How Many Dogs Should You Have?
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
“I have two,” I always reply.
“Oh,” is the frequent response as if the person asking is disappointed that I do not have a house overflowing with dogs like the ending scene of 101 Dalmatians, or perhaps the scene when the Dalmatians look like black Labradors from running through the coal bin.
“I want to make sure I give them the best life possible, so I make myself limit our dog population to two,” I will often add, which is true, but it is also important to point out that the right number of dogs varies for everyone.
Before Jackson and Tinkerbell and before my late Dutch and Maggie were in my life, it was just my sweet black Labrador Babe and me. With a one-to-one human to dog ratio, she went everywhere with me. When my mom passed away and her German Shorthaired Pointer, Dutch, joined Babe and me, the transition was extremely hard on all of us. It took at least six months to acclimate to having two dogs and to get myself to the point where I could enjoy walking both of them at the same time and taking them both on adventures together with me.
A year later I met my husband and when we joined his household, we suddenly had three dogs. Then as Babe and Dutch headed deeper and deeper into their senior years and each of them passed away at the age of 13, we felt utterly lost with only one dog and started to rebuild our dog family with the addition of Jackson and then Tinkerbell.
The decision of how many dogs to have in your own home is entirely personal based on your lifestyle and the relationship you want to have with your dog or dogs. I have one friend who easily manages five Labradors and Labradoodles, another friend who at one point had over ten dogs without being in a hoarder situation, and many friends who have a “human plus one” relationship with their dog.
My husband, the kids, and I all like to talk in both of our dogs’ fake human voices on a pretty regular basis. When Tinkerbell is pestering big brother Jackson to play with her by squeaking her favorite toy into his face for ten minutes without stopping or she is mounting him to try to get him to play, we often joke “I would have been ok as an only dog, Momma, seriously. I would have been fine, but NOOOOO, you thought I needed a playmate!”
Ninety seven percent of the time he eventually takes the bait (or simply gives up resisting) and starts to play with her, and the other three percent of the time he goes to his kennel and plops down with a huge sigh. At the end of the day, though, they are a truly bonded pair and he would be lost without his crazy little sister.
So why are we 100% set on sticking with “just” two dogs? Why not give Tinkerbell a second option as a playmate for those times when Jackson is not interested?
Our local dog ordinance is a big reason. It dictates that each home in our town can have a maximum of two dogs and two cats. We did live with one “extra” dog for the first few years that we lived together as a result of blending my 2 dog household with his 1 dog household. We would never have given a dog away, but after Babe passed away in 2009 at the age of thirteen, we knew we would remain a law-abiding two dog household because I had been very stressed about breaking a law that could affect my dogs’ actual lives.
A second important reason for limiting ourselves to two dogs is related to our budget. When we brought home first Jackson and then Tinkerbell, we committed ourselves to a lifetime of food, veterinary care, treats, toys, and all other dog related expenses. It would not be fair to them to stretch that budget by taking on another dog and then potentially not be able to care for all of them properly.
So would we get a third dog if we did not have a two dog ordinance and if money was not an object?
If you have seen the iconic movie Gone With the Wind, you might remember the scene with Scarlett O’Hara eating barbecue with a large group of suitors. “A girl has but two sides to her at a table,” she flirts with them as they hover in a group all around her, attending to her every need. When Babe and I used to dog sit for my mother when all three of her dogs were alive and she was actively going on scuba diving trips in tropical locations, I would sit down on the floor and essentially let all four of them (Mom’s three plus my Babe) wriggle their way in to get petted, to give me kisses, to lay across my lap, and generally be a 350 pound mass of squirming dogs all around me. Just like Scarlett flirting with the boys at the barbecue, I loved every moment of it, but it was impossible to give all of them an equal amount of attention.
I loved when we went outside and all four of them followed me around, everyone making eye contact with me when I said that it was time to go inside or if I offered up a biscuit. I loved bedtime when I squeezed into bed with all four of them and each dog found their spot to sleep. I loved it when I would wake up in the morning with my arm around one, another’s paws pushing into my spine, a third dog’s head on my feet, and a fourth dog laying on my pillow. I loved feeding time when I prepared four bowls and set them all out in their own spot, one at a time. I was in my dog lover glory with four dogs around me.
At the end of the day, though, just like a Southern Belle eating barbecue at a table in the old south, there are but two sides of me. Two hands for chin scratches, two hands to hold leashes, two hands to rub tummies.
When you have gone through a dog’s entire life cycle multiple times with different dogs who you all loved as heart dogs, from puppyhood through the senior years, you know exactly how quickly that time goes and you want to do everything that you can to make the most of the time that you have together. For me that means plenty of one-on-one attention with both of my dogs.
For being in suburbia, we have a nice large yard for potty breaks and playtime. It is perfect for games of zoomies or fetching a ball, but other than that it is not very interesting or mentally stimulating, at least not day after day. For the dogs to go on adventures we have to go to parks or forest preserves, and it is much easier to do so with two dogs instead of three or more.
Although I can and do take both of them together, I really prefer to take one of them at a time so that we can have a very special one-on-one bonding experience as well as so I can make sure that nobody is snarfing down contraband items that humans or nature left behind. With two dogs I can alternate who has that experience with me; if we were to add a third or fourth dog it would reduce the number of times any dog would go off on a fun adventure with me.
This also holds true for snuggle time. Most evenings end up with Jackson laying across my husband’s lap getting ear rubs and tummy scratches while Tinkerbell lays the entire length of my body on top of me on our recliner and gives me kisses and gets an ear rub. If my husband is not home, each dog can take one side of me. When we have had fosters in the house, someone was always being pushed aside or left out during snuggle time.
When our big chocolate Labrador foster named Kodiak was in the house, Jax was the one pushed aside, usually literally. Kodiak was a huge friendly dog who I think was part Great Dane based on his size and the structure of his hips. He loved to snuggle and took up most of the sofa when he laid in my lap for affection. When foster dog Destiny was with us, Tinkerbell pulled back from me entirely because of all of the attention that Destiny was taking from me. In fact my husband pointed it out that Tink was subdued and actually depressed and I did not realize it until after Destiny had gone to her forever home and my sweet happy Tink was back in my lap again.
This does not mean that people with more than two dogs are not giving their dogs enough attention or love, or that my limit of two dogs is the right thing for everyone. My friend/breeder who brought Jackson and Tinkerbell into the world has around eight or so Labradors and she has a special heart-dog relationship with each and every one. She is also a professional trainer with a large piece of land and a pond and an indoor training facility that she owns and operates, so she can handle all of them easily when they go to their favorite beach and offer them much more fun and excitement than a large rectangle of fenced in grass right in their own backyard. My friend with the pack of five Labradors and Labradoodles also has a large piece of property that offers plenty of fun and games and new smells without going into suburbia for something new to sniff or see.
At least once a day I receive a note from someone with a wonderful dog in need of a home. “You love dogs, you need another one!” the message will say. Believe me when I say that there are many times I am tempted to throw all of our logical reasons for staying with two dogs away and adding to our dog family. But I always hold firm and try to share the information with other potential dog owners who can give the dog the one-on-one attention that it deserves while my dogs get the attention that I promised them when they were both little pups.
I do love dogs, without a shadow of a doubt. I love dogs so much that I have committed my life, my profession, my everything to caring for my two dogs, to getting the most out of every precious moment together, to giving them a healthy life that gives us more days than we might otherwise have, and reaching out to the world to help other dog owners create a happy, healthy, holistic lifestyle for their forever dogs. And it is that same love of dogs that forces me to stick with two dogs.
At least for now.