Would Another Dog Ease My Dog's Anxiety Issues?

by Rebecca Bragg
    When introducing a new dog to your existing one, take it slow.

    When introducing a new dog to your existing one, take it slow.

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    Many dog owners hope that presenting a troubled pooch with a new canine companion will prove to be a therapeutic distraction but that's not necessarily true. Anxiety disorders can stem from many causes. Introducing a strange dog into the life of your original dog can both aggravate an existing problem and create another potentially even more difficult one to solve. First, seek veterinary advice to identify and resolve your dog's anxiety issues, then decide whether sharing the household with another dog is in the best interests of you and your pets.

    Establish Cause and Nature of Anxiety

    According to "The Merck Veterinary Manual," separation anxiety -- a distress response triggered when dogs are separated from family members -- is relatively common, affecting about 14 percent of the canine population. But many other types of anxiety also exist. Pat Miller, training editor for "The Whole Dog Journal," emphasizes the importance of knowing what's really bothering your dog before undertaking measures to address the problem. For example, with isolation distress, the dog doesn't like being alone but isn't fussy about who, human or sometimes canine, keeps him company. If that's the issue, getting another dog may be one way to address it. But with true separation anxiety, a dog is so fixated on one person that he "continues to show stress behaviors if that person is absent, even if other humans or dogs are present," Miller says.

    Solve One Problem at a Time

    If fear, a normal response to a threatening situation, escalates to anxiety or its most extreme manifestation, phobia, it constitutes an emotional disorder that will probably require professional expertise to treat, Merck advises. Whatever the cause of the anxiety, a dog already experiencing such stress is more likely to behave aggressively towards other dogs, especially those he doesn't consider members of his family unit. If your dog's worst nightmare is being physically separated from you, it's not difficult to understand why he might not take kindly to sharing the most precious things in his life -- your affection and attention -- with another dog he sees as an intruder in his home.

    Sibling Rivalry: A Dangerous Pattern

    Even among well-adjusted dogs, an aggression problem known as "sibling rivalry" can develop if humans don't proceed with the utmost caution when introducing a new canine family member to an established one. If dogs still lived like their wolf ancestors, two animals who didn't get along would move off into different territories rather than continuing to fight. In a home, though, they're stuck living under the same roof with each other. After fights, people inadvertently can make a bad situation worse by sympathizing with the underdog. That reinforces their original dog's fear that the newcomer has replaced him as the object of his owner's affection. In addition to the grievous bodily harm fighting dogs can inflict on each other, once a pattern of aggressive behavior develops, it can be difficult to break, VCA Animal Hospitals warns.

    Introduce Dogs Gradually

    Once your dog's anxiety issues have been successfully resolved, if you still think that adding another dog to the household might benefit your dog and you, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advocates a two-step process. First, introduce the dogs to each other on neutral ground such as a park, with one person holding each dog on a loose leash. Don't try to force interaction but offer encouragement in a positive tone of voice. At any display of discomfort or aggression, lead them a comfortable distance away until they're ready to approach each other again. For the first couple of weeks at home, do everything possible to reduce the potential for conflict by giving each dog his own food, water, bed and toys. When you leave the dogs alone in the house, confine them in different rooms or behind a barrier such as a baby gate.

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    About the Author

    Rebecca Bragg has been a writer since 1979. From 1988 to 2000, she was a reporter for Canada's largest newspaper, the "Toronto Star," specializing in travel. She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and creative writing and has lived in India and Nepal, volunteering in animal rescue organizations in both countries.

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