Littermate Syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs when you get two young dogs at the same time.
They don’t have to be actual littermates, but just dogs who grow up together at the same time, in the same house.
Puppies need 8-10 weeks with their mother and littermates to learn vital information. They learn how to play, how to make friends, how to give corrections, and how to accept them. Once they’ve learned these skills, they go off to their new home to bond with their new family.
But what if that new family includes another puppy? Puppies love to play every waking minute, and nothing is more fun than another puppy. Your new additions will have more fun interacting with each other than they do with you, and that is a recipe for disaster.
Those critical first months home should be filled with fun interaction with you and your family. Any dog interactions should be with neutral, safe adult dogs, or occasional play sessions with other puppies. You should be the center of your dog’s universe, and not any other dogs.
In addition to learning to love dogs more than you, your puppies learn to be very co-dependent on each other. If they are together for the majority of the time, it will create major stress down the road when they are separated. This will make boarding tough, make groomer trips a nightmare, and make the vet an extremely unpleasant prospect.
Believe it or not, littermate syndrome can also lead to very serious aggression problems. Because the puppies don’t get enough time apart, their fuses get shorter and shorter. It isn’t uncommon for me to get a call from people who had two puppies who got along until 6 months or so. Upon hitting a more mature age, these puppies start fighting, and fighting badly. Due to the reasons listed above, this is also a very challenging thing to stop once it starts.
But I Already Have Two Puppies!
Littermate syndrome doesn’t have to be an absolute thing for your puppies. There are some key things that you need to do to ensure that you avoid fallout from raising two puppies together.
-Give your puppies regular time apart from each other, both in the house and outside. Keep crates far apart, and do potty trips separate.
-Walk the puppies separately, and do any socialization or field trips separate as well. A nervous puppy can gain false confidence from a more confident puppy, or it could backfire the other way. Dogs are all individuals, and need individual training time.
-Make sure that both puppies get lots of mental and physical stimulation. Playing with each other doesn’t count.
-Hand feed your puppies for training until they are at least 6 months old. This will build tons of motivation to work with you and interact with you.
-Make separate vet trips and groomer trips, or alternatively have each family member handle a different dog.
-If you notice any of the behavior issues discussed above, contact a trainer ASAP to address the problems.
Littermate syndrome can cause you a lot of grief, but it doesn’t have to.
Set your puppies up for success, and be prepared for the serious commitment that it takes to raise both puppies correctly.