It's best to have one puppy at a time otherwise it can lead to disastrous consequences, as Stan Rawlinson explains

More owners and trainers than ever before are today purchasing siblings from the same litter. The old dogmen knew the pitfalls and problems that could occur as a result, however, this knowledge now appears to have been lost by many of today’s dog owners, with devastating consequences for both dogs and their new families.

This trend has become more apparent with gundogs, too. Many amateur and some professional breeders and trainers hold back a number of potentially good dogs from the litter. The experienced trainers will kennel and train these separately, so as not to have the problems I am about to describe.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the facilities or indeed the time to do this. I believe that you should not take on a second puppy until the first one is almost mature – irrespective of breed, same litter or sex.

On the surface, the idea of taking on two young dogs appears to be highly commendable. With the busy lifestyles we now lead, it would seem feasible to take on two puppies. They could stimulate each other and keep each other company, hopefully alleviating any separation anxiety and other concerns a lone youngster may have. They can also imitate the good characteristics each has and will be able to do everything together, therefore benefiting from that closeness and companionship, allowing them to glean untold pleasure from each other’s company. Sounds fantastic. Unfortunately, the reality is far from this ideal.

The puppies come to rely on each other and it weakens both of them, often to the extent that they become withdrawn from everything other than themselves. I call this littermate syndrome. The puppies can come to fear other dogs, people and any situation where they are separated from each other. The stress this causes can often spill over into aggression against each other, culminating in fighting (in some cases causing serious injury) or even death. Strangely enough, the worst fights are often between bitches, who will fight to the death. Males, on the other hand, tend to fight until one shows submission. With puppies that are reared together, you will find that one will often be timid and the other appear quite bold on the surface. In reality, however, that is a sham, and it is a bully, and, like all bullies, will collapse if seriously challenged.

Aggressive behaviour
Though nothing is set in stone, bringing dogs together with too many similarities (for example, age, size, sex, temperament and breed) can spark conflict. So many related characteristics make it difficult for the dogs to distinguish who is the alpha or top dog and fights can occur because of this.

Often, humans can inadvertently cause the conflict. For instance, owners can disturb the hierarchical balance by rushing to protect the would-be subordinate animal from being bullied, granting the dog its liberties, such as being petted first, which the other dog may consider unfair. The lower dog may now feel emboldened enough to challenge the other. Owners need to understand that dogs have their own set of social rules, whereas humans want democracy.

Two choices
In my mind, owners have two choices with siblings or two young dogs from different litters. While I believe the first solution of re-homing is the most practicable, I am also aware it is the hardest and most difficult for owners. If you decide to choose this option, you can home one of the dogs with another family member or a trusted friend. You will see dramatic improvements in the personalities of both puppies almost immediately.

Be aware that the longer you delay, the harder it will be to part with one of your puppies. It is a difficult and agonising decision to make. However, in the long run, it is in yours and ultimately both your dogs’ best interest. Your second choice is to create two individual dogs, with two separate identities and personalities. To do this you will need to work twice as hard, and all the things they did together will need to be done apart.

Everything the dogs do must be done independently to allow the youngsters to have any chance of becoming separate entities. You must:

  • Walk them separately
  • Feed them separately
  • Train them separately
  • House them separately
  • Play with them separately

This regime will not have to be for life as the puppies will, after a period of about 12 to 14 months, have formed their own personalities and temperaments. Hopefully, after this time, they will have become confident of their own individual abilities and won’t have developed total dependence on each other. Without total reliance on their sibling for constant support, they should grow into rounded and less aggressive and fearful individuals.

I cannot stress how important it is to separate the youngsters until they are older. It will produce two individuals rather than an impaired two parts of the whole. But is not only siblings that can experience these problems. Raising two puppies from different litters or breeds can also create similar problems.

Introduction process

I am often asked when is the best time and age to introduce a second youngster to the family. I always recommend my clients to wait until their dog is at least 14 months old before purchasing another puppy, and sometimes older if it is a large breed as they mature later. This then allows you to concentrate all of your efforts on that individual and hopefully it will take on some of the good traits of the older and more experienced dog. However, be aware that even this can have its pitfalls.

It is too easy to keep the new puppy in the company of the older dog, depriving it of the opportunity to develop self-confidence of its own without reliance on the older dog’s protection. You must train them and occasionally walk them separately, keep them apart at certain times of the day so that over-reliance does not occur.

When you first introduce them, do so in a neutral place – not in your garden or house, or the place where you normally walk your dog – but in a field, park or garden which is new to both animals. It is better that they meet outside, then neither should feel cornered or enclosed. Both dogs should be on a lead. If your current dog is obedience-trained, put it in a down position. Allow the dogs to sniff one another, encourage play and discourage all aggression.

Should your new dog show anxiety or aggression, take the introduction slow and easy. Let the dog realise your existing dog is no threat, do not force the situation and allow the older dog to come and sniff the youngster. Hopefully, it should learn to trust the established dog by realising that it is not going to attack it, and your established dog should learn that the new puppy is acting either submissively or in a friendly manner towards it. This fosters trust among the two animals.

If the dogs want to play, let them. In fact, encourage them, and do not interfere unless you feel you must. If you are in a secure area, you can let both dogs off the lead at this time.

I think what annoys me the most are breeders that sell siblings and, in some cases, actually use emotional blackmail to push two puppies. I have no respect for a breeder that uses these tactics or that sell littermates to one owner. If they are an experienced breeder, then they will be well aware of the pitfalls of these actions and that the dogs and the new owners will be likely to suffer as a consequence.

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  • Judith

    I have two litter sister springer spaniels. They have totally different personalities, neither is aggressive with us or strangers and both will happily walk down a busy street and not bother about people or other dogs. One is perhaps a little timid but with a little encouragement from me she is fine. They are independent from each other, despite being brought up in the same house, in the same dog bed and with the same rules. I feel not all litter mates should be tarred with the same brush that is described, but instead take each individual dog at face value and work on their strengths. If litter mates are brought up with one master, one boss and with the same rules, then you shouldn’t have many problems.

  • KB

    Really?