Why the Correct Number of Dogs Is Always N+1
Living your best #packlife is easier than it looks
Without a whole lot of forethought or preparation, my fiancée and I just brought home a third dog. Does that make us crazy dog people? Probably. Is it ruining our lives with expenses and hassle? Not at all.
You see, I have this theory that each additional dog is actually exponentially easier to care for than the previous ones. Allow me to explain.
How We Got to Three
Well, we like dogs, obviously. I was given Wiley almost five years ago while I was recovering from a terrible motorcycle crash that left me unable to walk, bankrupt, and well, sorely in need of some unconditional love. I got Bowie for Virginia a little over a year ago in order to lock her down, once I’d realized she was the one. This summer, we moved to Montana and bought our first house, which gave us some more space, so we started talking about adopting a female dog to balance out our two males.
We weren’t planning on adopting this soon. But as I was looking around online for a dog for Virginia’s mom, I came across a litter of Great Pyrenees puppies in need of adoption here in Bozeman. I’ve wanted one of those dogs ever since watching “Belle and Sebastian” as a little kid, and was surprised to feel so disappointed when I learned they had all found homes. Well, moving the distance slider on Pet Finder up to 300 miles brought me to two four-and-a-half month old Pyrenees-mix puppies. Adorable? Check. Females? Check. In need of a forever home? Double check. Cut to a few days later and we were driving north with a box of puppy gear in the back of the truck.
A five-hour drive through an un-forecast blizzard later and there we were meeting two adorable puppies. The bigger one looked me in the eye, shoved her nose in my armpit, and wiggled while I scratched her. I asked Virginia if we were doing this, she told me she had reservations, I interpreted that as a “yes,” so I signed some papers and loaded the dog we’d eventually call Teddy into the front seat for the drive home.
Her mom's definitely a Great Pyrenees, but the dad’s an unknown. Maybe a German Shepherd, according to the lady we rescued her from, but looks more like an Anatolian Shepherd to me. We named her after a male president, which my dad says is confusing.
Apparently she was born on May 28, and the vet measured her at 60 pounds last Friday. According to online calculators, that puts us at a little above 100 pounds, fully grown. Her sister Grettel is actually still available.
Having a puppy this big is a new experience. She’s incredibly calm and sweet, so it’s easy to forget how young she is—until she launches into her twice-daily fit of puppy energy. Her size also means that countertops and tables are just a bounce away; we’ve had to learn the hard way to put stuff away immediately. After a dinner party the other night, she climbed onto the dining table to snuffle crumbs, then got scared of the height, starfished, and knocked over a bunch of wine glasses. I had to lift her back down to the floor.
She’s eaten my nice pair of Glerups slippers and this morning I found half an Icebreaker sock on the back porch. But other than her taste for merino, it’s been easy going. She learned how to walk on a leash the day after we brought her home. The next day, she was too scared to cross a footbridge over a stream at the beginning of a hike, but was confident enough to jump across it on the way back. In the week since, she’s learned sit, down, and her name. I’ve started taking her off-leash on hikes for short periods. She’s learning all that faster, and with less effort from us, than any dog I’ve had before.
Which brings me to why more dogs are easier dogs.
Training Another Dog Is Both Easier and More Effective
I have to juggle three bowls of raw meat between the kitchen and the back yard now. But, once I’m there, Wiley and Bowie plant their butts on the grass immediately, and Teddy’s learned sit without much other guidance. To teach her down, we lined up all three dogs, gave the two older ones some bacon when they did it, and when it was her turn, Teddy figured it out on the first try. She also learned she likes bacon.
One of the easiest ways for a young dog to learn is by modeling the behavior of older dogs. So, each additional dog is easier to train than the previous ones. Bowie learned a good bit of his behavior from Wiley, and now Teddy has the additional benefit of two mentors. This doesn’t mean you can just skip the training, but it does mean that there are additional reinforcements.
Modeling also helps a young dog learn its relationship with the world around it. Teddy is too scared to walk down steps if she’s on her own, but if she’s following the other two dogs, she doesn’t even note that the steps might be an obstacle.
That dynamic has also been used to explain how dogs learn much more complex behaviors that often defy traditional training protocols. St. Bernards who perform mountain rescues, for instance, do so in teams of three. Two stay with the victim to keep them warm, while the third goes for help. No human trains those dogs to do that—they teach each other.
How does that apply in our much more mundane lives? Well, Wiley and Bowie wait calmly when tied up outside a grocery store, for example, so Teddy sits there calmly as well. The two big dogs leap enthusiastically into the back of our truck when it’s time to drive to a trailhead. Teddy can’t quite get up there on her own yet, but she’s trying. On off-leash hikes, we let the dogs enjoy themselves, but expect them to stay within 50 yards or so. Teddy doesn’t know how to come when called yet, but I can let her off-leash in safe places, secure in the knowledge that all she’s going to do is follow the other two dogs around, while everyone gets treats for good recall.
More Dogs Aren’t More Difficult to Take Care Of
All the floors in our new house are shiny and black. Which is to say that they show hair. So, when we moved in, we invested in both a good robot vacuum for daily cleanings, and a powerful Dyson for when something more thorough was necessary. Like the other two dogs, Teddy sheds. But adding her to the pack hasn’t noticeably increased the amount of vacuuming we need to do. We still just run the robo-vac daily, then do it ourselves if someone’s about to come over.
We try and hike the dogs in the mountains outside of town for at least an hour every day. That’s vital for both the health of the dogs and our sanity living with three big, energetic animals. It’s a commitment we take very seriously, and often sacrifice other aspects of our life to make possible. But the big burden is just finding the time to go do it. Doing it with three dogs doesn’t make going hiking any more difficult.
And that’s true of everything else I can think of when it comes to caring for the dogs. Getting up in the morning to let them out requires the same amount of effort no matter how many dogs actually pass through the door. Time spent throwing a ball doesn’t change due to the number of dogs chasing it. We prepare dinner for them each night, but processing veggies, liver, and vitamins, then dumping it on top of raw meat doesn’t get any harder with added volume; you’re still breaking out the food processor, and doing some defrosting, no matter what.
What about on-leash walks here in town? By allowing the leashes of all three dogs to tangle together (it happens quicker and easier than it sounds), or by clipping them all together with carabiners, then multiple dogs will actually cancel out each other’s pulling, and force each other to keep moving rather than stopping and sniffing every blade of grass they pass. I think it’s just as easy to walk three dogs as it is to walk one.
More Dogs Aren’t That Much More Expensive
Our biggest monthly expense is food. We feed the dogs the raw diet I detailed in this article, and buying all that meat can cost a ton of money if we aren’t careful about where and how we shop. Getting lazy and buying meat for one dog at a nice grocery store just because that’s where you shop for yourself is easy to do. But spending $20 one night because you don’t feel like driving to Costco doesn’t hurt that bad. Make that same mistake for three dogs and you can really blow your budget.
Adopting Teddy has forced us to get more disciplined with our shopping. Currently, the meat comes from Costco, in the form of $1.19 per pound chicken thighs. All three dogs eat two pounds of those a day. So, in a 30-day month, that’s $214.20. Figure in the livers, vitamins, and whatnot, and we’re still under that $300 per month budget we set ourselves for two dogs in the above article. By being religious about using Costco, we’re actually spending less money now then before we adopted Teddy.
What about the vet? Well, ours gave Teddy a clean bill of health last Friday, while also giving Wiley and Bowie a couple of booster shots. They also told me we now qualify for a multi-dog discount, which takes 10 percent off the cost for each individual dog. Not bad. And, by feeding them the healthiest food possible, I’m only ever visiting the vet for routine shots and checkups anyways. Taking $120 a year to $162 isn't too bad.
Boarding is going to cost a little more. The place we use is $38 per dog, per night. But, because they sleep in the same kennel, each additional dog nets us a 20 percent discount. So, moving up to three dogs, we’re spending $98.80 per night versus $68.40. Hey, it includes a bath. But that hit only comes once every three months or so, and only for a few nights at a time.
So yes, the additional dog does cost us some more money, but by forcing us to be a little more careful with our spend, we’re not actually out all that much extra with three, rather than two.
More Dogs Are Always Better
We’ve increased the amount of dog in our lives by one third. If you also like dogs, you’ll get what a lifestyle upgrade that is. It’s also good for the individual dogs, who now have that much more stimulus and companionship throughout their daily lives. Our 18-month-old Bowie has another source of endless energy to wrestle with all day long, Wiley gets a little bit of a break, and both benefit from having a female around the house who will soon be able to kick both of their asses.
Because we live in Montana and spend a ton of time outdoors, there’s also actually a practical benefit. While each new dog in a pack is exponentially easier to care for than the last, I also have a theory that each new dog exponentially increases the pack’s ability to deter threats. If you think one big dog is scary, then three is much scarier. Now imagine you’re a grizzly bear, and you’ll see where I’m going with this. No bear will ever dare come in our campsite at night again. On hikes, they’ll disappear the second we enter the range of their nose or ears. Great Pyrenees were actually bred to fend off brown bears.
And we’ve been able to gain all that without significantly more work, hassle, or expense. Is there a fourth dog in our future? Almost certainly.