obsessed with dogs

Adding a third dog

I’ve gotten a few emails asking about how to add a third dog to a two-dog house, so I wanted to put together a post about my experience. But I realized that I need to start out with one qualifier…

Adding a third dog? Piece of cake.

Adding a third dog who’s a puppy? Not as easy.

“Hello up there? Are you guys my family?”

Some of you might remember, Cooper started out as our foster. Then we failed, and we adopted him. The big boys were a little put off when they realized he wasn’t going to leave, but it didn’t take them long – a few weeks or so – to welcome him into our family. But it hasn’t been seamless. There have been two fights, one between Lucas and Cooper (Cooper went after a toy that was VERY valuable to Lucas) and one between Emmett and Cooper (Cooper pushed his buttons too many times for too long).

In hindsight, the biggest challenge we faced wasn’t adding a third dog to our family – they sort of work that out among themselves – but adding a puppy! A high-energy puppy who’s a chewer! Most of our extra time and energy was spent on puppy stuff like redirecting to appropriate toys, house training, and so on. And I would say that our biggest mistake was that we didn’t build in time for Cooper to have quiet time in his crate while we doted on Emmett and Lucas. We tried to spend time with each of them every day, but I think there would have been less jealousy in the beginning if we had done a better job with that. If you have older dogs in your house and you’re thinking about adding a third dog, I would suggest considering a dog who is past the puppy stages because it’s just one less thing to manage during the transition.

In the end, having three isn’t much harder than having two. It’s an extra scoop of kibble to pour and another dose of heartworm medicine to buy, but it’s also another playmate for your existing dogs and another life you saved.

5 ways you can make the transition easy:

  1. Maintain routines. If you’ve taken your first two dogs on a walk every single day at 6 AM, take them for a walk every single day at 6 AM even if it means your new pup gets crate time. Over time you can integrate the new pup into that routine or slowly tweak the routine to what you want for three dogs. But in the beginning, it’s important to maintain your routines.
  2. Spend one-on-one time with all three. Set aside a few minutes – 5 will do it – to play with or scratch each dog individually. You’ll reassure your existing dogs and bond with your new dog. Then spend time playing with all three together so that everyone knows that you will share equal time, attention, and love.
  3. Supervise EVERYTHING. I can’t emphasize this point enough. When you’re adding a new dog, you must watch play, feeding, naps, and so on. They will work out who’s who among themselves – but it may not be a seamless process. Until you’re sure they’re comfortable with each other (which can take many months), supervise everything. Hot zones to watch closely: food and water dishes, toys, and dog beds.
  4. Budget for an increase in pet care costs. Monthly heart worm, food, toys, grooming supplies, veterinary care including routine checkups… Plan on spending around 30% more each month than you spent on two dogs. Know that going in, and it won’t be as big of a shock.
  5. Have fun! Having three dogs definitely turns you into an even crazier dog person. :) Enjoy it! It’s like having a miniature dog park in my living room. When they snuggle in bed with me, I have nearly 200 pounds of dog keeping me warm.

Those of you with three (or more!) dogs, anything to add? Is anyone thinking about adding a third – or fourth or fifth – dog to your house? 

37 Comments

  1. This is truly great advice. I have long been thinking about getting a second dog but am not sure I am ready yet. I’ve never lived in a house with more than one and I know it will be twice the work. It is definitely something I want to do but I think I’d rather have more of my current dog’s issues ironed out first. Though is there ever really a perfect time? Maybe I should at least wait until we have a house of our own. It’s been so hard finding a place to rent that allows one nutjob dog, let alone two!

    Reply
    1. Thanks, Kristine! Honestly, the transition from two dogs to three was far easier than going from one dog to two. Emmett had been an “only child” for so long that it was a much more difficult adjustment for him and for us. I think you’re right, that there’s never really a perfect time, but once you find the right dog, you find a way to make it work!

      Reply
  2. You’ve included a great compilation here of what to consider and how things will go when adding another dog. Awesome, love this and will recommend reading it to those who are considering!
    One thing to add perhaps in what to consider – either buying a bigger bed or planning on less room for yourself when sleeping LOL
    I can’t help myself, I just gush every time i see Cooper. He is THE cutest!!

    Reply
  3. Hi Maggie! I am one of the people that sent you an email asking for advice regarding adding a third dog to our family. We adopted our third one about a month ago and your advice has been incredibly valuable. Thank you!
    Although our third dog is a puppy, the transition has been smoother than I expected. It was a little rough for the first couple of weeks because my two other dogs (specially the younger one) were not too happy with the new addition, but it seems like everyone is getting along now and having three dogs is now the new “normal”. I have been pleasantly surprised, because I thought it was going to take at least a couple of months for everyone to get used to the change, considering it took almost 6 months for our older dog to accept our second dog a few years ago.
    In our case, the key elements to an easier transition have been to maintain our routine, make sure everyone gets the same amount of attention and letting them work out their issues on their own (with supervision, of course).
    The biggest challenge so far is taking all three dogs for a walk – nearly impossible! I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do it and hope we can figure it out soon.

    Reply
    1. Yay! Angela, I’m so excited to hear your update!! It sounds like things are going well and you have it all under control. Great tips, too. I have to confess: I still can’t walk all 3 dogs together. It’s just too difficult. So I do two walks, one with Emmett and Cooper, and one with Lucas and Cooper. If you figure out how to walk 3 at once, please let me know!!!

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  4. Very nice post on adding a third dog. I’m only disappointed not to see any pictures of you with three leashes twisted around your ankles and wrists as all three of your boys take off in a different direction. Or are you telling me you have perfect walkers? :)

    Reply
    1. Haaaa! HAHA! Perfect walkers! :) Not at all. In fact, even if I could get the 3 of them to go in the same direction at the same time, I’m sure they’d still pull me over. They get really competitive when walking as a group – each one wants to be a nose ahead of the others – so I can’t struggle with them as a herd. It’s probably something I really need to work on, but I’ve decided to walk in groups of two instead…

      Reply
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  6. Amen to the third not being a puppy! After Hurley, I’ve made the executive decision that any time we’re adding a third to our pack, they have to be way past the puppy stage. And especially not a puppy who will someday be an 85lb puppy! We’re going through the adult body, puppy brain phase right now – plus he’s smack dab in the middle of the testing us phase on top of that. Thankfully, Maggie & Sadie aren’t letting him tempt them into *many* bad habits.

    We’ve been very lucky in that there have been no fights between them. I attribute this not to Hurley being great with the girls but the girls being the absolute best with him. Maggie is almost too tolerant of his incessant need to play and will indulge him anytime he wants and Sadie just walks away when he’s too much for her. I think sometimes Maggie intervenes when she sees Sadie having enough (she really is the best, that one!).

    I think the hardest part with 3 is walking them (we only do 1 or 2 dog walks) and when one person has to manage all 3 alone somewhere, it’s difficult. That will get better as Hurley gets less rambunctious but right now, I refuse to take them anywhere by myself. This means more walks and less dog park but, like you said, since our house is like a mini dog park, I don’t feel so bad about not taking them as often.

    Reply
    1. Sarah, I was hoping you’d weigh in!! It’s really reassuring to me to hear that you’ve been going through similar things – especially as far as the walking goes. That’s the worst part, and I’ve not been able to figure it out yet either!

      Reply
  7. Your dogs are gorgeous! Great article and although it’s a dream of mine to have more than one dog, I think my husband would kill me! Well, maybe not, but I would have to work on him…..;-)

    Reply
  8. This is a great blog post :) At the moment, we’ve got four ( ages 4 1/2, 3, 2 1/2 and 2 1/2) It is controlled chaos most of the time. We only added the fourth ( Lady), when it became clear we were foster failures and she was such a great fit for our other three. Lady is more mature, more laid back and submissive to the other three than a puppy. We had done a young puppy foster, but it became very clear that she couldn’t stay. Maggie, was very sweet and our boy dog loved her, but our girls didn’t. She was just too much puppy and “all up in their business” all the time. I think everyone was relieved when she got adopted, and we still see her at agility classes. Now, with the four, we try to give everyone enough attention, even if it means a cuddle and a brushing on the back deck, when everyone else is inside.

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  9. Tina Hamilton July 3, 2012 at 6:00 am

    This is a really great post, Maggie. My hat is off to you folks who walk a trio of dogs. We’re fortunate to have a fenced yard so we can just open the door and let them run. We’ve historically added puppies to our pack because they don’t challenge the status quo. An older dog often feels obliged to assert themselves, and that can be bad news. Having said that, we’ve also had plenty of adult fosters. I feel that many dogs can be integrated with lots of patience and close supervision. When that doesn’t work, we rotate them through the house and yard to keep everyone safe and happy. I don’t recommend this as a long-term solution, however.

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  10. Thanks for the great advice! We’re about to welcome a puppy into our house and he’ll be in close proximity with my father in law’s dogs next door who are both fairly old, this’ll help the integration!

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  11. Hi there!

    This is all such great advice. I currently have two dogs and as nervous as I was to get the second dog, it was the single best decision I made. Except for the decision I made years ago to get my first dog. :) They are both females. Pepper is 10, dalmatian/blue heeler mix and Gracie is 1 (5 months old at adoption) and is a Border Collie/Pointer mix. They are two peas in a pod. Pepper is the alpha. Gracie is spunky and playful, always. They are perfect together. We have a fenced backyard. We have a dog walker that comes once a day while we’re at work. Gracie is in a spacious kennel. And we go for bike rides at night – they are hooked into an attachment to my bike and run gleefully next to me. It’s a great time had by all.

    Now I have come across a little girl (2 year old) at the shelter that I have been toying around the idea of adopting. She’s a poodle/terrier mix so she’s smaller than my girls by at least half of their sizes and she doesn’t shed. WIN WIN! But I’m nervous…
    Will they accept her? Will she know her rank? Three females not a good idea?

    So far the shelter has told me that she is submissive and gentle and what I’ve observed that is very much so. While all the other dogs are yapping, she seems calm and content. She has those eyes that burn into your soul.

    I really can’t decide.

    Sharon

    Reply
  12. So glad I found your post. I am adding a rescue tomorrow, the third Pom in our family and everything I read said it was impossible to have it work. I was starting to wonder if I made a huge mistake. You made me feel so much better! Thank you!!!

    Reply
      1. Well, you were right. Maintain routine, integrate the new guy in and with a bit of luck – everybody ends up happy! 3 pomeranians, including the newly added 7 year old (recently neutered) rescue. All is well – its been just over 3 months and regardless of what all the negative sites say about adding a third, it really does depend on you and the dogs. If you don’t let it be an option to have a problem – you won’t. The best advice I got from our new doggy obedience in house trainer. (with a pack of munchkins we had to take some control!) Thanks for being the voice of optimism Maggie. I wish I could post a pic for you. A combined weight of only 34 lbs but 3 brains and 12 legs. lol

        Reply
        1. YAY!! I’m so glad to hear how well things are going for you. Congrats! And thank you for taking the time to come back and update us.

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  13. This post was really helpful. I hope you don’t mind if I ask two questions about adding a dog. We have two standard poodles – both neutered boys who get along very well with each other – and we’re thinking about adding a third, a boy puppy who will be neutered when he’s old enough.

    Is there anything about having three (neutered) males together that is a concern?

    Also, I’ve read that some people find that when a third dog is added, all of the dogs become less interested in and less involved with their people, because with three they become a “complete” pack. Have you found that to be true? We don’t want to lose the closeness we have with the two boys we have now, or not become close with the third.

    Reply
    1. Hi, Jane! Congrats on adding a third dog! A few things from my experience: Adding a puppy makes it a lot easier because the older dogs are more patient and tolerant. I don’t think there’s a problem with three neutered males. We’ve had a couple little fights and skirmishes along the way, but I think that’s mostly been a personality/competitiveness issue between two of mine.

      As far as the “pack” thing, I have experienced the exact opposite! Adding a third dog made the other two want to be with us more. They get pushy for that one-on-one attention. For me, it was harder adding a second dog – the dynamic changed so drastically then – than it has been with a third. I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have other questions, and I’m happy to share my experiences.

      Reply
  14. Great advice! I currently have 2 indoor dogs (the female is a year and the male is 7 months – crazy I know). Now for the crazier part is I am wanting another dog (puppy) to add to the clan. The two we have now are best buddies, and love the company of other dogs, cats, or people. Has anyone tried adding another dog to the mix at this young of an age? Any recommendations (positive or negative) are welcomed. :)
    Thanks

    Reply
  15. Hi Maggie,
    My wife Margaritha and I just started to market a new dog handle this week for walking three dogs with one person. It works great and my wife feels very safe with it. It’s all made in the USA so the cost is not low but it is a great handle for someone who wants to walk all three dogs at the same time. You untangle leashes yourself with half turns of the handle for each entanglement and you can do that while walking which makes for much happier dogs! I even use it with 4 small dogs. Please check our website http://www.uturnhandles.com and let me know what you think.
    Paul

    Reply
  16. sbwxx1@yahoo.com April 16, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks for the blog post – it is so helpful to have some guidelines! We were on a trip to Kauai and took a dog out on their “Field Trip” program. We fell in love and she arrived safely last night. So far, so good. I assumed the adjustment would take awhile. Fingers crossed!

    Reply
  17. Thank you all for making your comments. I feel more confident about adding another dog to my family. I am a 30 something divorced female. I live in a decent size house with a small fenced yard. In 2007 I rescued a 8 month old Pug Otis. At the time my 10 year old beagle was diagnosed with cancer. He passed later that year. In 2009 I rescued a 1 and half year old chihuahua, Cozmo. I feel like I lucked out with both dogs. They are great dogs. I have a medium exercise level. We take a 20-30 minute walk 4 days a week. Twice a week I love to take long hikes. I am having a problem with my pug this year. He is begging to suffer from heat stroke on our long hikes. I am afraid for his health so he is now retired from hiking. When I take my chihuahua I drop my pug off to play with my niece who he adores. I don’t feel my chihuahua is enjoying hiking just the two of us and honestly neither do I. I have recently made an inquiry about a 1 year old basset x shar-pei. I will hear on Monday. Having 2 small dogs I don’t feel it is any extra work than having one. I don’t think that having a third small dog will make a huge difference. I am going to keep the same routine. The new dog will fall into his place. As I am a career woman I am happy that the dogs will form a pack and be more independent. My close friends that know me well are encouraging me. A small few think I am crazy. Well I think people with 2 or 3 kids, 2 dogs, 1 cat and a few gold fish really have their hands full. If they can do it then I can definitely handle 3 dogs.
    Thanks again for sharing your stories.
    Paws-off…..

    Reply
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  19. Hi
    I am huffing and puffing about taking on a third dog. Have seen one I adore but not sure if its fair on my two. They are aged 10 and 11 and the one I am considering is maybe a year or two (the shelter are not sure). One of my dogs is quite jealous but not aggressively so. Also he spends a lot of time on his own in the hall and bedroom (not sure why).
    If I do “go for it” do I need to walk them all together first before bringing him in to the house. I have read its a good idea.
    Would appreciate any advice
    Many Thanks

    Reply
    1. Hi, Tina: My first thought is that the dog spending a lot of time on his own probably needs a medical evaluation before you consider adding another dog to the home. There might be an underlying medical condition that’s causing that behavior, and you want to get that taken care of first, especially if you’ll be asking your senior citizens to put up with a puppy. As for walking them together first… I’m guessing you mean to introduce them? The common recommendation is to introduce unfamiliar dogs while walking in neutral territory. You can do that one dog at a time to make sure the interactions stay calm and controlled with one capable adult per dog. Side by side or in a line works well, avoiding head on face-to-face greetings. Then, if all is going well, you can let them introduce each other off leash (if it’s safe to do so). The shelter might insist that you introduce your dogs to the perspective pup at the shelter, which is fine, but you should insist on doing it one at a time so it’s not too overwhelming for anyone. Please let me know if you have any specific questions!

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  20. Hi, I currently have two neutered male bassets age 5 and 6. My 6 year old seems to be the”boss” he also has been having a problem with pain in one of his back legs for the past few months and has been on mess from our vet that seem to help some but he still has the occasional bad day. He does get aggressive toward my 5 year old at times and he won’t back down so there have been quite large fights between them. That being said my husband and I were thinking of adding a third basset but were unsure if we should get another male or a female. I am disabled so I am home 90% of the time so they will have supervision most of the time. Just hoping you might have some advise on adding a male or female.

    Reply
    1. Without knowing the specifics of your situation, my number one suggestion is that I highly recommend you work with a positive-based trainer to get the fighting under control before you consider adding a third dog. A third dog would very likely escalate the fighting, and breaking up a fight between three dogs is considerably harder than two dogs. If you need help finding a trainer in your area, let me know and I’m happy to help you find someone!

      Reply
  21. Hi Maggie, found your blog very useful!! :o)
    We have a 3.5 yr old unneutured and a 1.5 yr old neutered Jacks, both males and father and son.
    We have seen an 8 week old male Jack, who would make an awesome edition to our growing family, who would be neutered also. How do you think the older one react? Is it maybe a good thing that he’ll be the only one with ‘balls’, it hasn’t been a problem with his son and maybe made him more tolerable with the changes?
    Would love to hear your thoughts?
    Thanks.
    Cheryl.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for the kind words, Cheryl! So glad I could help!

      You know, your question is a good one, and I’m not too familiar with familial relationships because none of my 3 are related. I will say that many people have been surprised that my 3 males can get along so well, and I do wonder if part of that is because all 3 are neutered. That being said, I think if you do careful introductions – perhaps with the pup and the older guy first, then the pup and the younger guy, then all 3 – you increase your chance of integrating them all successfully! Start with parallel walks and build from there. Good luck, and let me know if I can do anything else to help!

      Reply

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