There’s a recent development in the rescue and shelter world about the “bonded pair.” Videos abound on social media platforms showcasing two animals, often found as strays together (but sometimes surrendered by an owner), who appear to be very attached to one another. Organizations often require that these two animals be adopted together.
However, there’s a problem with overzealous use of the phrase “bonded pair.” While animals do often grow attached to other animals they’ve lived with, it is rare that two animals form such a close bond that they cannot humanely be separated. Requiring that two animals be adopted together when they don’t need to be leads to real problems.
The first obvious problem is, of course, that two dogs are harder to adopt than one. As a result, pairs usually stay in their shelter kennels longer. Of course, a heart-wrenching video on the Internet might change that scenario, motivating someone to adopt the pair and thereby quicken their adoption, but that’s never a sure bet (and hasty adoptions spurred by momentary pity might not be conducive to long-term adoptions).
There’s another problem with advertising dogs as “bonded pairs.” People seem to think there’s some kind of magic in that term which ensures the dogs will never fight. Owners often take their two new family members home with unrealistic expectations. In some cases, those expectations can lead to disaster in the home when the members of the “bonded pair” are left alone together and end up in a fight.
Fights have, in fact, broken out between “bonded” dogs. Two young male Pit Bulls were labelled as a “bonded pair” by one local shelter and adopted together. After a few months in their new home, they began to fight. The shelter, having the best intentions, truly thought it best that these two seemingly best buds be adopted together, but in reality, these dogs should have been separated. Same-gender pairings are a little trickier than opposite gender pairings and can sometimes lead to fights down the road as gender-driven conflicts may arise after the dogs mature.
These gender-driven conflicts, as mentioned, tend to arise after the dogs reach two to three years of age, highlighting the issue with adopting younger dogs as “bonded pairs.” Young animals often get along well. When they reach and surpass maturity, problems may develop. These problems can be serious enough that the new owners relinquish one of the dogs to a shelter. An older dog in a shelter is a lot more difficult to adopt than a younger dog, and that older dog may end up waiting for months in a shelter kennel before finding a home…or may not find a home at all.
Of course, some breeds might be more prone to gender-driven conflicts than others (such as the terrier breeds), but overall, the advice related to bonded pairs applies to dogs of all breeds.
Younger dogs, in particular those under a year, tend to be more adaptable to new situations. They can be adopted separately from their buddies, usually with very few ill effects. When it seems like two dogs are inseparable, often one finds that they get along just fine without the other dog as long as they’re getting enough attention.
The only case where it may be more difficult for two dogs to adjust to separation arises when siblings from the same litter grow up together and are separated at adulthood. These may truly be bonded to one another (but that also doesn’t mean they won’t get into serious fights, especially if both are of the same gender). This littermate syndrome is one huge reason we never recommend keeping littermates together. Littermates often do bond closely to one another and become more interested in one another than in their human caretakers unless diligent efforts are made to spend individual time with both, separate from the other. However, most littermates can be separated and adjust to life without the other.
Even dogs that are truly bonded pairs are unlikely to be together forever. Unfortunately, time will take one of them away first, leaving the other alone. Many people have gone through the experience of bringing in a younger dog when they already have an adult dog. Eventually, the older dog passes away, and the younger dog learns to carry on without the companion he or she had known since puppyhood.
We encourage organizations to use the term “bonded pair” as conservatively as possible. Very few dogs should truly fall into that category. Even when the term is appropriately used, organizations should make sure the new owners are educated about the pros and cons of having two dogs and the potential need to manage conflicts between them.