One Dog Two Dog No Dog - Deciding to get a dog was a big deal for us. We waited a long time because we wanted to get the right dog for us. My husband and I had different experiences growing up with a dog or in my case, several working dogs. He was used to having strictly a pet that was happy to hang out with the family, while I only knew dogs that had active roles to perform within a pack. Together we knew we would need to take our past experiences and figure out what made sense for us today.
We live in a big city. This meant at the top of our initial list of questions was, "What is the right size and energy level for us?" Once we decided on that, we agreed that we would wait until we had the right size home and lifestyle to accommodate this future dog. We waited nine years before adopting Cleo from the SF/SPCA.
How do you know if and when to add to your pack? We have had Cleo for five years now and she is about seven years or older. I've started thinking about whether it would be a good idea to get a second dog. Our big girl loves little dogs and puppies and could make a great matriarch. And I admit that as "an only child" she could use more regular canine interaction than what she gets now.
Cleo has become a bit spoiled, with my giving in to her demanding affection and attention out of guilt as much as from my own love of spending time with her. Is another dog the answer or would she be better served by us if she had more mental exercise? Searching for answers, I found Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist, dog trainer and author of The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, and For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and Your Best Friend.
She wrote a great post How Much is Enough?, on how much training and attention our dogs need every day. It got me wondering if Cleo's skin issues might be related to her not getting enough mental and physical exercise? We walk her every day for thirty minutes and she goes out with a play group of about five dogs twice a week for two hours. Does she have behavioral issues that are manifesting themselves through the itching and biting? My guilty conscience points the finger squarely at me and that as the human, all of Cleo's problems stem from my inability to take care of her properly.
Have I become Cleo's enabler? I wonder if at this age how much behavior modification I realistically can expect from her. And from me. Would I be up to that possibly complex task? While we wait for the blood test results from the vet on what, if anything, she is allergic to, I vacuum every two days all the hair that she naturally sheds or purposefully scratches off whenever alone.
Part of me would like to take the simple action of getting a second dog. The dog could be a playmate for Cleo, solving all of our problems at once - for the modest cost of adoption fees and additional food. Problem solved, right? Somehow I don't quite believe it. The logic reminds me of troubled marriages where the couple decides that bringing a baby into the situation will solve every issue between the two of them.
Is now the right time to add another dog to our pack? The more I think about it, the more time I know we need before we make any decision. After the reading I have done, we need to explore first this issue of exercise and wait to see what the test results tell us. Making changes to our behavior as much as hers is where I plan to start.
Adopting Cleo from the SF/SPCA was the best experience ever. I can't imagine ever buying a dog again. Whatever the future holds, one decision that will remain the easiest is our choice to adopt rather than buy a dog.