Littermate Syndrome

I love puppies!  I absolutely LOVE puppies.  In some ways, I
LIVE for puppies.  I have made a career out of puppy and dog
training for the past 25 years.

I even love being smothered at the bottom of a litter of
delightful, lovable puppy pile.

When my breeder friends breed a litter of literally any kind of
puppy, I am one of the first to beg to come and play with them at
all life stages.

I love everything from bottle feeding, to building obstacle
courses, and taking puppies out to socialize.

I have even worked with a couple of Assistance Dog organizations
that raised numerous litters of puppies.  Teaching puppies new and
exciting things is thrilling and rewarding.

What I don’t love is the idea of inexperienced humans and pet
owners adopting or buying littermates or two or more puppies.


Why on earth would I not want two puppies to be adopted or sold

Because it compounds the difficulty and investment of raising a
good canine companion exponentially!  A good breeder also would
not want you to take littermates, they have seen the carnage.  A
good dog trainer will also dissuade you… it may give us extra
work but it isn’t worth it to our clients.

When I was a child, I wanted two dogs.  My mom allowed us to
have one Chow Chow but as a human that loved animals I wanted two
dogs.  My mother’s excuse was always that if we had two dogs,
that they would bond to one another and not to us as a family.

At the time, I was angry and I thought my mother was making
excuses.  And, in some ways I think that she was 😉,
but interestingly after 25 years of experience of watching the
dynamics of (littermates specifically) she was partially right.

As an adult, I have almost always had two to three dogs in my
home as pets.  Most often they have been spaced a few months apart
and therefore we (my human family and I) have had an opportunity to
spend time with and bond with those puppies.

Littermates, however, spend 90% of their time or more spending
time bonding with each other.

These littermates then become dependent on one another for
almost literally EVERYTHING.  After a short period of time they
literally think they can’t function without one another.  This
is called “littermate syndrome.”

Be sure to get them separate crates.  I might even consider
crating in different rooms to give them more independent.  I like
plastic crates because they are darker and more den like.  Check
them out here,
these are even airline approved

Dispelling the Myths

First off, before the hate mail piles in; no scenario is 100%
full proof.  There are people out there who mutt-led through the
puppy stage and their puppies did alright.  There are even people
out there who think their puppies are better off together. 
However, I would argue that last point.

2 Puppies are Easier to Train

You may think that you will have to spend less time by adopting
littermates, but nothing is further from the truth.

Many people think that it will only double their work load, but
unfortunately, they are wrong it is probably ten times more

Following one puppy around and making sure that they get outside
and potty appropriately, every 2 hours, after meals, after
drinking, after playing, and after sleeping is maddening with one
puppy.  Now try keeping an eye on TWO puppies.  You may think
that they will just go potty at the same time, but they

They will gain bladder control at different times.  Their
bladders will fill at different times and they will consume
different amounts of food and water, even if you try and control
it.  One puppy will wake before the other and begin playing with
the other before you can catch them and get them outside.

And, when one has a potty training accident in the house, even
if the other was doing really well, they are both likely to
backslide.  Plus, you will have two potty training accidents to
clean up.

And, that is just “potty training”, imagine for a moment,
trying to teach competing puppies to do “down stays”?

Puppies are like toddlers, they are sweet and kind, but they
have short attention spans and they often compete with one another
for everything that they get.  And, if one gets something the
other doesn’t there is likely to be a temper tantrum.

Just training two puppies efficiently requires separating
them.  And, most dog owners complain that whichever puppy is not
being worked is SCREAMING in his or her crate, or outside or from
another room.

All of these things are much easier if you have an adult dog, or
even an older puppy that has already worked through them by

For instance I once had puppies that were about 6 months apart,
but by the time I brought puppy number two home, puppy number one
knew most of her obedience, was potty trained, and happily crate
trained.  She had also already bonded well with me because I had
devoted this time to her.

Certainly, they got into a bit more trouble and required a
little more time because they were both young together but it was
nothing like having two puppies the same age, or littermates, or
siblings without training.

Siblings are Easier to socialize?

The truth is often the opposite.

Think about it, they have each other, why would they need to let
someone else into “their pack”?  This is often seen as they
grow and reach sexual maturity (around a year to 2 old) even if
they are spayed or neutered.

You often also end up with one very dominant littermate and one
more submissive littermate and neither is typically good for the

Studies have been done on lots of human twins (slightly
different than “littermates” of course).

But when raised together there is often a very dominant twin, or
the outgoing twin and the submissive twin.  The dominant twin
handles all life’s complex behaviors while the submissive twin
follows.  This certainly isn’t the greatest situation if the
dominant twin or dominant puppy can’t have life the way he wants,
or if the submissive puppy has to make decisions or spend anytime

Twin Escalation Syndrome is an actual
“syndrome” seen in human twins, that I believe can also be seen
with sibling
dogs or littermates

This behavior is characterized by misbehavior tantrums that can
exponentially escalate between the two siblings.  In this case,
both twins or littermates are trying to be the dominant and one
puppy’s bad behavior escalates to the second puppy throwing an
even bigger fit to get the attention.  As with humans, I believe
that this back and forth in bad behavior can degenerate quickly
until the behaviors are unbearable.

Eventually, children can be reasoned with, however we can never
communicate with our dogs in the exact same way because they
don’t speak our language.

Like mentioned before, this makes for more than double the work
in a normal situation, if you end up with two puppies or even two
adult littermates who are constantly vying to out due one another
with negative behavior, you will end up miserable.

It is recommended to separate twins or littermates with this
problem, to employ distraction, and try to reduce competition
(which is much more difficult in dogs because, of course they
cannot be sat down and reasoned with).  Dogs are often very
competitive mammals.

As with any bad behavior, remain calm.  Some of these dogs will
feed off of your anger or the escalation in the situation.

Dogs often don’t understand “human anger” but they do
realize that their human doesn’t look or act the same so they
feed off this energy with more often than not negative or excited
energy.  As hard as it is to remain calm it is essential for your
sanity, eventually.

I am a big believer that dogs mirror our behavior, when we are
calm they tend to be more calm, when we are upset, angry or sad
they don’t recognize our pheromones and can act out in an attempt
to make us feel better.  Try not to put your dog in that

Recently I was in a car accident, and my dog recognized that
something was just “wrong”.  She wanted to nest on top of me
and pounce my kidneys for a week (not exactly conducive to
healing).  However, in this situation, as with some mourning and
loss situations our out of our control.  I felt horrible, but I
still felt bad that my behavior was causing my dog distress. 
Remember that trying to control our behaviors and mental states is
best for them and us!

Littermates will Learn From Each Other

This one is a double edged sword, because it is both true and
false at the same time.

Yes, littermates will learn from each other, but often they are
imparting negative behaviors and sharing shenanigans

They will eat your carpets or walls together, they will dig up
your flower bed, or they will dig under your fence together; but
rarely will they learn what we consider good behavior from one

Dogs are dogs, and dogs have a different guideline of rules and
ethics and codes that they follow that has simply nothing to do
with humans.

Dogs do things that are fun and feel good.

Lying still for hours, avoiding chewing naughty objects, and not
playing too hard don’t even enter into their thought process.

They are going to do things that feel good to them as dogs, like
stealing food and shredding your underwear, or chasing the cat

Littermates will Entertain Each Other

This one is probably true most of the time, but it isn’t
always healthy.

Dogs need to learn to be independent to be successful in

Imagine NEVER leaving your mother or your husband, or wife?

Having some alone time is crucial to any animal or human’s

Yes, they can play together and they should play together but
they should learn that they can also play alone or play with just

We recently had one of two littermates in our veterinary clinic
to be tested for a very specific disease.

Financially two Siblings Isn’t Much More than One

Siblings Always Love Each Other

Often times the worst dog fights and aggression I have ever seen
is from littermates.  Sibling rivalry is a very real and very
deadly condition.

Once dogs reach sexual maturity (even if you spay or neuter
them), they can often retaliate about who can be in charge.  Of
course staying sexually intact makes this much worse, but I have
also seen littermates that go from being best friends to wanting to
kill one another at the sight of each other.

Think about it… twins can also suffer from a form of this; the
difference is that most twins only work through some resentment
issues and few if any become homicidal.  How would you like to
have to share EVERYTHING??

There were times I didn’t want to share with my older sister
and vice versa, but thankfully we had a few years between us so the
resentment was a bit less.  I didn’t have to share all my
clothes, all my toys, all my food, and all of my attention.

Littermates are expected to do all of that, and sometimes their
beds.  Some people even make the mistake of kenneling their
sibling dogs together.  This means, they literally never get a
break from each other.

Can you imagine getting frustrated or even angry at a person or
even your significant other that you literally never got a break
from?  Either you would form an unhealthy dependent relationship,
or you would likely form unhealthy anger and aggression.  Neither
are healthy, of course! 
Healthy Pet
also published an article on littermate

But, often these cases need the assistance of a boarded
veterinary behaviorist after one or the other has incurred numerous
fights and stitches.

I had a potential client who heard me talking about being a
trainer at a restaurant last week, he followed his story about
sibling German Shepherd Dogs with photos of the bloody mayhem and
that one dog had lost an ear.  This had been the latest of half a
dozen dog fights.  Both were 2 years old and of course got along
fabulously occasionally.

The truth is, few dogs fight 100% of the time.  There are a few
dogs that will do anything they can to get to one another, with the
desire to kill the other.  But most dogs will get along the
majority of the time, until they don’t.  It is still not healthy
and can still end with the death of one of the dogs.

Because he was in denial about needing to separate these dogs
until they were evaluated, put on a behavior modification program,
under go basic obedience through advanced obedience, and consider
medications to help ease the process; I referred him to a boarded
veterinary behaviorist at the closest veterinary medical

Sure, there are success stories out there.  I know of people
who have littermates who have been able to handle some of these
problems as they arise, but most people do not have the time or
inclination to deal with the carnage of two pups at one time.

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Source: FS – TheDogTrainingSecret
Littermate Syndrome