Three Steps to Dealing with Second Dog Syndrome

By Katherine Schneider, Ph.D and guide dog user for 39 years


First published on July 9 as a guest blog on


            If you’ve had more than one service/assistance dog and someone brings up the subject of second dog syndrome, I’ll bet you know exactly what they’re talking about.  Maybe you didn’t have it a lot or maybe it didn’t hit you until your third dog, but that comparing and finding you don’t love or like second dog as much as first dog is as natural as dogs greeting by smelling each others’ back ends, but not nearly as much fun.

The first step in dealing with second dog syndrome is accepting it as real and forgivable.  Of course you compare, young children learn to pick out what’s different in a picture and we praise them for noticing differences.  New Dog may look different, act different, work different and even smell different.  You had history with Old Dog.  All you have with New Dog is hopes and dreams. As Old Dog gets further in the past, memories of the bad things they did fade first;e.g. they become a saint.  New Dog is young and foolish and the bad things they do are right here and now.  And most of all, you have changed.  You’re older and perhaps less flexible, both physically and mentally.  If Old Dog worked well for you, it was a life changer for you, kind of like first love.  Now you’ve come to expect that level of dignity and independence because of a functioning service/assistance dog.  New Dog has big shoes to fill.  If Old Dog didn’t work out well, you’ve got a million ideas of what you and he/she need to do differently this time. 

            So when you think those thoughts of “Old Dog would never have done that” “I don’t love/like New Dog” and “I wish I still had Old Dog” chalk it up to second dog syndrome and say to yourself, New Dog or a friend who might understand, I’m having aSDSmoment, forgive me.

            If you acknowledge those second dog syndrome thoughts instead of trying to fight them, they lose some of their power. You’re not wasting your time and energy feeling guilty.  Instead you can begin step two: When you find yourself comparing, try to add an “and” occasionally.  Old Dog was better at this and New Dog is good at this.  On a really bad day it may be “and New Dog looks cute when he/she is asleep.” When others point out, “Old dog would never have done that” about your New Dog, all you can say is “Yes and I really miss Old Dog too.”  Unless of course you have time to educate the thoughtless passer-by about second dog syndrome.  Included in that education could be the fact that New Dog is not a replacement, but a successor.  Old Dog will never be replaced.

            The third step is give it time and work. Romewasn’t built in a day and neither are relationships. Gradually you may notice more things about New Dog that you like and they will grow up and settle in to their job.  If you take care of them like a valued employee, they’ll work to earn your trust and love. They’re quicker to love than I am anyway, so as I find myself with each successor dog in the middle of my heart I learn that I have a big heart.  Then when people ask “which was your favorite, really?” I can truthfully say:  “It’s just like your kids;each one is my absolute favorite.”