Adopting a new puppy is always an exhilarating experience. Breeders often suggest taking home two puppies instead of one, but not everyone is equipped to handle the added responsibilities that come with raising littermates. In this blog post, we will explore the phenomenon of littermate syndrome and the behavioral problems that can arise when adopting two puppies from the same litter.

What is Littermate Syndrome?

The term “Littermate Syndrome” is used to describe behavior problems that arise when two or more puppies from the same litter are raised together. These issues can include separation anxiety, fear of new environments or people, and aggressive behavior. Typically, Littermate Syndrome emerges between 8 to 10 weeks of age, which corresponds with the period when the puppies are adopted into new homes.

Not every pair of dog siblings will experience Littermate Syndrome. Dachshunds, Terriers, Border Collies, and Shepherds are often cited as having a high propensity for littermate syndrome. Still, there is no clear scientific evidence that certain breeds experience littermate syndrome more or less than other breeds.

Similar to humans, the psychology and brain chemistry of dogs are complex. Each dog possesses individual characteristics and experiences that shape their perception and adaptation to their surroundings. Although breed may play a role, it should not be the only factor when deciding whether to adopt two siblings of a specific breed. It’s important to note that not all pairs of canine siblings will exhibit signs of littermate syndrome.

In some cases, dog siblings may have bonded in a way that makes sense for them to be raised together. Dog adoption of any kind is a very big and complicated undertaking that is better handled on a situation-by-situation basis. Adopting any dog pair must be done with as much care, thought, and preparation as possible. If you do or already have adopted dogs from the same litter, you must be prepared to put in extra time and training, so your dogs live their best lives.

Common Symptoms of Littermate Syndrome

When two puppies are raised together beyond their first 3 months, they can form a deeply co-dependent relationship that separates them from the outside world. Whenever some new, scary thing presents itself, your dogs retreat to the safety of their bond and fail to grow through their new experiences.

Here are the top 5 most common symptoms of Littermate Syndrome:

  • Difficulty training
  • Fear of strange people and dogs
  • Separation anxiety
  • Poor social skills
  • Extreme codependency

Let’s take a deep dive into each of these symptoms

Difficulty Training

It is crucial to start training with your puppy at any early age, even at 8 weeks old. The earlier, the better. Training two dogs is double the work. You should be extra vigilant about training each pup so they can develop their own independence. Aggression isn’t as common as the others on this list, but it’s definitely the most serious. It’s more common with same-sex littermates and usually arises when there’s a bullying relationship where one dog is dominant over the other. As your littermates age to become full-sized dogs, those aggressive outbursts can become dangerous. It is vital to instill obedience in your dogs to prevent behaviors from going down this path.

Fear of strange people and dogs

When dogs do not understand something, their instincts tell them to fear it. Co-dependent pups tend to not explore the world around them to understand it. As a result, dogs with Littermate Syndrome struggle to accept new surroundings and friends.

Separation anxiety

Extreme co-dependence can result in separation anxiety. This can become so severe that the siblings cannot be walked with a few feet of space between them without a meltdown happening.

Poor social skills

One would think that two puppies who grew up playing together would be great with socialization. However, it isn’t always like that. While they have learned to play with one another, they have not been exposed to playing with other dogs.

Extreme Codependency

The root cause of all problems associated with Littermate Syndrome is extreme codependency. Any time there’s a new, stressful stimulus, your dogs may retreat to the comfort of their relationship, unwilling and unable to deal with anything new.

Does Littermate Syndrome go away?

In short: no. Littermate Syndrome does not go away on it’s own. But the behavioral issues that have developed because of Littermate Syndrome can be addressed and worked on independently. It will take a significant amount of effort on the owner’s part to help your dogs achieve socialization skills and good behavior.

How to Prevent Littermate Syndrome

If you have already adopted two or more puppies, you can reduce the effect of Littermate Syndrome by teaching your dogs to do things separately. It is important to start this as soon as possible. Here are a few ideas to help curb the effect of Littermate Syndrome:

  • Take each dog on a walk separately. This helps them explore new places without having their sibling nearby.
  • Take each dog on a car ride independently. At first, this might be touch for each pup. But soon they will start to associate these car rides with fun places like a hiking trail or baseball game.
  • Play fetch or a game with one dog at a time. The other can be in the crate, another room or playpen.
  • Feed the dogs with separate food bowls. Using the same bowl can create food aggression and that is the last thing an owner needs with multiple dogs.
  • Train your dogs separately. Training them together will take longer and is less effective. You will need to be able to have each dogs undivided attention and be able to reward one pup at a time.
  • Crate train each pup separately.
  • Enroll your dogs into training. Lesson programs are a great option if you are looking to be more involved in the training. Board and train programs are also a good choice, especially if you are looking to have a trainer specifically target certain unwanted behaviors.

This is not to say that you can never interact with both of your dogs at the same time, but the goal is to raise two confident and independent dogs that can succeed and thrive separately and together.

When Do Your Dogs Need Professional Help?

At Off Leash K9 Training, we know it can become overwhelming dedicating extra time and effort to care for your dogs. You can always reach out to our dedicated and knowledgeable team for help. We offer lesson programs that can benefit owners who want to be more involved in training their dogs. We also offer a Board & Train program that any dog, regardless of size, gender and breed can benefit from. Both of these programs can help your dogs develop the necessary obedience and skills needed to live a happy, well-balanced and obedient lifestyle. Give us a call today for a free phone consultation to discuss the best ways to help your dogs!

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