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Two dogs is double the trouble

Anthropomorphism. Applying human feelings to our dogs. We do it all the time.

My partner, Amy, and I do it in jest. When the dogs are interacting or giving us sad eyes, we’ll speak for them. We’ve all done it – after all, we’re human. But anthropomorphism can be dangerous, not like falling through the ice, but dangerous nonetheless, especially when we say things like, “He wanted a playmate,” “He’s lonely,” because it can lead to double the trouble.

A few years ago, I was consulting with a couple that wanted to get a second dog, a puppy. Their first dog had been lovely, but he didn’t much care for people he didn’t know, which meant that they had a lifetime of behavior management. They were determined to get a new puppy that would be different and love everyone.

We had many conversations on what to look for when selecting puppies. I encouraged them to see each puppy individually from the litter, and be sure they could see the mother and father. We talked about warning signs and when to walk away. I even encouraged them to leave their checkbook at home the first visit so they could maybe, maybe, be objective. They felt prepared.

The big day arrived. They drove to New Jersey to pick up their puppy. When my phone rang and it was them, I was sure they were going to tell me how great the puppy was, but instead I heard my client say, “Jack wants to get two puppies!”

“What?” I replied. We never discussed two dogs. I wondered why was this coming up now. I spoke at length with them about what it entails to have two puppies, siblings, together. Their bond would be stronger than the bond with them. They would need to consciously work at separating them and working with them individually. Were they ready to carry two puppies down the stairs in the middle of the night to go potty? Were they ready for the ruckus that two puppies, growing into large dogs would create? Were they prepared for double the veterinary bills, food bills and training bills?

They were able to hear what I was saying, but there was a layer of emotion that I couldn’t get through. When I finally got Jack on the phone he shared that there were only two puppies left. He was feeling sad about leaving one puppy behind. Now I understood what was happening. I emphasized that feeling bad about leaving a puppy behind really wasn’t a good reason to get two, unless they were fully prepared for the work. Jack was anthropomorphizing – he was applying his human feeling to the puppy, and was about to get into double trouble.

They left with one puppy. When I saw them four months later, they gave me a big hug and thanked me for talking them out of getting two puppies. They had forgotten how much work a puppy is, how much time it takes, and were grateful they could devote all their time to one dog.

Here’s my advice: If you really want two dogs, start with one, train him, exercise him, give him the love and attention he deserves. Then, when he is 3 years old, and well-mannered, decide if you want to bring a second puppy or adult dog into your life. Include your 3-year-old dog in that process. Let them meet and interact before walking in the front door.

And please, consider adopting from your local shelter. They have wonderful dogs.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 20 years. She offers private lessons, group classes in Rindge and Swanzey, board and train as well as day training services. She lives in Keene with her partner, Amy Willey. They share their home with five dogs and three daughters. For more information, see www.everythingdognh.com.

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