May 29, 2019
What’s better than one puppy? How about two puppies? NOPE.🛑❌
The thought is that they’ll feel more comfortable in their new home with a brother or sister. They can keep each other company and play with each other when you’re not around. But sometimes, this can backfire on dog owners, resulting in behavioral challenges. The name for this problem: Littermate Syndrome
Many reputable shelters and breeders will refuse to place two littermates in the same household. The reason, according to professional dog trainer Jeff Stallings:
“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.”
Like just about every other subject in the world, there are two schools of thought on the issue. Some advocate for the practice of buying puppies together, others discourage it. Those against it say that puppy siblings could bond so closely with each other that it makes bonding with other family members and other dogs more difficult. The phenomenon, known as littermate syndrome, doesn’t occur in every single pair of littermates who are raised in the same home. However, it happens often enough that experts in canine behavior and the human-canine bond advise against bringing home siblings.
Because this is behavioral, littermate syndrome can vary depending on the dogs and how their owners handle it. One of the most common signs of littermate syndrome is fearfulness around people or dogs. This fearfulness can show when the pups are together or separate from each other. Due to the strong bond that these pups form, they don’t know how to interact with other dogs or with humans. There are even times that littermate syndrome makes it incredibly difficult to train the puppies because they don’t respond positively to anyone other than each other.
At times, littermate syndrome can take the form of non-stop fighting between the siblings. Bullying and aggression between siblings seems to happen more often than between unrelated dogs, and it can get nasty. Many well-intentioned dog owners have terrible tales to tell about the harm caused to one sibling by the other. Shelters have stories as well of pairs (or one of a pair) being returned because the owner feared for the well-being of the sibling being bullied.
Nicole Wilde, canine behavior expert and author of “Don’t Leave Me!” believes the separation anxiety between littermates is the result of hyper-attachment, which is also what interferes with the puppies’ ability to be properly socialized.
“People assume that having two same-age pups who play together and interact constantly covers their dog-dog socialization needs,” Wilde told Stallings, “but they in fact don’t learn how other [dogs] play and have no idea about social skills with other puppies, adolescents or adult dogs."
“Perhaps one puppy is a bit of a bully, which his littermate puts up with,” Wilde continued, “but his rude behavior might not be tolerated by a new dog in a new setting.”
Many canine behavior experts feel it’s best to rehome one of the siblings when a pair is showing early signs of littermate syndrome, so that both puppies have the opportunity to grow separately into stable, balanced adults.
Since this can be a difficult time for the original owners, it’s often easier to have prospective new owners meet both puppies and decide which one to take.
Like most behaviors, there are many ways that you can prevent or lessen the effects of littermate syndrome. Prevention is always the first step that should be taken, and this starts as soon as you bring the puppies home.
The longer you wait to deal with littermate syndrome, the more difficult it is going to be, and the more traumatic for the puppies. As soon as they are old enough to begin socialization, every week that goes by makes it more difficult to fix the issue.