I’ve raised a lot of puppies over the years and have always found this to be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. For some crazy reason, at a very busy time of my life, I thought it would be a good idea to take on three puppies at once. I was training dogs and police officers from the Abu Dhabi Police Department and instructing training courses at the same time when I bought two Belgian Shepherd Malinois puppies. I thought they’d be great company for each other while I was busy with work, and I could train them in between the craziness. A week later I was offered a Labrador puppy who at the time looked like a great prospect as a detection dog. Before I knew it I had three puppies at the same time which wasn’t my original plan.
I was left with the dilemma of figuring out how to manage the puppies around my work commitments. Not for a moment did I even consider the strong bonds they would be building with each other in my absence. I also didn’t think about the separation issues each one of them would have later on when I took them away from their bonded companions for one on one training. Anybody with more than one dog would know all too well how difficult it is to train multiple dogs at once on your own. Everything was going wrong and the puppies were clearly bonding to each other and not me. This was making training sessions ineffective and I also realized that I didn’t really have the time needed to work with each of the dogs. I sadly said goodbye to two of the puppies and kept one.
The realization that I didn’t have time for more than one puppy was actually a blessing in disguise. I’ve since had countless pairs of dogs in for training that have either come from the same litter, or were raised together as puppies. Their owners are bringing their dogs to me for help to deal with some pretty significant behavioural issues that wouldn’t be present if these dogs were raised differently.
I completely understand why somebody would want to raise two puppies together. Their bond from a very young age is wonderful. They can be there for each other as a play mate and for company when you’re away at work. If they need to go into boarding while you’re away on holidays, they’ve got the familiarity of each other’s company to soothe their anxiety. Unfortunately though, in some cases the issues that arise from this extremely close bond can often outweigh the benefits.
These issues are so common they’ve been officially been bundled under the term Littermate Syndrome which refers to problems that arise when siblings are raised in the same household beyond the normal 8-10 weeks. Puppies can become hyper attached to their siblings, unable to cope without the other. One pup often suffers this more than the other. It manifests as frantic, panicked, fearful or even aggressive behaviour when the pups are separated and continues into adulthood. Fighting can become severe and even dangerous as they reach maturity, particularly with same-sex siblings. Sibling pups are also often only socialized with each other. This can lead to aggression or fear towards other dogs.
By the age of 8-10 weeks, pups should be bonding to their human and not to each other if you want to get the most out of their training and to avoid some of these littermate problems.
I’ve had to train two pairs of dogs very recently who had littermate syndrome. One pair were young male and female Rottweilers. Even though the female was smaller, she was the aggressive one and turned on her brother multiple times. Injuries were hard to avoid and one day she tore right through his ear. The other pair I trained were the sweetest Golden Retrievers. These girls were around 8 years old and the family were moving from a rural property into the suburbs so they were with me for training and socializing before the big move. I had to manage their issues closely and separate them frequently. Sadly soon after returning home they were involved in an awful fight which left one of them very badly injured. Management of this pair is ongoing and it would be heartbreaking for everyone involved to separate the dogs after 8 years together.
The best way to manage these situations is to avoid them in the first place. Either raise one puppy at a time, or follow some guidelines that will avoid these issues right from the start.
- You need to give the pups time apart every day. They should be walked separately, played with separately and trained separately. This will also allow you to bond with them separately.
You need them to focus on you, and not each other.
- Don’t crate your pups together.
- Allow them to get used to being home alone without the other pup around.
- At feeding time, make sure they’ve got their own bowls.
- Most importantly, socialize and train each day from the age of 8 weeks onwards.
They need to meet lots of people, adults and kids and other animals.
If this is all too hard, just stick to raising one pup at a time. If you want multiple dogs, wait until one is at least 15-18 months old before introducing another pup but make sure you follow the guidelines to separate them to avoid issues developing.