by Barbara Cannon
When you are considering bringing a new puppy home, it may be tempting to think that two puppies will provide companionship with each other and make life easier for you. Well, think again. You might actually find that raising two puppies together successfully, especially if they are from the same litter, may be more challenging because these puppies could develop a cluster of behavioral issues known as littermate syndrome.
What is Littermate Syndrome?
Littermate syndrome occurs when two dogs close in age (they don’t have to be littermates) develop such a strong attachment to each other that it interferes with their ability to interact and communicate with humans and other dogs in a healthy manner. The puppies become so bonded with each other that they do not bond with their puppy parents and cannot function apart from each other.
What are the signs of littermate syndrome?
First signs can include excessive whining and crying when the two puppies are apart. They experience high anxiety when separated from the other puppy, a condition known as hyper-attachment. They may be unable to do anything alone such as eating or engaging with people or toys. They will have difficulty with basic training because the puppies are so distracted by each other. It’s likely that pups who have littermate playmates will be under socialized, especially with other dogs, and thus develop the issues that go along with a lack of socialization. Puppies can develop fearful tendencies with new people, dogs, and situations. In worst case scenarios, littermates may become aggressive and attack each other. Aggression between housemates is more common between puppies adopted together than with unrelated dogs adopted at different times.
Is there hope?
So is having two littermates always a bad situation? The answer is no. Some dogs do not develop these behaviors. Some research has suggested that having an older dog already in the household can be a stabilizing influence for young pups. However, it’s important to understand that to successfully raise two littermates, the work is more than double. Well known dog behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar says this: “It’s more than twice the work. It’s exponential. The two combine to produce levels of energy that we can barely measure. Tension develops in training and compliance as they squeeze the human out of the relationship. They are always living with an enormous distraction: each other.”
So what should you do?
To help avoid littermate syndrome or stop early attachment there are a few things you can do.
Gradually separate your dogs. Make sure you have a crate for each puppy and slowly space them farther apart until they are in separate rooms. Feed them in separate rooms, take them out to potty individually, and train them separately. Treat each of them as if they are the only dog in the house.
Socialize them with other dogs. Take each of them out for separate play sessions with other puppies. Use treats and rewards for pups that remain calm when left behind.
Allow puppy time together. While keeping separate training times and walks, do allow your pups to play together and have a normal relationship, much like you would with a dog in the neighborhood. You want your puppies to learn to get along.
Having two pups in the house can be a lot of work but it can also be a joyful experience. As an owner of littermates or pups of a close age, your involvement is key to help each of these puppies become a confident, well adjusted member of your family.