From the Mail Bag: Renee asks: I have a mini Aussie a little over a year old. I’ve been thinking of getting another dog as a companion for her. I am home most of the time, so I have time for two. I play with Sierra a few times a day throwing Frisbee, etc. but she still badgers me to play at times when I’m busy. I thought having another dog may be good for her. My sister visits every once in a while and brings a much smaller dog and Sierra LOVES having the company. Sierra is a very sweet dog who loves all people and all dogs. She is very submissive around bigger dogs. I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t want her to be dominated if we get a new dog; she’s my baby doll! I’m thinking of a small (male?) dog from a shelter or rescue group. Thoughts, advice?

Dear Renee: From your description of Sierra, I think a similarly sized male is a safe way to go. Though that’s not to say that smaller dogs can’t be aggressive or dominant, because they can. We’re just looking at leveling the playing field, so to speak. Dogs similar in size and weight have less of a chance of hurting each other in play. And there is often less of an issue with compatibility when you get a dog of the opposite sex. So at least you’re starting off with the odds in your favor.

Step One: Why Another Dog? If you’re getting this dog only for company for Sierra, you might not wind up as happy with the decision when push comes to shove. Because whether you get a puppy or a grown rescue or shelter dog, there will be issues (even if it’s as simple as finding the time for training). If you just want a dog for Sierra, then perhaps you could find a friend’s dog to visit regularly. I’ve even suggested that people put an ad in the paper to find a compatible daytime companion. If you’re really excited by the idea of having another dog for you, too, then proceed to step two.

Step Two: A Second Pair of Eyes. Whether you’re thinking of getting a puppy or dog from a breeder or from a rescue organization or shelter, consider finding an experienced trainer who is knowledgeable on evaluating dogs’ temperaments, and is willing to come along on your search. A second pair of eyes (especially educated eyes) can catch things you might miss.

Step Three: Neutral Grounds. Once you’ve found a dog with whom you’ve fallen in love, find a neutral place where you can introduce the two dogs. Start by doing a quick greeting on leash: let the dogs walk up to each other and greet for the count of three, and then retreat and treat each dog. If the dogs seem interested in each other (neither is snarky or snippy or trying to get away), repeat greeting. If all goes well, take the dogs for a parallel walk and let them sniff and investigate each other occasionally as long as they are both behaving appropriately. Remember to monitor their behavior, and use an upbeat voice when talking to them. Treat to reinforce desired behavior. What you’re looking for is an overall positive interaction. Does either dog offer a play bow, a soft curvy body shape, a relaxed happy demeanor? These are all great signs and bode well. Does either dog show teeth, growl, have raised hackles, offer a hard stare, or lick lips, look away or cower? Not so good. You may be looking at some mix of aggression, dominance, and/or fear issues.

Sometimes it’s obvious from the first meeting that the two dogs just love each other. That’s great when that happens — problem solved, dog found, happy ending for all. Often it’s not immediately or completely obvious. If you really like the dog and the meeting hasn’t gone badly (just not as fantastically as you’d hoped), I’d consider setting up a time for a second meeting. Run the second meeting the same as the first: quick meet-n-greet, side-by-side walk, etc. Sometimes dogs just need time to warm up to each other, and the second meeting will afford them that time. (I had Kiera and Graidy meet three times before I decided it was a go.) If, after a couple of meetings, you can see they’d tolerate each other but would rather not have to be together, move on and find another dog. You want a dog who is nuts about Sierra, and whom she also adores. You can find that dog–he exists. Keep looking until you find him!

Step Four: Coming Home. If you decide on a puppy, I’d have a friend help you when you first get him home. You’d want to hold the puppy in your lap while you have your friend hold Sierra on leash. Let her sniff, lick and explore the puppy. If you get an older dog, still enlist a friend to have Sierra meet you and the new dog outside first. Meet-n-greet, etc, again to check how they both are on Sierra’s turf. Regardless of whether you opt for a puppy or older dog, unless it’s clear that the two dogs adore each other, I’d keep the first home intro brief as well. After first home intro remove the new dog (to another room or a crate, preferably a crate in another room) and lavish Sierra with attention and praise. Let her know that she’s still your #1 girl.

Repeat the intro exercise a couple of times a day until you’re sure they’re better than fine with each other. Then you can keep them both on a short leash and allow them to play together on the floor with you monitoring their body language to make sure they’re both still good. At the first sign of stress on either dog’s part, end the session and try again later.

Once they’ve gotten to know each other and feel safe around each other, then they can have free reign of the house.

And don’t forget to reserve some private time for just you and Sierra in the beginning. She’ll appreciate the time with you alone and it’ll give her a break from the new dog.

Step Five: Integration. I’m a firm believer in separate food and water bowls in separate spots, along with separate crates. It’s important for each dog to feel that they have a safe place to eat and retreat to. I’d keep the new dog in his crate at night until you’re sure he’s house-trained, and Sierra’s comfortable sharing her sleeping space with him. Be on the lookout for how they are sharing toys so that resource guarding doesn’t crop up. And if you see any behavior from either dog that you’re not sure about, contact a trainer and get help right away. Problems are most easily solved right at the beginning, before they have a chance to become ingrained.

Sierra sounds like a very sweet girl, and it’s clear that you adore her. Chances are that you can find the perfect match for both of you if you give it time and patience. If it’s love at first sight for both dogs, all of the preceding steps will go swiftly. (Graidy was a free man within a few hours.) Best of luck to you. Let me know how it goes. And if any other dog folks here have anything to add, please join in!

Comments on this post are now closed. If you’re looking for help making a decision about adding a new dog to your home, please consult an experienced trainer near you, to help you make that decision. There are just too many variables that I’m not able to take into account for you by long distance, without knowing you or your dogs. You really need a trained professional who can observe both dogs together. Good luck.