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Second Dog Syndrome

Posted on 02/09/10 26 Comments

I was talking recent to some friends about a phenomena I have observed in the dog world I like to describe as “The Second Dog Syndrome.” I thought I would offer a bit of advise on how to avoid it. First what is it. One would think that your second “agility” dog or “obedience” dog would naturally be better than your first. After all, you have the advantage of all of that experience you gained while training the first dog. However that isn’t always the case.

Yes there are many handlers whose second dog is as good or better than their first but their are many more that are not. Here is my take on the situation. Your first dog is just that, your first, therefore he is your only dog. He bonds intensely to you as you are his pack. You develop a great working relationship, which in dog sports is a big part of the equation.

In addition to all of that, there is the “unknown” for you with your first dog. You are perhaps a bit more anal about your training so that everything turns out the way the pros say it will. You have an edge and a fervor to your training because you don’t want to screw up.

Enter the second dog, often several years after your first dog. You may have forgotten all of the work you put into that first dog. The first dog taught you that dogs are pretty wonderful and it is unlikely you will screw it up. You are a little more laid back about the training process and perhaps even allow your first dog to “help” you with it.

This is the foundation for the SDS.  Your second dog has that first dog to learn from. Rather than developing that awesome working relationship with you, he develops it with your first dog. They are a pack of two and you are an outsider. When you call the puppy to come he first looks over at dog number one to see if he should leave or not. Not only does it make you the outsider but when you go to training classes your second dog who is now very “doggy” may now even seek out other dogs there to be part of his pack.

Your first dog that adored you as his pack member, you now just assume he was that “once in lifetime” or  “special gift” dog rather than recognizing that amazing relationship with your  first dog was created by the unique circumstances of being the first and only dog in your household.

My girl "Stoni" helping me out at a flyball seminar many years ago

Does that mean you can’t have as great a relationship with your second dog as you did your first? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, the relationship I had with my second dog (Stoni) became the benchmark for me to aspire to in all relationships with any dog I have ever had since her.

In order to avoid the Second (third or fourth) Dog Syndrome I would advise you first read and adopt the concepts I promote in my first book “Ruff Love.” Don’t make the mistake of raising your puppy in isoloation, that is not what the book promotes. My goal is to create so much reinforcement from me that my puppies don’t bond as strongly with other dogs. You are competing against the great reinforcement value of you puppy hanging with his own peeps (or I guess it is pups) so you need to control that access while you develop the bond between the two of you.

Just having an awareness of the SDS will help you avoid it. You should be learning from your first dog to bring more knowledge and understanding into the relationship of your following dogs, that is why that first dog was sent to you.

Yes allow the dogs in the household to meet, socialize and know each other but do not allow unsupervised free time together until a time when you are are thrilled with the relationship you have with the newest dog.  I like to allow some daily socializing during which time  I will call the puppy out to play with me. That way the pup learns that playing with their housemate is a privilege that is granted when he interacts well with me. It is win-win for everyone.

Today I am grateful for Stoni, what an awesome dog she was. She laid the foundation in my heart for me to have amazing relationships with every dog that followed her.


  1. Buffy says:
    Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 2:02pm

    I never thought about it, but I think you absolutely nailed my problems with my second Aussie! Thank you! Now, how do I fix it??


  2. Krysta says:
    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:18pm

    Thank God for this post! I chalked up the not-as-close relationship with my third dog to the fact that she was a rescue and I got her at 6 months old. My two older dogs I had from the day they were born. Your post made me realize that I did put ALOT more effort and time into their training and spending one-on-one time with them – they’re much more ‘all about mama’ than each other. My new girlie? She definitely checks in with the boys first when I call her and would rather play with them! I’ll be shopping for Ruff Love later today….Susan, do you carry More Time In The Day, b/c I could really use some!


  3. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 1:54pm

    I have a really rare SDS experience. Since my first dog was way chaotic because we didn’t have any experience training. 5 years later I did things quite better with my second dog. I spend 2 entire years training with him, spending tons of time with me. He went absolutely everywhere with. He knows dozens of tricks and his agility carrier started with the right foot. But he is fear aggressive, something I couldn’t work out. Now that I have a new born baby he is living with a friend of mine and I don’t know if I can have him back. But no matter what happens in the future he will always be my most special dog!


  4. Bobbie Bhambree says:
    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 1:05pm

    Jodi, you’re cracking me up!

    Susan, Tricky is the first dog I have raised through the Ruff Love program. Although I was a believer before, I am now a true BELIEVER. This little terrier chooses me time and time again. I try not to take the work I’ve done for granted and I’m constantly aware of the balance of training, thanks to the mistakes I made with my first dog and the guidance of my instructors. It’s pretty incredible. The relationship I have with Tricky is so much more than I could ever hope for and had with previous dogs–and she’s my third!


  5. Kathy says:
    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 12:36pm

    Great post!
    I have successfully completed RL with great results with one dog and I agree that good training involves a lot of old fashioned work.

    One of the best things I’ve hear about puppies from you, Susan, is to call the puppy away from the other dogs frequently to interact with me. I started this very early with my pup and the result is I have a puppy that races away from a wrestling match in response to my single call. It is so rewarding to see a 5 month old puppy flying to me the second he hears me call.


  6. Christine says:
    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 10:59am

    WHAT? Nothing special to sprinkle on the food…because you know I would buy it if you sold it! I have read Ruff Love and with a new kid in the house realize it’s time to re-read through to ensure everything is fresh in my mind. The first few weeks I was ‘everything’ in his eyes and now he’s discovered ‘the others’ I am going to dust off the book tonight and work on re-establishing that I am ‘everything’ in his eyes again : )


  7. Amy says:
    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 10:34am

    I’m really grateful that you posted this. I’m training my Novice A dog (not ready to compete yet, but almost!) and I’m very aware of this already. Already people have told me to just not bother and get a more “competitive” dog, for conformation, obedience and agility, but I really feel like I’d be missing out on such an opportunity. I love my big girl, and I have worked on building a great relationship with her, one that doesn’t involve selling her out to get a “better” dog. In my eyes, she’s the best, and I want to do everything I can with her until she can’t do it anymore. Whenever I do get my second dog, I want to build the best relationship possible, because it’s really a beautiful thing.


  8. Sam says:
    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 8:42am

    In theory I agree that a pup that spends alot of time with the rest of the ‘pack’ will be bonded stronger to the other dogs than to their owner but……

    I have 5 at the minute ranging from 6 years to the two pups (1 year and 8 months – I didn’t plan to get two so close, one was a returned pup we bred, the other a failed foster 🙂 ). All of mine have a very strong bond with me, and only me above even my husband, only one will run with anyone else and none of them would take off to visit a strange dog (or even a ‘pack’ member) if they were out with me. Three of them are kenneled together (we can only have two dogs in the house) outside but don’t have a strong bond with each other. In fact none of mine play a great deal with other dogs in my pack.

    My thinking is that because my dogs are together as a pack most of the time and when they are with me they are doing fun stuff (agility, training, walks, cuddles in front of the fire etc) that they prefer me over the other dogs. They see the other dogs as same ol, same ol but they see me as FUN! Maybe I’m just lucky but I’m on dog number 7 and none of them have been more bonded with the other dogs than me and none of them have had any special treatment to prevent them spending as much time together as they want as a pack – they are together all the time unless I am training them.


  9. Sarah says:
    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 1:37am

    It is really important for people to understand it doesn’t take weeks to build up the kind of value for recalls (and the mama in general) that a puppy needs before she is allowed to go play with other pups. My girlie (second performance dog) was playing with tons of dogs and puppies (two PK groups, the one I was teaching at the time and one I enrolled her in, plus groups of safe adult dogs) after I had only had her a few days, and she still came blasting toward me every time I called her. That way she got that vital socialization in during that critical developmental period (BEFORE 12 weeks) and still learned that I control her access to them. She, at 14 months old, remains way more mommy than doggy 🙂 And she didn’t interact freely with my boy, dog number one, for the first 3 months I had her due to his special issues, which turned out to be a blessing–she loves her big brother, but she values me more. Great post, Susan!


  10. Meghan says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:50pm

    I didn’t get SDS. Dog #1 was ‘how not to train a dog’ so for dog #2 I didn’t want to make the same mistakes.. also helps that is when I discovered Susan 😉
    Dog #3 entered the picture a couple of weeks ago (4 yr old rescue) and noticed that dog 3 was getting attached to dog 2. I dusted off my ruff love book a couple of nights ago as I knew the answers were in there!


  11. Kellie says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:43pm

    Always great thought provoking thoughts. Some times we try too hard not to make the mistakes we made with first dog causing us to go too far the other direction.


  12. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 7:09pm

    I agree Jodi, I’m always amazed at how different Susan looks in all her pics, most of all though I love the outfits from the past 😛 I’m starting to think that nasty skort rumour might have some truth to it. heeheehee


  13. JoAnna says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 4:57pm

    Expectations may also influence to SDS. With your first dog you have less expectations, so you may be more open to new ways of doing things. With your second dog, you may become set in your ways, which can cloud your learning, not to mention what works with one dog may not work for another!


  14. Chris McQ says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 4:36pm

    Always love to see pics of the one and only Stoni!!


  15. Tarja says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 2:34pm

    For me it’s almost the opposite…My older male norfolk has taught me so much, but mainly the hard way. He’s very independent and bonding was hard. I absolutely love him, but have made every mistake there is and ruined him at least as an agilitydog. With my second, nor 18 months old everything has been so easy, he has been mama’s boy from the beginning and is much easier to train. We now have a good teacher and I have learned so much from Susan’s books and videos, they have changed my way of thinking and training. The result is a very nice aspiring agilitydog. I only hope I would have learned all this allready with my first. But better late than never.


  16. Jodi says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:47pm

    Because each picture of you on your blog does not remotely resemble the next….I am starting to think that there are more than one of you!!!
    That would explain your multi-exceptional-talents-and-ideas. Fess up, Susan Garrett.


  17. Lyne Michaud says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 1:29pm

    You are so right !!! For me, it is the best thing to do for really good foundation I did that with my 2nd dog and 3rd dog and really, they respectively prefer much better to be and play with me than my 2 other dogs or dogs in the same place – they dont even try to look them – it creates a good relationship with our dog and this is the best to do – they like each others, but I’m # 1 !!!


  18. Taryn says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 12:31pm

    My second dog bonded more with my spouse than me thanks to his work-from-home-all-the-time job. #2 also takes his queues from dog #1. Not exactly what I wanted! Fortunately #2 is a great little worker and is over the top about agility. And I am his only agility partner…….


  19. Ann says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:54am

    Funny … Sensing that my bond with my young dog is not as “intense” as I’d like when other dogs, including my own, are present, I hauled out Ruff Love and your Foundation books last night … I’m hoping it’s a mild case of SDS, and we just need a refresher course! Timely, thanks. 🙂


  20. Lynne says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:23am

    Well, lucky for me my first dog, Bart, wanted to kill (literally) the new pup. I was forced to keep them apart for about six months while I classically conditioned Bart to accept her. It obviosly was a blessing even though at the time it was extremely stressful and difficult. I have never heard of SDS, and if the circumstances had been different, Leica and I might indeed be suffering from SDS. Oye, how lucky was that?
    Thanks for shedding the light.


  21. Linda Robertson says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:19am

    I have to say that I have not found SDS to be the expected outcome, but rather the exception. I currently have 6 dogs (5 active in performance and 1 puppy). Every one of them wants their time with me. They are all quite competitive in “their” sport and only one will run for someone other than me. Strangely, that is my FIRST dog. 😉 The rest run/play their hearts out for what they get from our partnership. However, I spend enormous amounts of time building that relationship with each dog. That is not to say that I have never utilized the ideas in Ruff Love. I have one dog that did not care to hang with me OR the other dogs. Ruff Love was instrumental in helping her to see the value in the rest of us. But I do not bring a puppy in *expecting* to use those principals. I get great joy out of the time I spend with my pups. Agility and performance are way off in the distant future.

    If I had to point to a major problem in adding a 2nd dog- it is getting one for performance and neglecting the relationship in order to begin training for performance. The time spent teaching aframes, or teeters or jump bumps or whatever else could best be spent solidifying a relationship. IMO people are in way too much of a hurry to self reward and promote their next agility dog.

    Love your blog because it is thought provoking. Same is true of your books.


  22. MJ says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:49am

    So true. I made that mistake with my second dog. It’s easy just to let dog one take care of the job 😉
    For all the subsequent pups I got, I made sure I had a one on one relationship with them and played with them, went for walks, etc. separately for during their first 4 to 6 months at home. The pup had limited interaction with the other dog(s) in my household.


  23. Tori Self says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:48am

    Really liked this part – so true.

    “Your first dog that adored you as his pack member, you now just assume he was that “once in lifetime” or “special gift” dog rather than recognizing that amazing relationship with your first dog was created by the unique circumstances of being the first and only dog in your household.”


  24. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:18am

    Thanks Susan. I’m not sure how to overcome SDS now that we’ve created it. I see the pattern you shared exactly – that’s literally exactly what we did! I’ve learned so much from this experience of what not to do – now I’ve gotta figure out what TO do.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:45am

      As I said Andrea, the answers are in Ruff Love. No magic powder to sprinkle on the food, just good old fashion control of all reinforcers (including the other dogs).


  25. Karen M says:
    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 6:54am

    When I got my 3rd puppy, I gave this a lot of thought. I wanted him to grow confident without the support of my other 2 dogs but still have time with them.
    Yes, my first dog is special. We’ve learned and done so much together over the years and she well and truly earned her retirement. She is happy for the others to take over now. Yes my second dog is special but in a different way. She taught me lots about thinking laterally, not type-casting breeds and above all, she is such a faithful dog and is never far from me. She has taught me not to forget about her (she can be a real bitch!) as I train my youngest dog even though I have retired her too due to physical limitations.
    My young fellow is gradually learning his place in the scheme of things, how to have nice manners and how to cope in general with what life throws at him. I know I haven’t done as much socialising with him as the others. Just laziness on my part.
    All 3 dogs with different needs and all were different from each other to train. But one thing pointed out to me was that you can put too much pressure on your dog if you’re only training one so I make time to still train/play individually with each one and also the 3 together.


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