The pride and pitfalls of one-pupmanship
Coming home with two little dogs in your arms is expensive and will bring chaos - but it's wonderful
'Ah, what a complete sweetie! Is he yours?" "Yes, I'm very proud."
"Do you have any others?" "No. Just him."
"Oh, that's sad. Isn't he lonely? Aren't you selfish? Don't you feel utterly inadequate every time you come here to the park?"
Ouch. Welcome to the new world of canine one-pupmanship, where single shaming has crossed the species barrier.
Here in 2019, having an only child is unremarkable - a fifth of all mothers stop after the birth of their first. No big deal.
It's having just the one dog that's viewed with a mixture of sympathy and suspicion. In many circles, unless you have at least two, you're not even deemed a proper pet lover.
And ideally they must match. Identical dogs are inherently chic, you see, as well as highly amusing - unless you are Barbra Streisand who cloned her Coton de Tulear twice. Which is just creepy.
Ant McPartlin knows that two work better together - he and his new girlfriend have just got a pair of maltipoo pups. Simon Cowell owns three Yorkshire terriers and has just adopted a dog he found on holiday in Barbados.
Lady Gaga has a pair of French bulldogs, as does Martha Stewart. Andy Murray, meanwhile, has had two Border terriers for years.
President Michael D Higgins will often greet visitors to the Aras accompanied by his family's two Bernese mountain dogs, Brod and Sioda. And in the US, the Obamas have Portuguese water dogs Bo and Sunny (which, admittedly, are not a perfect mirror image of one another but former leaders of the free world are allowed a little leeway).
I say this as someone just a little ahead of the curve. Or at least I used to be. Our Manchester terriers, Otto and Mabel, turn five this year - but have turned heads since they first trotted out together.
He's a little bigger but in every other regard they are ridiculously alike. When they move their heads and wag their tails at the same time it's simultaneously hilarious and endearing.
But recently I've been increasingly irked to come across rival twins: cocker spaniels, French bulldogs, Italian greyhounds. Just this weekend in the New Forest there were matching huskies, English setters and collies.
And a few weeks ago my two were entirely upstaged by a pair of show-off pointers. Actual pointers, pointing at things on Hampstead Heath. An admiring crowd had gathered to take pictures and watch them stalk squirrels, one raised paw at a time.
Cue Otto and Mabel careening into the mise en scene like a couple of hoodlums, frightening away the squirrels and dispersing the humans. The pointers obediently trotted back to their owner.
I'd be fibbing if I claimed I wasn't jealous. Two matching dogs is fun. Two matching dogs who actually do as they are told is phenomenal.
"It's exponentially more difficult training two dogs at the same time," says Beverley Cuddy, the editor of Dogs Today.
"Littermates, like twins, are double trouble. They can be so closely bonded that you are far less important to them than you would be on a one-to-one basis."
As with children, who find playing with someone their own age far more appealing than hanging out with a grown-up, puppies will invariably gravitate towards one another. "You become relegated to the role of keeper in their lovely shared life," says Cuddy. "Some people find that completely heartbreaking."
There's no question that leaving a breeder with two puppies in your arms instead of one is, quite frankly, irresistible (if pricey) but the ensuing chaos once you get home requires an awful lot of paper towels and patience.
When my two were tiny they were far more time-consuming and just as needy as a newborn baby. Training them was horrendous.
"It is crucially important to develop a relationship with each dog as an individual," says dog trainer Andy Tough. "Having two dogs doesn't just make training twice as difficult. It's 10 times harder."
Ideally they should be trained and taught to walk on the lead separately.
Training in this context has less to do with sit-up-and-beg party tricks than teaching your dog to be a polite, well-behaved companion who abides by the rules of the household.
"People often get two puppies for precisely the wrong reason," adds Tough. "They haven't actually got the time for one dog so they get another to keep it company. But that's not a solution.
"Yes, they keep each other company but it makes them far less focused on you and less likely to obey your commands. You should only get more than one dog if you genuinely have the time and energy to devote to each one."
One option is to train up a dog then get a second once a routine has been established or adopt dogs that are already close companions.
American actress Zooey Deschanel famously rescued a pair of fluffy white strays from a dog pound. Dot and Zelda turned out to be sisters who had been split up and reunited in the shelter. Many dogs shelters try to rehome adult dogs together.
"For some people, having two dogs absolutely works," says Tamsin Durston, canine behaviour expert.
"If someone is in a position to invest lots of time in each of them and address their individual needs it can be double the joy."
Preparation is key. Even if two dogs look the same, they can't be treated as a single unit. One might be bold and enjoy meeting unknown dogs in public spaces, the other might be timid and feel stressed.
"It's important that two dogs living together don't become too dependent on one another because that's not good for them," says Durston.
"We offer support to prospective owners and lots of post-adoption advice once the dog or dogs have gone home with the new owner.
"A dog rehomed by us will continue to receive behavioural support for its entire life."
As far as Otto and Mabel are concerned, I'm relieved to report they are relentlessly competitive for human attention, which suggests they love us as much as - if not slightly more than - each other.
Sometimes things can get quite fractious as they vie for cuddles and the top spot on the sofa.
But at night, as they lie contentedly in their shared bed, a gently snoring tangle of ears and limbs, it's impossible not to feel twice the love.