At first glance, starting out with only one LGD can seem like the conservative and responsible choice, particularly if you are new to LGDs. In my experience, though, training a single LGD pup is much more work than raising a pair of similarly aged pups together and much less likely to be successful.
All LGD training should build the confidence of the dog
A single pup is a frightened pup. Pups don’t learn well when they are frightened, and they may learn lessons that work against them in the long run. A common response from a fearful pup is to bark. The pup sends out a pre-emptive warning to anything that might hurt it. This behavior is self-reinforcing, so a young pup that barks because of fear may bark because of the learned habit of barking when he is an adult.
The physical behavior of a frightened pup may be unpredictable. In response to this, the behavior of the livestock he lives with can change; calm animals can become flighty, for instance. Dogs and livestock are part of an interconnected community. The presence of a fearful pup can cause stress and discord in that community.
Canines are social animals
Puppies learn a lot from each other. That opportunity for learning comes in a narrow window of time early in their lives. They learn bite inhibition, conflict resolution skills, tolerance for frustration, and overall physical confidence. These are just a few of the many important lessons denied a single pup.
The play behavior of pups is not all fun and games. A tremendous amount of learning happens in the form of play. It is a necessary function of any young animal. Because it is so necessary to the healthy development of a pup a single pup will seek play interaction with whatever animal is nearby if he doesn’t have a suitable canine partner to play with. This choice can get a pup into trouble within his livestock community. The livestock won’t respond favorably to this interaction and the lessons the pup learns in these situations work against his future as a trustworthy adult guardian dog.
Puppies learn how to be dogs from each other. Dogs with strong social skills feel less concern about guarding resources. This can be a huge issue for LGDs, their livestock, and their owners. Allowing pups to learn from each other offers tremendous preventative training in how they view resources.
The level of responsibility asked of an LGD should take his age into consideration
A young pup should not be asked to guard a large area, lots of livestock, or grumpy livestock, as examples. For an adult LGD, taking this level of responsibility away from him can be experienced as punitive. The best-case scenario is that a pair of dogs suited to the same level of responsibility be allowed to work together.
A natural fit is much easier to maintain than a trained one
Putting dogs of any age into a living situation they are well suited to is much less work than trying to support them in an unnatural one. Dogs placed in situations they are not well suited to develop stress-related coping behaviors such as barking, chasing livestock, digging under fences or climbing over them. The behavior of these dogs can be unpredictable. Dogs that are stressed are difficult to train.
Dogs living in an environment that they are well suited to have a better chance at living a well-balanced, harmonious life. Training goals are realistic.
Most adult dogs don’t want to train puppies
Adult dogs have been through these puppy developmental stages and have moved on. Pups are busy and irreverent. They put social and physical pressure on adult dogs, often not understanding when to back off. When adult dogs discipline pups the pups can become fearful. They may also learn that is the way to respond to dogs, and as adults may have poor canine social skills. They may choose to fight because that is what they were shown as pups.
The ease at which an owner lives with LGDs has little to do with how many dogs there are. Rather, it has to do with how well suited those dogs are to the environment they live in and the level of responsibility asked of them. Said simply, it is much easier to live with two happy dogs, of any age, than it is to live with one anxious or industrious one.
The time to get that second LGD is when you purchase the first one!