What I Really Think About Having 2 Dogs vs 3 Dogs

From the Mailbag: Natasha asks, I currently have two male dogs (a Labrador 5 yrs and a Yorkshire Terrier 2 yrs) and they both get along great. I’ve always wanted a Rottweiler. Do you think it would be a bad idea getting a 3rd dog? What sex would you say would be better? Thanks.

Natasha, having had one dog, two dogs, three dogs, and four dogs at various times, my favorite number is two. Adding a third dog is a big jump up in time, energy, and expense. I don’t know enough about your circumstances to really advise you (yard space, dog experience, time for training and exercising, etc.) other than to say that if you have two happy dogs who get along well, I’d be inclined to encourage you to enjoy what you have and not add a third–the pack energy with 3 dogs is way more intense than with just 2 dogs. If you feel compelled to get a third, given that you’ve got two males, I would go for a female.

The above was what I recently wrote in response to a reader asking a question about adding a 3rd dog. She came by way of my post:  Is Having Three Dogs Better Than Two or One?  In that post, I show a series of pics with my three dogs running and playing and generally having way too much fun. Clearly, they’re enjoying their game of tag.

But in that post, I didn’t elaborate on the not-so-small-detail that it took months of serious training and management to get them to a point where they could all do so well together.

The truth of the matter was that it took Kiera quite a while to warm up to Graidy when I first got him, but he eventually won her over and they established a stable pack. When we added Wink, Graidy’s place in the pack became destabilized, which caused him to develop some emotional issues (which have since been worked through). And with a destabilized pack, I had to watch both Kiera and Graidy for aggression toward Wink. I did not leave them alone for the three months it took for a new pack order to become firmly established. There were many moments where if I had not been there to lead and intercede as needed, it could have turned ugly.

In the midst of this, we had house training and obedience training to do with Wink. And Graidy started marking in the house to reestablish his sense of territory, so he needed remedial training. In other words, as the saying goes– It weren’t no picnic!

Granted, I have a couple of pretty intense dogs. But too many people assume that you can just throw any number of dogs together of various breeds and they’ll do just fine. Some people get lucky, and that’s their experience. But, unfortunately, just as many people find that they’ve opened Pandora’s Box and they’re not prepared for what gets unleashed.

Here’s what I really think about adding a 3rd dog
(or more)
to your 2-dog pack:

Don’t do it!

If you have a happy family, keep it that way. Two is a manageable number and enough for them to keep each other company when you’re not around. Having more dogs than that is an invitation for trouble. If any one of your dogs has any aggression tendencies, not only will those amplify significantly, the other dogs will also likely pick up those same aggressive tendencies even if they didn’t have them before. Don’t underestimate the power and influence of pack behavior on each individual dog. As well, the wear and tear on your house, your wallet, and your heart become exponential with each dog you add.  So much so, that I’m going to repeat myself: Unless you are advanced in your ability to train and understand dogs, and you’re independently wealthy (only half-joking)– DO NOT ADD A THIRD DOG. Okay, there– I had to come clean.

By | 2017-07-23T09:35:04+00:00 May 20th, 2012|Dog Training, Dogs in General, The Mail Bag|27 Comments


  1. Is Having Three Dogs Better Than Two or One? | Karen Shanley June 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    […] I wrote as a fun fluff piece), please also read this more serious post for my honest opinion: "What I Really Think About Having 3 Dogs vs 2 Dogs" first before you decide. […]

  2. Malu October 7, 2012 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    I am glad I found this post of yours. I’ve been seriously thinking of adding a 3rd dog (9 -week old French Bulldog) our family. Our family consists of my husband, me, and our two, female, 7-year old Coton De Tulears (toy breed). We both work and have a dogwalker that comes in mid-day to spend time with our dogs. Karen, thank you for your post – it was clearly speaking to me when you said “Don’t do it!” We have a happy family and our routine is pretty much established. Although I must say, I’ve been longing adding a 3rd canine-kid to our family. I even thought a male puppy might be a better balance. But the #2 seems to be just the right number.

    • Karen October 8, 2012 at 9:04 am - Reply

      Malu, if you ever decide on a third, I’d definitely go with a male to avoid the potential of female/female aggression, which is fairly common. But I’m glad to hear that, for now at least, you’ll be keeping your happy family as is. : )

  3. Mike Lamb December 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    I too am glad I stumbled upon your post Karen. My wife and I have been considering a third dog as well, mostly as a playmate to one of our dogs. Let me explain. We have a 6 year old female Maltese and a 5 year old female Olde English Bulldog. We have a content home and routine which is wonderful. However, our Maltese prefers to be left alone from our Bulldog and absolutely refuses to play with her. That is the reason we started thinking about getting a third dog so that it will play and interact with our Bulldog. Our Bulldog tries to get out Maltese to play but never with any luck. We have an average size home with a decent fenced yard to play. My wife walks the Maltese off leash separately from my leashed walk each morning with our Bulldog. Do you think given our situation, a third dog actually would be a good idea? If so, should we change it up and get a male? What do you think honestly?

    • Karen December 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm - Reply

      Hi Mike, in your case with 2 girls, I would recommend a male. I also strongly recommend that you let your Bulldog be involved in picking her playmate, or you could wind up with a 3rd dog who isn’t interested in your Bulldog. You want the next dog to have definite play chemistry with her. So try to take her to meet the potential addition somewhere on neutral grounds, where you can get an accurate sense of how they might interact. What you’re looking for is a quickly responsive dog to your Bulldog’s play attempts. Size also matters in play, so try to go for a dog that ultimately will be about the same size.

      In your situation, I completely get why you’re considering a 3rd dog. In your shoes, I’d probably wind up doing the same. Again, not to sound like a broken record–just make sure the play chemistry is there from the beginning.

      Good luck!

  4. Dean March 2, 2013 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Karen,
    Also, I have just come across your website and very interesting read. We too are considering a third dog into our fold. Currently have a lovely (calm,gentle, never been aggressive to anything in his life) 17-year old cross breed. He still walks and plays (on his terms) with our other dog, Juno, an almost 3 year old Springer Spaniel. She is very passive, and plays with Prince a lot (and they all get on well with our cats too (we have 2), sleeping and cleaning each other), but we feel that with Prince’s age, that she is not having the best play mate/companion that she could be having. Juno is also passive with any dog we meet on our walks, more interested in her ball/stick/bottles/junk she finds.
    Another reason for the third would be to ease our suffering when he passes, and also for Juno. She has never been on her own as we had her from a puppy and always been with Prince.
    We also have 2 children (11 and 5) who adore dogs and would love another one.
    I am just wondering would now be a good time to get another, with Prince’s age he still comes on 1-2hours walks with me and Juno but does tend to sleep a lot otherwise.
    Many Thanks for your reply (if you can),

    • Karen March 4, 2013 at 10:18 am - Reply

      Hi Dean, it sounds as though Juno doesn’t need another dog to be happy (not all dogs do) if she is not actively seeking out play with other dogs. So unless you’re able to find a dog that you can have Juno meet that she goes wild for, know that if you get another dog, you’d be getting it for the family and not for Juno.

      If you do decide to get another dog, I would recommend that you wait until your 17yo passes. Adding a new dog now could be very upsetting for him. At his age, keeping things the same is the kindest thing you can do for him.

      Good luck with whatever you decide!

  5. Dean March 2, 2013 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Forgot to add, Prince is about the height of a Lab. The third we are thinking of will be a Lab/Retriever cross type.

  6. Maggie December 7, 2015 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Hi Karen. I’m really happy to have come across your post. I have a sort of similar situation as Mike Lamb. We have two small female dogs, one is a 1.5 year old Mi-Ki (5.4 lbs) and the other is a ~2-2.5 year old Papillon (7.6 lbs). We adopted the Papillon from a rescue to be a playmate for the Mi-Ki a little over 1 year ago. Now, the Papillon is fully integrated and adapted into our home and we are all living happily. But, the Papillon is not very interested in playing with the Mi-Ki and she is much lower energy and only plays occasionally and also does not really understand how to play with toys, so she tires of playing quickly. We are considering adopting another small dog, a 6 month old male Shih Tzu Lhasa Apso mix (2.5 lbs). On the one hand, we don’t want to disrupt the harmony we have in the house now. We have discussed the extra time, effort, and money that will come with another dog. We can afford another dog and I think we have enough time and love to go around. We are wondering if it would be better to have another small and active dog for the Mi-Ki to play with and then the Papillon would just be able to chill and stop being harassed by the Mi-Ki to play all the time. The Mi-Ki is the dominant one. We were thinking getting a puppy male dog would be best because the Mi-Ki would likely continue to hold her dominant position and a male would be a better mix since we have two females now. What are your thoughts on this situation? Unlike Mike Lamb’s post, our two female dogs do play together a bit but just not as frequently as the Mi-Ki would like. The Papillon would rather be looking for food, sleeping, or cuddling with us. Thanks!

    • Karen Shanley December 8, 2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

      Hi Maggie, first, if you do decide to add a third, definitely go with a male. The possible outcomes are the mi-ki and the new male bond and the papillon gets ignored, the mi-ki isn’t interested in the male you pick so you now have 3 dogs who don’t interact much and the initial problem isn’t solved. The male bonds with the papillon and the mi-ki is left out, etc., etc., through all the permutations. Or they can all get along great and problem solved. The problem is that there’s no way of knowing what the outcome would be until after you add the 3rd dog.

      If there is a way you can test the male dog with both of your dogs separately and together before you bring him home, that might at least give you a clue as to how each of your dogs would feel about the little guy.

      Good luck!

      • Maggie December 13, 2015 at 9:25 pm - Reply

        Thank you very much for your advice! We put in our application for the little guy. If we continue in the application process then we will schedule a meet and greet for the three pups, so we will get a feel for how they all get along at that time.

  7. Bethany December 28, 2015 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    I also am glad I came across your article. My family is considering adding a 3rd dog. We currently have an 8 year old female Vizsla (Daisy) and a four year old female rescue (Sydney) that we believe is full Doberman We have always wanted a Newfoundland. Now I know they are big and shed and drool all the time, but we love them. We have 17 acres of land including a 4 acre pond for our dogs to explore. We got our rescue Doberman about a year ago after we had to put down our 2 year old Vizsla Gunner due to severe epilepsy. We had wanted to get a Newfoundland at that time, but the idea of going thru puppy phase again so soon after losing our 2 year old puppy seemed overwhelming. So when we were approached about adopting the 4 year old Doberman it seemed like a great fit and it was. Our Doberman is very sweet and gets along well with our Vizsla; however Sydney wants to romp and play more than Daisy is willing and Daisy sometimes gets upset with Sydney’s persistence. I know that Vizslas are supposed to be high energy and require much exercise, but Daisy would much rather hang out on the couch all day with the exception of running a few laps around the house in the afternoon! My son, who is 11 has been asking for a Newfie puppy for a long time and he is a very responsible kid(he raises goats and rabbits for 4-H). He doesn’t really remember Daisy as a puppy because he was only 3 and our other Vizsla Gunner developed epilepsy at an early age and was very high-maintenance and not a normal puppy. My kids were extremely attached to Gunner because it was their puppy that they picked out and raised so when we had to put him down they were heartbroken.As much as I loved and miss Gunner, his health condition controlled our lives for much of his life and right now our house is very routine and simple which we are not used to. I also have a fear of getting another puppy from an non-reputable breeder and the puppy having health issues. My son has been researching breeders and even emailing them regarding parent’s heath issues, genetics, etc. While we have the love, room and financial means to support another dog I’m not sure if we should mess with our now easy routine?

    • Karen Shanley December 28, 2015 at 12:50 pm - Reply

      Bethany, this is a tough one… It sounds as though you are an experienced dog person who knows what you’d be getting into. But your final question kind of says it all for me: “Should we mess with our now easy routine?” Having life be sane and manageable is not to be undervalued.

      There’s no question adding another dog with add another layer of bedlam (at least in the puppy phase – 1 1/2 yrs). AND you tell me that your son is very responsible. (He is a perfect age for having his own dog).

      Soooo… If it were me…? And I knew my son could/would handle the responsibility, and he found a reputable breeder–I think I’d go for it. Knowing that my house is going to be a lot messier, and animal management is going to be a little nuts for a while.

      Yes, you could be opening yourselves back up to more heartbreak. You could also be giving your son the gift of a lifetime.

      Really tough call. I’m glad I’m not you and I don’t have to make the decision. : )

  8. Tanya Stevens April 8, 2016 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Interesting. We are considering a third dog. I have two females a Border Collie and a Spanish Mastin. They are two years old, and about to be neutered next month. ( the reason for the delay is that I wanted them to finish growing) we live in a remote location, on a farm. Ideally, I would like another Border Collie or GSD as I already have two girls I was thinking Male. Both my girls get on, the Mastin in laid back and the BC is in charge, and can get a bit growly but that’s usually around feeding times. Both my girls are “outdoor” dogs We are around all day and initially a new puppy would stay with us in the house until trained and bigger, then would be with the other two on the farm

    Any views on this I too do not want to upset the apple cart but would love another BC.

    • Karen Shanley April 8, 2016 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      Tanya, from what you’re describing about your current two girls, you should be okay to add a male BC–but definitely not another female. Would it be possible to bring your BC girl to give the final sniff test to the puppy you think you’d like to bring home? It can be helpful to first have them meet on neutral turf first (not with the pup’s mom or other adult dogs around). If she seems okay with that first intro meeting, that’s a pretty good indicator that she’ll be okay with the puppy at home. If you have good clear communication with her, and you keep an eye on any group time for the first month or so, it’s likely things could go smoothly.

      If she shows any signs of definite aggression to the puppy, that’s a red flag. Not an absolute deal breaker but I would go into hyper management mode at home until a new pack order is firmly established. And honestly if she votes with her teeth with a snarl or a growl, I’d be inclined to leave well enough alone. Having lived through a bad pack situation, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

      Good luck. I hope it works out for you.

  9. sue October 27, 2016 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Hi Karen: I currently have 2 dogs a 13 year old female Terrier and a 1 1/2 year old male pug. The Terrier doesn’t play with the pug. Years ago I had 4 dogs (2 pugs, Aussie, Terrier) and swore I’d never do it again. The breeder just told me that the parents of my pug are having another litter. I was thinking of getting a female pug out of that litter. 1. Someone to play with Loui the pug. 2. The 13 year old may last another year or two so someone for Loui would be good. 3. I know dogs are expensive and that is a downside. 4. I take Loui to small dog daycare which happens once a week. I’d like to see Loui get to “play” with another dog while he is young and wants to. 5. I don’t want to upset the balance as you say. Is getting a female pug a good idea? I thought female because with two males they may want to mark at least my past male pugs did.

    • Karen Shanley October 27, 2016 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      Sue, you would definitely want to go with a female if you decide to go ahead. But at 13 years old, it’s very unlikely that your Terrier will adjust or adapt to a puppy in the house. You could be consigning your Terrier to a lasting bout of depression at the change in energy and possibly pack order. If you truly think she only has a year left, I would be disinclined to upset the apple cart. Maybe for now, if Loui is enjoying daycare, you could up that to 2 days a week. Then once your Terrier girl makes it to the other side, get a female pug puppy. Your boy will still be young enough to play and appreciate the company.

  10. Samantha July 3, 2017 at 9:34 am - Reply

    So, a question for you, on specifics.

    My husband and I have been considering getting a third, but our family seems a lot different than most adding a third dog to their lives. We have an 8 year old male chihuahua who is very sweet but doesn’t really have any desire to spend time with our second dog. Dutch is a 5 year old greyhound who is rather shy and very sweet and VERY needy. He always needs someone to reassure him that everything is ok. The two tolerate each other fine, unless the chi is having a bully moment, but we’ve helped them work on things to a point where generally they exist apart from one another. The association we got Dutch from said he would be good candidate for a friend and that it might help him build more confidence and we have been considering getting another greyhound. We hope that the chi still won’t care about the new guy’s existence and that the other grey will help Dutch feel more confident and less like he needs to look to us for constant reassurance.
    They already are fed separately, have separate playtime, separate activities, separate everything really, since the dogs aren’t really friends.

    I wonder whether or not the third dog would really create that pack dynamic or if it will just be the two greys buddying up and the chi doing his own thing. Do you think that could be the case, or do you think the third dog usually bonds all household dogs together?

    • Karen Shanley July 4, 2017 at 8:07 am - Reply

      Hey Samantha, there is no way to know for certain what the dynamics would be until you added the 3rd dog. But given what you’re describing, I think there’s a better than fair chance that another greyhound would be good for Dutch. I would just make sure to get a female for best opportunity for buddying up–especially since you already have 2 males. Because greyhounds are typically pretty laid back, it’s unlikely that the chihuahua would feel left out or bullied. More than likely, after the adjustment period of everybody getting used to everybody, the chihuahua would not feel much different about the situation one way or the other.

  11. Jason August 10, 2017 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Hi Karen – curious to get your feedback. We have a 12 year old female chocolate lab (alpha grandma) and a 7 month old American Mastiff (yes it’s a breed) puppy. We got the puppy at 8 weeks and our older lab has done a great job keeping the mastiff in check when she gets too excited with the kids or does something she’s not supposed to do (like chase the cat).

    We have been obedience training the puppy and she’s doing very well. We have a happy home with the two dogs we have now, but we keep thinking that adding a rescue Male Mastiff that’s under a year old would be good for our puppy. It would give her a dog at her energy level to play with. I spend at least an hour with her daily between her twice per day walks and playtime, so time commitment isn’t really a huge issue.

    Our 12 year old lab probably only has 1 or 2 years left at max – would you recommend waiting to get another dog after she passes? I feel like a young male might give her someone she can bond with now that’s not a true “mother’ figure. We love mastiffs and want another one, but the question is really just around timing (now or after our grandma lab dies).



    • Karen Shanley August 10, 2017 at 8:00 pm - Reply

      Hi Jason, this is a tricky one. While, in theory, because your grandma lab has done such a good job teaching your puppy some manners, you might be inclined to think she’d be up for the task with another young dog. And…she might.

      BUT it could also quickly turn into a two against one– with the younger ones being emboldened by each other–to try to overthrow the queen. And then you could wind up with a depressed lab who’s been relegated to second class citizen status in her twilight years.

      So, long story short, this could go either way. The only way to know for sure would be to find a rescue male and introduce him to your lab on neutral ground and see how they do. I would highly recommend having a skilled and knowledgeable trainer along for another pair of eyes and to offer feedback. Even with that, unless the two obviously love each other, even if they seem to do fine, that could all change once the female puppy is in play and pack dynamics kick in (which could take up to three months).

      I know you want to give your puppy a playmate now, but if it were me, I would hold off and not risk making the time your lab has left potentially miserable.

      Then when you are ready for another dog, you’re right in thinking a male would be the way to go to avoid the likelihood of same-sex, same-breed rivalry.

  12. Shauna September 4, 2017 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Hi Karen,

    I found your blog by chance and find your stance on the 2 vs 3 really interesting! I currently have two Husky mixes who are more husky than anything and are both roughly 2 years old (one who was rescued and one who I’ve had since he was 8 weeks old). They are high energy and love to play with one another and really any dog we encounter at our local dog park.

    I live with a family of 4 plus my boys and we are looking at adding a female chocolate lab puppy in a few weeks.. What would be your take on this? Both my boys are high energy but generally well behaved. They love other dogs and we would love to add a little girl to our family. She is also joining the family to add into the hunting lifestyle that both myself and my boyfriend have.

    I’m worried to change the dynamic but I think it would actually calm my boys having an extra playmate as at times one will pester to play and the other won’t be interested. They have a decent yard to run in and are taken for regular walks/park visits.

    Am I crazy to add a third to our family..?

    • Karen Shanley September 5, 2017 at 3:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Shauna,
      Far be it for me to judge someone else’s sanity or lack thereof. :) Especially since it looks like the decision has already been made. But it sounds as though you have thought it through, and you and your family have the time, space, and energy.
      I can’t say whether adding a female Lab would calm your Husky boys or rev them up. But with your combo, a female is definitely the way to go.
      So all I can say is that I wish you the best of of happy outcomes!

  13. Katie September 17, 2017 at 4:22 am - Reply

    Hi Karen, I am hoping you can help advise me regarding our current situation. We recently lost our Shepherd / Lab mix and wanted to get another dog so our other dog wouldn’t be too lonely when we weren’t home and so our kids would have a playful dog to love. We have a female lab mix who we rescued. She sleeps almost all day and is pretty mellow. She was the youngest of our three dogs for 9 years after we adopted her. Sometimes I feel home alone when she is here because she isn’t the kind of dog who follows its person from room to room like my shepherd mix was. She is only 9 but acts old and sleeps all the time, often upstairs all on her own! So we were looking at dogs and found a male Maltese Shih Tzu puppy that needed a home and also a female whippet mix. The Shih Tzu Maltese is very sweet natured and my kids (both kids are 13) are in love. We brought it home and our 9 year old lab is mostly ignoring it … no one is growling. It is 5 months old and we are housetraining it. It tries to play with our lab but she’d rather just watch. Here’s the third dog situation: we also love the whippet mix we met. We already had a whippet mutt for years and he died of old age. She is a very small cream colored whippet mix (not sure what she is!)and very very sweet too. When I met her and put her on my lap, she lay there still as can be and was happy and calm for ages even though she is about 6 months old. She got along fine with our 9 year old female lab mix, except our lab didn’t like it if the pup licked her mouth. Our lab would sit there and once made a tiny growl but didn’t show her teeth or anything. They walked around together in a pen just fine for 20 minutes and I had the pup in my lap on and off during that time. I really want to get this whippet mix too. I already adore her and she needs a home. She is such a cuddly lovey dog. We have a double lot fenced and my husband is a big softie for dogs. The whippet mix is already house trained too. Supposedly she does chase cats but we have no cats. Do you think the 6 mo old tiny female whippet mutt would play with the super playful but quite shy male shih tzu maltese mix? Would our old female lab mix be upset by having 2 young dogs around or relieved that the two pups were hanging out and playing together and leaving her alone. Any advice you have would be so appreciated. We already fell for both of the pups but we love our older dog very much too. We are an indoor pet house. We have a lot of rooms in the house if dogs want space. Our kids are in jr high. They already like both pups very much. I work part time so can supervise a lot in the beginning if we get both. Thx again.

    • Karen Shanley September 18, 2017 at 9:07 am - Reply

      From your description, it appears your lab was just trying to teach the whippet some puppy manners, and letting her know who’s boss. Her closed-mouth growl was appropriate for the circumstances to let the whippet know that she didn’t want to be bothered. If the whippet paid attention and backed off, then they are communicating clearly, and I wouldn’t be too concerned. If she didn’t and persisted in bothering your lab, that could present a problem going forward.

      CAVEAT: It’s always risky to comment from a distance on matters like this because I can’t watch the interaction to know for certain. So whenever there is a hint of possible aggression, it is always best to have a knowledgeable, experienced trainer present to observe.

      • Katie September 18, 2017 at 12:58 pm - Reply

        Hi, Thanks so much for your reply! I am trying to remember exactly what the whippet did when my lab softly growled. I was so busy watching my lab. But the adoption center person who’s quite experienced at pet placement thought it went pretty well (and she agreed to go ahead with the adoption) and also the whippet and lab just wandered around after that and the whippet didn’t keep pestering my lab and so I think that’s promising! I am mostly worried about the three dog dynamic changing things. Hopefully the young ones will play a lot and leave my old girl alone. The male shih tzu maltese pup currently follows the lab a lot! We’re hoping it will follow the one month older whippet instead and they will become buddies and grow old together! Thanks again for your time and help!

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