Littermate syndrome

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It always sounds like a good idea. You’re adopting a puppy anyway, so why not get two? It will give your puppy a built-in playmate as he grows up; a constant companion. What could possibly be wrong with that?

In truth, there are many potential problems. Littermate syndrome is a well-known complication in the lives of puppies.

The first issue with adopting littermates is that the presence of the second puppy often gives you an excuse to ignore both of them. Puppyhood is a vital time of bonding and play. When you adopt a pup, one of the joys is spending time with him. It’s also vital for his growth and development.

He learns that people are pretty special, and that you’re the most amazing person of all, providing him with fun, food and company. Being your puppy’s everything can get tiresome, but guilt will typically inspire you to spend the time with your puppy that he deserves. After all, if you won’t play with him, who will?

A second puppy often assuages this. You don’t feel in such a rush to get back to them, so the pups spend their time bonding with one another.

Another concern is that even if you do take time with your puppies, they are still, typically, together all the time. They begin to operate as a single entity, rather than as unique individuals. Often this doesn’t become evident until later in life.

You might see this if another dog comes to play with yours, and they react aggressively as a unit. Or you might need to take one puppy to the vet without the other, and both pups become emotionally distraught. In extreme cases, when accidents have befallen one of a bonded pair, the second dog has grieved itself to death.

Does this mean you should never get two puppies at once? No, but it does mean that should you choose this route, you need to take extra time to ensure your pups do not suffer littermate syndrome.

The most important thing to do is to treat each puppy as an individual.  Spend time with each pup separately. Leave one in the crate while you take the other for a walk, then switch out the pups. If you’re going to run errands, take just one pup with you. Spend time playing with both of them together, but give each puppy opportunities to have one-on-one time with you and other family members. If you take the pups to a training class, enroll them in different classes, or put space between you when you’re working on behaviors. Make sure the instructor knows they are siblings, so she can watch and alert you to bonded behavior.

Don’t crate your sibling puppies together at night. Each baby should have his own crate, and initially it’s better to crate them where they can’t see one another. At first there will be a lot of fussing, but the babies will become used to it. When they go into their separate crates and remain quiet and unfazed, you can move the crates closer together.

Although called littermate syndrome, the same thing can impact young pups from separate litters raised together. It can also be seen with a younger dog brought into a home with another dog, if you don’t exercise care.

Blue was a handsome Lab I took on a show circuit. At two years of age, he had never spent a night away from his brother. Though I had other friendly dogs with me, Blue pined for Gumbo.

He whined constantly, wouldn’t eat, and was extremely nervous and unhappy. At home, Gumbo behaved in much the same fashion. His owners came and picked him up from me before the circuit was over in order to bring relief to both dogs. By contrast, I have chocolate sisters, Dazzle and Dolce. From the time they were babies I was careful to give them individual attention and socialization. They are the best doggy-friends I have ever seen. However, when I take just one of them somewhere, they are both fine. They greet one another enthusiastically upon our return, but there is no mourning over the absence of the other.

It is very possible to raise two happy, well-adjusted dogs together, if you will spend extra time with each puppy. If you already have a bonded pair, start utilizing these suggestions to put some space in between the two. You and your dogs will enjoy a much closer relationship that is also healthier for them.

 

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.comfor possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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