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 there 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.
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 your 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 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.