Why does a new dog seem to be less intelligent than the one before it?

"After taking Jessie in, I realised that not all dogs are created equal. She is different from my previous one, not only in appearance but also in behaviour. Jessie is much harder to deal with, sometimes I feel like she can't hear me. I don't know what I was hoping for when I got another one of the same breed, because it's pretty clear that some dogs are just more intelligent, more affectionate and easier to train than others.

When a person who has recently lost a dog brings a new one into the home, comparisons are inevitable between the previous dog and the new one. The previous dog usually seems more intelligent, more malleable, more responsive - in short, "more" at everything. It wins over the present with a crushing score, especially when the new dog comes into the house and is much younger than the one that left.

I have known Jessie's owner, an active and incredibly friendly Labrador girl, for over a decade. He and I had worked together very successfully with his previous Labrador, Bonechka, and now he came back to me with the same requirements but with a different dog - and with a distinct disappointment. Jessie was simply out of control and I must admit I was surprised at how someone with so much experience in dog training could be so bad with a puppy.

"Jessie is certainly a pretty girl, but she doesn't have half the intelligence of Bonechka," he complained to me when I met him. I didn't disagree, but took out a treat and gave Jessie a bite. Bite after bite followed and literally within ten minutes the dog came to me on command, sat down, walked beside me for ten metres and even had a little idea of stamina. The owner was surprised but accepted my comment in silence: "She's very clever, she's just a little girl. Keep practising with her.
The second dog has the perception of being 'second best'
I have seen this pattern of behaviour many times. Twenty years of practice is at least two generations of dogs - I now have old clients coming back to me who, like Jesse's owner, have a second or even third dog and, like him, ask me to help with their training. I can see how they compare their current dog to the one they had before, and it is usually completely out of line with their expectations.
This is all very common. Obviously the problem isn't really on the dog's side - the sticking point is how it is perceived by the human owner. Sometimes distorted perceptions and unreasonable expectations become so great that they are literally life-threatening - as in the case of guide dogs.

Yes, don't be surprised: the mismatch between guide dog and client is a big problem. Firstly, it leads to reduced independence for blind people who feel that their guide dog has behavioural limitations. The result is emotional distress associated with feelings of loss of support because the new dog does not bond with them.

Secondly, there is a serious financial cost. When a guide dog is returned to a training centre because it is unable to work with a client, very substantial funds are spent on retraining the dog: it is worth remembering that raising and training just one guide dog can cost up to several million roubles.

Research carried out in this area by scientists at James Cook University in Australia found that a second guide dog was almost twice as likely to be returned by clients as inappropriate for behavioural reasons or limitations than the first. Whether the problem was with the dogs is a big question: the vast majority of these refusals were later transferred to other clients where they were able to continue their work without problems.
Second canine syndrome in companion dogs
The phenomenon of underestimating the personal qualities and abilities of a dog after the previous dog has left has been dubbed 'second dog syndrome' or SDS by researchers. Initially associated with guide dogs, recent research from the Faculty of Medicine at Monash University in Australia has shown that a similar phenomenon occurs in relationships with ordinary domestic dogs.
Scientists have also found that the underestimation effect occurs whenever a new dog is added to the family. Whether the new dog is a companion to a living adult dog or a replacement for a recently deceased dog, it is generally perceived as less intelligent, harder to train, less affectionate and less attentive.

Based on this observation, scientists have proposed a redefinition as "Successor Dog Syndrome" because the new dog is almost always seen as "second best" to the previous dog, regardless of whether the resulting dog is the second, third or fourth dog.
Are the first dogs really so beautiful?
The truth is that the qualities of the 'old' and 'new' dog don't matter in the least. The problem lies in the mind of the owner. Any dog you have living with you now, especially if it is the first dog you have ever owned, is one and only. The bond you form with it is incredibly strong. Because it is the only one in the family, it receives a lot of attention and a lot of effort is put into its training and upbringing.
However, by the time you bring a second or successor dog into your home, you forget how much time and effort went into training the previous dog when she was a puppy. You'll probably expect the new dog to behave pretty much the same as the adult dog you have now, or as your previous dog did.

Technically, this means that you will immediately give the new dog the same freedoms that the previous dog had, or the current senior dog has, and expect it to behave correctly. There is a very good chance that you will be more lax in your training, implicitly believing that you are dealing with an animal that already knows what is expected of it. In fact, this is a sure way to disaster.

Why is the second dog underestimated?

I often remind clients who have more than one dog that two dogs are not "one and one", they're two in the fullest sense. The second dog has an "older" dog, primarily in terms of seniority in the family, to learn from. Therefore, instead of developing a strong working relationship with you, the new dog will develop one with your first dog.
Of course, my words are mainly addressed to negligent owners. Remember, if you're lazy and don't pay enough attention to your dog's training, you'll soon find yourself with a close pack of two dogs and you'll be the odd one out. When you call your puppy, don't be surprised if the first thing he does is look at "dog number one" to see if he should move or not. And it's not because of his low intelligence, of course.

It's even more dangerous if dog number one is no longer living in your home, for whatever reason. In this case, you are comparing your current dog not to a real dog, but to the image you have in your mind. The catch is that this image is usually overly idealised, so by definition the comparison is biased and inaccurate. Think about it, how can you compare a living dog to a memory?

Incidentally, psychologists have found that our memories of an event or object become more positive the more we share them with others. In other words, the more we tell someone about our former dog, the more perfect he becomes in our stories. Have you ever noticed this? I have.

It's important to remember that a new dog comes into your home without all the tremendous experience that the previous dog has gained over the years with you. A new dog will not be able to learn the routines of the house on its own, any more than modern phones can restore all your data from a backup. If you lose sight of this, you'll be in for a lot of frustration.

Like many people, you'll find yourself expecting your new puppy to behave perfectly from the start, and getting annoyed when it doesn't. But the reality is that the new dog is just as smart and just as trainable - it's more likely that you've forgotten all the work you put into your previous dog. The puppy that is now running around your home will need just as much time, effort and training to become that special "once in a lifetime" dog that your first dog was.

Love your dogs. And we'll take care of the rest.
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