left – that is a difficult way to live.
The behavior modification protocol for treating separation anxiety is a particularly gradual process, however, it has a wonderful success rate if followed carefully.
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, but rather just a desire to add a new fun member to the family. I get that…I am actually personally in this situation since my senior dog passed. I would actually LIKE a second dog, for both personal reasons (I find it fun and gratifying) and for the fact that my current dog (Tini DeMartini) does love to play and interact with other dogs. That seems sufficient enough reason to get a second dog, wouldn’t you say?
Yes, it is, however, make sure the intention is to get a new family member, not a problem fixer. I appreciate and admire people that are able to, and desiring of, bringing another dog into the household, but I do have a few words of caution if the 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 and that doesn’t just mean bad change but good change too. Think about the love and excitement of adding a new infant to the family…it’s wonderful, but it is not without stress. For dogs with separation anxiety, any change may affect the anxiety in such a way that it can be exacerbated. They may even love the new dog, but the change itself can bring about new issues of stress and affect 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.
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 hear often 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.
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.
I guess the best example that I would like to give is a human one. If you have ever experienced a panic attack you will relate to this personally, but if you have not, I suspect you have either known someone that has, or at the very least seen someone panic in a movie. Separation anxiety truly is a panic disorder about being left alone. When people experience panic attacks there “might” be a few people that could help bring the person down from the ledge, but those people tend to be in an exclusive group if they exist at all. So maybe a best friend, a beloved partner or spouse, or even a professional counselor that has been a positive influence. The random stranger (however kind and lovely) is not often able to quell the ensuing 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.
For those of you thinking about another dog to help with your first, please take time to look at all of the above reasons why that might not be the right answer, at least at this time. Consider doing separation anxiety training with the resident dog to help them be more comfortable with alone time first, before bringing in a second 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, in order to learn more.