Two. We’ve had just one dog at various times — the long year and a half when our first dog Obi was just a puppy and before we got Dexter, the four months after Obi died before we were ready to get Sam, the six months it took to decide if we would even EVER get another dog after we lost Dexter and Sam was sick but we didn’t know why. Even though we’ve had just one at times — and it’s so easy, so much less work — just one never seems quite right. Maybe it has something to do with Obi having such bad separation anxiety. We did everything we could for him and finally realized the only thing left to try was to get him his own dog, and it was so perfect, exactly what he needed. He was so much happier that we wished we hadn’t waited so long, although I suppose we had to wait for Dexter to be born, the dog that was the perfect fit for him. That set in my mind that dogs automatically are happier if they live with another dog, is where I got the idea that two is always the right number.
That’s not to say two is necessarily easier. It’s way harder to train two dogs, feed two dogs, groom two dogs, bathe two dogs, transport two dogs, calm two dogs, walk two dogs. Sometimes it simply doubles the effort, but there are times when two dogs are three dogs worth of work because you attend to each dog individually but there’s also a third dog, the shadow dog they form together as a team.
One time having two dogs is easier is when you lose one. In your grief, that well of sadness and loneliness, nothing can soothe you like another dog. Some days it’s the only reason to get out of bed, the only thing that keeps you going.
My experience with two dogs has had a strange twist. As much as Sam and Ringo are distinct, they are echos of Obi and Dexter. Sam’s sensitive, sweet nature is so much like Obi’s, and they are similar in shape and color. Obi broke one of his canine teeth in the months before he died, and Sam had a broken canine puppy tooth when we got him, so weird because that’s not a common injury. They are both afraid of loud noises, although Obi was more afraid of storms and Sam thinks it’s the washing machine that’s out to get him. Ringo has the same goofy high energy, the same happy good nature as Dexter did, the same athleticism, and the same body type, which someone once described as a “brick shit house.” Ringo has almost the exact same coloring as Dexter’s favorite toy, a small stuffed cattle dog we called Little D. Sam is content to be lazy, just hang out like Obi was, where Ringo and Dexter were always up for doing something, were either playing or asleep, only have two speeds. Our two dogs now are echos of the first pair, and it makes me think if I keep getting two, they will always be echos of those originals.