What Is Littermate Syndrome?

The more, the merrier? When it comes to raising siblings from the same litter, that’s not always the case.

What’s better than one puppy? How about two puppies? Many pet parents choose to bring two puppies from the same litter home with them. The idea is that they’ll feel more comfortable in their new home with a brother or sister. They can keep each other company and play with each other when you’re not around. But sometimes, this tactic can backfire on well-meaning pet parents, resulting in behavioral and training challenges. In fact, there’s a name for this problem: littermate syndrome.

What is Littermate Syndrome?

Like most issues, there are two camps of thought on the issue. While some advocate the practice of adopting puppies together, others discourage this practice. Those against it say that puppy siblings may bond so closely with each other that it makes bonding with their human caretakers and other dogs more difficult. It’s important to note that there’s no guarantee two puppies from the same litter will develop behavioral problems associated with littermate syndrome.

Signs of Littermate Syndrome

Because this is a behavioral issue, littermate syndrome can vary in degrees of severity. One of the most common signs of littermate syndrome is fearfulness around people or dogs. This fearfulness can occur when the puppies are together or separated from each other. Because the two puppies have bonded so closely, they don’t know how to interact with other dogs or with humans. In some cases, littermate syndrome makes it incredibly difficult to train the puppies because they don’t respond positively to anyone other than their sibling.

Dealing with Behavioral Problems

Like most behavioral problems in dogs, there are many tactics you can use to prevent and lessen the effects of littermate syndrome. Prevention is always the first step that should be taken, and this starts as soon as you bring the puppies home.

One of the most important things you can do is to ensure that the two puppies spend a significant amount of time apart each and every day. By allowing them to spend all of their time together, the two may become hyper-attached. This leads to feelings of distress if one is separated from the other by even a small distance. Each puppy needs individual time and training; maximize this time apart with separate walks, vet visits and feeding times. Time apart can also include crating/sleeping arrangements, play time and training times. Personal training time should be seen as incredibly important in dealing with littermate syndrome because it encourages your puppies to look to you for direction, not to their sibling.

The longer you wait to deal with littermate syndrome, the more difficult it is going to be, and the more traumatic for the puppies. As soon as the puppies are old enough to begin socialization, every week that goes by makes it harder to remedy the problem.

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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