littermate syndrome in dogs

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Nicole Larocco-Skeehan, CPDT-KA
Posted by Nicole Larocco-Skeehan, CPDT-KA on Apr 18 2016
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Litter of puppies | Why you should think twice about adopting littermates | Petplan

Double the cuteness! Double the fun! Double the trouble?

If you’ve ever walked into a breeder or shelter where there are several pups from the same litter, you may have been tempted to throw caution to the wind and take two pups instead of one. And it’s easy to rationalize why you should: They’ll keep each other company, you eliminate the loneliness of separating a pup from their mom and littermates and they’ll wear each other out while playing (so it’s less work for you!).

As much as I hate to spoil this party, adopting two dogs from the same litter may lead to a phenomena called littermate syndrome.

Littermate syndrome in puppies

Anecdotal evidence suggests that behavioral issues may arise during key development periods because the two puppies’ deep bond impedes their individual ability to absorb and grasp the nuances of human and canine communication.

Similar to the behavior that’s reported in twin humans, the puppies develop habits and communication skills that lead them to growing up as one unit instead of individuals. Therefore, they respond more to each other than they do to their owners.

While the lack of response to an owner may be more of an annoyance than anything, allowing your pups to form this much of a bond can lead to anxiety, depression or aggression in the worst-case scenarios.

Since fear is the canine’s default reaction to odd or unfamiliar stimuli, this muddled understanding of the world around them can lead to impaired coping mechanisms later on. And since the dogs will be so bonded, the outlook could be grim if one of the dogs falls ill, passes away or needs to be separated from the littermate for some reason.

How to deal with littermate syndrome

If you do adopt two dogs from the same litter, there are some things you can do to ward off littermate syndrome:

Schedule separate outings: To ensure that pups are looking to you for guidance instead of each other, take them to separate puppy classes, on separate car rides and on separate walks. Make sure you do separate outings at least once or twice a week!

Make puppies work for anything they want: Have them do a sit before being allowed to eat, a stay at the door before going out and a cute trick before petting or treats. This will reinforce that you’re in control, and that they should look to you for guidance instead of each other.

Don’t skimp on the training: Many people hope that since the pups will keep each other busy, they don’t have to do as much work. But in reality, twice the dogs = twice the work! Make sure that you’re setting aside specific time for training each day to work on listening skills.

Crate separately: If you’ve ever raised a puppy, you know that those first nights away from mom can be a lonely time for a pup! But resist the urge to put the pups in the same crate. Each puppy should have their own separate space and learn to be away from their littermate for a bit.