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Littermate Syndrome – what is it?

You may be thinking how much harder can two puppies be from one puppy? Two puppies will entertain each other, keep each other company, and may even help train each other. However, when two puppies from the same litter or even from different litters but are around the same age are adopted together, the chances of Littermate Syndrome are extremely high.

Littermate Syndrome occurs when two puppies become hyper-bonded. The puppies can become so emotionally dependent upon each another that they have difficulty relating to their humans or other dogs. Learning basic coping mechanisms and picking up on important human–canine communication becomes difficult or impossible for them.

Early signs of Littermate Syndrome can include fearfulness of unfamiliar people and dogs, intense anxiety when separated from each other, even for brief periods, and difficulty learning basic obedience skills. A more long term concern that may develop is non-stop fighting between the dogs. Bullying and aggression between siblings seems to happen more often than between unrelated dogs, and can get nasty. Most canine behaviorists, trainers, breeders and shelters discourage adopting siblings for these reasons.

When people adopt more than one littermate, the puppies usually do not get proper socialization with other dogs and humans. Training two littermates is not just twice the work, but is also more difficult because the puppies are constantly distracting each other.

If you have already brought home two adorable fluffy puppies, you need to work to avoid Littermate Syndrome. Separating your puppies will help with socialization. They need to bond with their humans, not just their sibling.

  1. Train them separately. This means individual sessions to teach basics – sit, stay and come, as well as walks. This teaches the puppies to look to you as the leader and not rely on each other for direction.
  2. Crate them separately. The crates can be near each other initially, but having one puppy per crate helps them learn to be alone. Gradually increase the distance between the crates until they cannot see each other.
  3. Make separate puppy play dates. This teaches the puppies how to play with other puppies their own age and promotes socialization.
  4. Separate trips to the vet.Allowing your veterinarian to get to know the puppies on an individual basis will help with the puppies well-visits. This also allows the puppies to have a more relaxed experience.

Littermate Syndrome isn’t a foregone conclusion for every pair of puppy siblings. Knowledge and commitment of the dogs’ owner to raise two well-socialized, balanced individual dogs is a major factor in avoiding it. However, consider adopting one puppy who is most likely to fit into your lifestyle, and focus on training and socializing that puppy to insure he becomes the best dog he can be. After your puppy has grown into a well-balanced adult then it may be time to think about adding a second canine to the family.

Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.

Check out my Foster Diary here!

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