When I first started training dogs 25 years ago, lifestyles were different. More time was spent in the home. More time was available to raise a pup.
One thing hasn’t changed though – our desire for the loyal dog, for the unconditional love, for the trust, for the companionship. However, in an effort to make up for busy lifestyles, pet owners are now purchasing TWO puppies instead of one. The reason is commendable from the human perspective: they can keep each other company. Unfortunately, from the canine perspective, it can be harmful to both pups.
Twenty-five years ago, I saw only one home per year that had acquired litter mates. Now, I see 2 or 3 per month. “Litter mate Syndrome” can be mild or severe. Mild cases are barely noticeable, while severe cases can lead to constant fighting, separation anxiety from each other, and even in some cases, aggression towards humans. Many of the cases I see involve dogs that cannot be separated even for the time it takes to take one for a walk. If one dog is sick and must stay overnight at the veterinarian’s, the stay-at-home dog will become destructive and vocal.
Dogs MUST be allowed to develop as individuals. At seven weeks of age, they are ready to look to the outside world for bonding and individuality. They are ready to leave the pack and move on. Pups at seven weeks bond easily to the human UNLESS they do not leave their litter. Maintaining siblings from the same litter interferes with this transfer.
So what do we do? This is ALWAYS a hard phone call for me to take. I am always torn between my duty as a trainer and my desire not to upset my clients. But, my trainer instinct always wills out. I must first consider what is best for the dog. What is the best environment for the dog’s mental well-being? What will be the best way to keep him healthy mentally, to promote his ability to bond to his owner, and to try to ensure a long life in a good home?
There are TWO solutions. While the first solution is the best thing for the dog, it is almost always unthinkable for the owners. They have become attached to the pups and it is a hard solution to face. The BEST (but not only) solution is to re-home one dog. Find him a good home possibly with another family member or trusted neighbor. I have seen drastic improvements in the personalities of both pups when the owners re-home one…I have seen these changes occur almost over night and even as late as 7-9 months of age. However, the longer you wait, the harder it will be.
The second best solution is to do everything in your power to create two individual dogs. They must be allowed, no, REQUIRED, to have their own space, to develop their own personalities, and to look to the owner for bonding and love. They must have lots and lots of “only dog” time.
- Crate them separately (preferably in separate rooms or at opposite ends of a room)
- Feed them separately
- Walk them separately
- Play with them separately
- Take them to the vets separately
- Train them separately
- TRAIN them! Take them to a good obedience class where the instructor knows how to work with litter mates. Take them on separate nights. Do NOT take them to the same class.
They can play together, but I cannot stress the importance of these separation procedures enough. Keeping the siblings together at all times will create two parts of a whole, not two individuals. 9 out of 10 cases that I see show some signs of littermate syndrome. Some of the more severe cases are heartbreaking.
If you decide to keep both pups, please make the commitment to do the double duty. Yes, it will take twice the amount of time. Yes, it will be twice the work. But to not do this will create problems that are beyond the pet owner’s ability to repair. You will not need to keep them apart forever. It is recommended that you follow the above program for the first year of their lives.
Please understand that the “Littermate Syndrome” is not what occurs when you have multiple dogs in your home of different ages from different litters. While getting dogs in different age ranges is usually better for each dog, this scenario also has its share of issues, but that topic will be discussed in a future article, “Living in a Multiple-Dog Household”.Categories: intro, Maggie’s College of Dog Training Knowledge