Some Rescued Dogs Need a Role Model to Thrive

Some Rescued Dogs Need a Role Model to Thrive

Some dogs who come into RAGOM’s care have the “Another dog REQUIRED” stipulation on their dog bio page, and many potential adopters have asked for additional information regarding this policy.

Another Dog requiredAnother dog REQUIRED

Examples of RAGOM dogs who require another larger, confident resident dog include former commercial breeder dogs (referenced in the information shared below as “puppy mill dogs”), dogs who lack socialization, dogs who have been abused or neglected, and dogs with separation anxiety.

RAGOM, as well as many other rescue organizations, has learned through years of experience with these dogs that they require a “dog role model.” The role-model dog can teach rescued dogs things they cannot learn from a human, such as socialization, not to fear loud or unfamiliar noises, and most importantly, that humans can be trusted to love and care for them.

The following information is excerpted from a Best Friends Animal Society publication written by Franklin D. McMillan, DVM, titled Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs. This research provides strong evidence that for some RAGOM dogs, having another dog in the adoptive home does indeed warrant enforcement because it is so effective.

From Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs as researched by Best Friends Animal Society in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and written by Dr. McMillan:

Having other dogs in the home

The recommendation to have another dog or dogs in the puppy mill dog’s adoptive household is so important that I want to look at it in some depth here.

First, because item number one (having patience) on the above list [see link to download complete PDF at the end of this article] of most effective rehabilitation methods is not really doing something as much as it is simply maintaining a particular attitude (and, in fact, not doing something), I regard this second item on the list as the most appropriate answer to the question, “What is the best thing to do to help puppy mill dogs get better?”

The answer: “Have or get another dog as a companion and role model for the puppy mill dog.”

This method has come to be known as so beneficial to the emotional recovery of puppy mill dogs that some rescue groups involved with the adoption of these dogs have made it their policy that puppy mill dogs will only be adopted into homes with other dogs.

The single most important characteristic of the other dogs in the household—compatibility—was almost entirely omitted from adopters’ comments, most likely because it is considered so obvious that it is merely assumed. “Friendly” comes close to “compatibility” but indicates a slightly higher level of relationship and, while certainly beneficial, is not as essential as compatibility.

In other words, the absolutely necessary feature of the other dog(s) in the house is that they are compatible—or get along—with the puppy mill dog. If they are out-and-out friendly toward the puppy mill dog, that is certainly an added bonus.

How does the presence of other dogs help the puppy mill dog? There are at least four ways that puppy mill dogs may benefit by having another dog around. The first is the one people think of most often: that the puppy mill dog learns from and models his/her behavior on the normal-acting pet dog.

The canine species is imitative in some of its behavior and hence would be, if not severely inhibited by negative emotions like fear, receptive to following the lead of the behavior of the other dogs in the house. Here are some adopters’ comments in which this appears to be happening:

  • She learned how to play by watching our two other dogs. Then she learned by interacting with them. She now plays with other dogs and with toys.
  • She is more willing to go along with things as she follows my other Bichon; however, Roxie needs to have her main caretaker with her as well. Seeing her sister (normal Bichon) and being with her helps Roxie a great deal! She has learned so much from being with a naturally socialized dog.
  • He will seem to get overstimulated in large open areas like the off-leash dog parks, where there are lots of people, lots of dogs, lots of action, and then tends to get confused. He very much looks to my other dog(s) for direction.
  • She was always watching [the other dogs] and doing what they did.

The second way that the presence of other dogs may help the emotionally struggling puppy mill dog is through a psychological phenomenon termed “social buffering.” Social buffering is an effect whereby the presence of companions can reduce the intensity of—or buffer—the emotional reaction to something frightening or stressful.

The scientific evidence also shows that the emotional response of the companion is key for the social buffering to work. A study with rats showed that when the rat being studied was accompanied by a fearful rat companion, the benefit was much less than when the companion rat was unafraid.

What this means for puppy mill dogs is that the presence of confident and calm companion dogs would offer the greatest benefit to the puppy mill dogs’ emotional state in situations when they are fearful.

The third way the puppy mill dog benefits from having other dogs around is that it takes the one-on-one intensity, or pressure, off. When the puppy mill dog is the only dog in the house, all of the human-dog interaction involves the puppy mill dog, which can be too intense for a shy or fearful dog.

A rough analogy is the elementary school student in a classroom. Being surrounded by fellow students greatly diminishes the pressure of the teacher-student interaction on any one student. But if only one of the students comes to school one day, it’s a whole different story.

The fourth way that puppy mill dogs benefit is more indirect than the other three ways. When adopters have only one dog in their house and that dog fears them, won’t make eye contact with them, and won’t let them touch her, it’s difficult and frustrating for even the strongest, most loving and most patient of humans.

And because we now know that puppy mill dogs can show these reactions and behaviors for months and even years before improving, the patience this requires when the puppy mill dog is a person’s only dog would need to be almost superhuman.

However, contrast that to the adopter who has a couple of other pet dogs who interact with that person in a normal way. This person—let’s say a woman—receives all the love and positive feedback she could want from her “normal” pet dogs, making it much, much easier for her to give the puppy mill dog all the time he needs to emotionally recover from the mill experience.

The other potential down side is that it seems on occasion the dog fearful of humans may become overly dependent upon her dog companions and use them as a security blanket. If the fearful dog is always able to gain a sense of security from her dog companions, she may have little or no motivation to overcome her fear of humans.

[It has been RAGOM’s experience, as Dr. McMillan’s research confirms, that the benefits of another confident dog in the home far outweigh any potential downfalls.]

RAGOM thanks Best Friends Animal Society and Franklin D. McMillan, DVM for their permission to publish this information on our website. To read the entire PDF, download Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs (PDF 4MB).