Littermate Syndrome

By June 28, 2018 January 23rd, 2020 General

What’s cuter than a brand new puppy? Well, what about TWO puppies?! It’s true, doubling the puppy count does increase your odds for lots of “awwwwhh” moments as they grow up together. Sibling puppies will often learn social cues from one another including how to share, how to interact, and they can even influence each other’s training. They’ll have a built-in playmate for life, too, which sounds like a dream for busy pet parents. You may be wondering why everyone doesn’t add dogs to the family in pairs. I’m here to explain.

As much fun as it might be to take on littermates, the odds of disaster skyrocket the moment one little wet nose turns into two. Bad habits develop twice as quickly, double the stuff gets destroyed, and two times the energy is required to keep up.

You may be thinking, “they’ll grow out it – it’s just a little tougher through the puppy phase.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not necessarily the case. Littermate Syndrome, as it’s been coined, will carry on throughout the entirety of the dogs’ lives. Puppies that grow up together (actual littermates or not) are more likely to bond to one another than they are to you!

Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad to you. Perhaps you’re thinking, okay great, that sounds like less work for me! ….again, not the case.

A puppy that doesn’t establish a proper bond with its owner (and I’m not talking anything over the top here, just a regular, healthy, pet-owner relationship) becomes infinitely more difficult to live with. Training feels impossible. Socialization can become a nightmare. Exercise routines are never simple. Instead of turning to you for guidance or play or reassurance, your two puppies will rely heavily on each other. When this happens, you’re not only left out of the loop, but your dogs end up shaping one another’s personalities. This is part of the reason why there tend to be an excess of behavioral issues in one or both of the dogs when puppies are raised together.

What I see most frequently in sibling (or raised-as-sibling) pairs tends to be one dog developing a more confident, independent personality while the other tends to shy away or be more codependent. These traits can, of course, result in any number of other issues from incessant barking and whining to avoidance and destructive behaviors. Left unaddressed, this can easily spiral into aggression or reactivity. Then you’re left wondering why you have one nice, “normal” dog and one unmanageable one when both were raised just the same.

Generally speaking, it takes tons of knowledge, support, and commitment to simultaneously raise two puppies to adulthood without creating or fostering issues. Each requires the same amount of one-on-one time that any solo puppy would receive, on top of time spent working together. Exceptions are out there, but they’re few and far between. So, my advice to you is to adopt and raise your puppies separately if at all possible. Enjoy each dog for what he or she is, and if a playmate seems like a good idea at some point down the line, go for it!

And finally, if you already have sibling pups, don’t feel like all hope is lost. Lots of people have been in the same boat and survived it. Just remember that each one has individual traits and needs, and that spending time with them individually is just as (if not more) important as them spending time with each other.


Taylor Herr IACP-CDT

Director of Training