Dogs are pack animals

May 24, 2012

Valentino would not accept Pollyanna when I first adopted her. He was my only dog for six years when she joined our household. When we hiked in the mountains, he gave her a low growl. This went on for two months. He then started getting used to having her around. But not happy. At this point, I was still “fostering” Pollyanna, and Valentino wanted her to get adopted soon.

At every walk, he hated that Pollyanna made us a pack, instead of being a pair with me, so I had to try many different ways of walking them. I even let him walk off-leash (a short-lived stupid idea), just to let him feel he’s not in the same category with Pollyanna.

10 months later, out of the blue, he accepted her. He even became protective of her, and if she were out of his sight, he would look for her. If a big dog came near her, he would give them a warning to make sure they’d treat her well.


Valentino (left) and Pollyanna

I have become a firm believer that there’s no dog who was born to be the only dog.  Dogs are pack animals, so when I encounter dogs who are aggressive (not just reactive, which many dogs are while they’re called “leash aggressive”) toward other dogs, it saddens me for being reminded how we humans messed up their nature. These seriously aggressive dogs would need intense behavioral rehab and it’s often not worth risking other dogs to be around them, and I would agree they should be the only dogs. So, I’m writing about dogs who are suitable and capable of becoming part of a pack in this article.

When you add a newcomer to your home with your existing dog, it is important to always treat your first resident dog as the dog #1. Feed him first. Give him treats first. Put a leash on him first. Pet him first. Always and for the rest of their lives. When I tell people this, some say, “But I feel bad that Fifi has to be always the bottom of the hierarchy.” That is because people anthropomorphize dogs. Dogs feel safe when they know their position in their pack, and the consistency provides them with stability.

In fact, when I line up my dogs to give treats, Pollyanna anxiously waits for Valentino to take his treat, so that she can get hers. She’s never once dreamt about snatching his or cutting in front of him because she knows her place. She is comfortable and feels secure knowing she is the #2 dog in our pack.

Having two dogs is often easier for the guardian because if you work long hours, your dogs can keep each other company. Also, your first dog teaches your newbie, so you don’t need to train your second dog as much as you did with your first one. Pollyanna learned to heel from Valentino — although, I think she’s heeling him instead of me. In fact, I think she’s his dog.

When we place our rescued dogs in a home with another dog, what makes me most nervous is how easily the adopter can lose our dog by accidentally dropping the leash. Since you are so used to having one leash in your hand, when you have two, you’re more prone to make this mistake especially when you’re distracted, like when you are picking up poop.

I’ve made it mandatory that the adopter tie two leashes together when walking both dogs together. I learned this technique from a neighbor who had three Huskies. This lady is rather petite and I did not know how she was handling three large Huskies. She showed me how she was tying the leashes together at the bottom of each loop, as shown in the photo. I’ve actually custom-ordered a leash to have clasps on both ends which is also shown in the photo.

In case you drop the leashes, the dogs are tied together, so it’s much easier to catch them. And if the dogs decide to go in opposite directions, their force is dispersed between them, and won’t tear you up in half.

When a friend walked my dogs while I was out of town, she told me that if they were not tied together, there could have been a disaster. She fell on the sidewalk and dropped the leashes. Pollyanna started running away, pulling Valentino, who started trotting with her. My friend then called Valentino back. He knew his recall command, so he dutifully brought Pollyanna back to my friend. My friend said if my dogs were on separate leashes, she would have ended up coming home only with Valentino and Pollyanna would have been gone.

I found National Leash Company online which can custom-make any length of training leads, so I asked them if they’d make one in 9 feet with two clasps on both ends. Jon responded to me, and he said that from my email address domain, he figured I rescue dogs and did not even charge me! I like businesses run by people who are supportive of animal rescues. So, I highly recommend asking him to make one, just like mine, for your dogs. It made my life so much easier because walking two dogs became no different from walking one.

Another benefit of having two dogs is it can help many dogs with separation anxiety. We rescued a dog who had a severe separation anxiety and nobody wanted to adopt her. But she went to a home with another dog, and the problem was solved. This may not work for every dog with separation anxiety, but it’s worth a try. How do you “try”? Foster a dog for your local rescue group. You will be helping your dog and the rescue group at the same time.

Also, some finicky eaters start eating with more enthusiasm when they get a canine buddy. A friend of mine has a dog who just doesn’t care to eat, but whenever I’ve babysat him, I never had a problem. I fed him with my two dogs in the same room as I knew none of them had food aggression. My friend’s dog was about to snub his food but when he saw my dogs eating, and when Pollyanna looked at him after she finished her own dish, he thought she may eat his food, so he guzzled his meal.

No matter how well we understand dogs, we can’t speak Dog like they do with each other. If you go to Japan, and have nobody to speak English with, you would feel forever out of place. You may learn the language eventually, but you’d still feel more at ease conversing with a native English speaker. Why not give your dogs the pleasure of communicating with each other in their own language? And watching the dogs play with each other is more entertaining than any TV show for you, too!

If you really cannot have more than one dog, then create his own pack with your friends’ dogs to enrich his life and build a better social environment for him and his friends. Even if you let them have a few play dates a week, they still get the sense of forming their own pack and have a chance to enjoy being dogs.


Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.