Not all siblings get along writes Justine Shone.
“Littermate puppies can quickly become attached and unable to cope without the presence of the other puppy”
Littermate syndrome occurs when two puppies from the same litter living together develop such a strong attachment to each other that it interferes with their ability to interact in a normal manner with people, other dogs, or any situation where they are not together.
It is important people know about this information and are informed before deciding to get two puppies from the same litter. In some cases, this can work out perfectly fine. The idea of adopting littermate puppies can seem an adorable and fun idea. They will play with each other; keep each other company and they are guaranteed to get along and make life easier. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and you should think twice about adopting littermate puppies.
Littermate syndrome can affect dogs of any breed and it may also affect unrelated puppies who are adopted at the same time and raised together. Training and socialising and caring for two young puppies can be more difficult than one can imagine.
Littermate puppies can quickly become attached and unable to cope without the presence of the other puppy. Often one pup suffers from this more than the other puppy. If this happens, you will see frantic, panicked, fearful, or even aggressive behaviour when the pups are separated. Littermate syndrome may even cause inter-dog aggression, especially among the same sex siblings. Fighting can become severe and even dangerous as they reach maturity. Because many sibling pups are only socialised with each other, they may also develop aggression or fear towards other dogs.
The signs of littermate syndrome
This can include excessive crying, whining, and destructive behaviour when siblings are separated from each other, as well as lack of interest in playing or interacting with other people or pets in the household, fear of unfamiliar people, places, or noises. Puppies may avoid interactions with new people, become very still and quiet when people approach them, bark growl, and snap when presented with new situations. They may have high anxiety when separated from the other puppy, the siblings may whine, bark, pace, pant, or exhibit destructive behaviour when they are separated from their littermate. They may have the unwillingness to eat alone. Puppies experiencing littermate syndrome may only want to eat if their siblings are present. You may find it difficult with your basic training with two puppies from the same litter and this could take longer than expected because puppies are so distracted by one another.
Most commonly puppies can develop separation anxiety due to hyper attachment because puppies with littermate syndrome dominate each other’s attention. Your puppies may fail to learn how to communicate, play and socialise with other dogs. Over time this can result in fear and aggression when exposed to other dogs.
Gradually separate your pups, use separate crates, slowly spaced farther apart until they are no longer in site, feed them in separate rooms, take them outside at different times and practice your training separately.
Socialise them each with other dogs, also take them for separate play sessions with other pups, as your puppies adjust to their new normal, use treats and praise for staying calm when they are apart from each other.
It is also important for your littermate puppies to spend some supervised time together. Although you should maintain separate training, play sessions, and walks with your puppies. You will also want to take some time for them to play together to help your puppies to bond nicely for their future well-being.
If you are considering adopting two puppies at the same time it is important to consider the challenges that may come along with this decision, so that you can devote the time and energy to positive reinforcement training. Remember that both puppies are individuals, they have unique personalities, they may be motivated differently, and may have different energy levels and characters. Bond with your puppies individually so they can focus on you and you solely without your puppies just relying on each other. The easiest way to prevent littermate syndrome in puppies is not to adopt two puppies at the same time.
Pullquote: “Littermate puppies can quickly become attached and unable to cope without the presence of the other puppy”
Justine Shone is a dog behaviourist and can be found at JP Holistic Nutrition