What Is Littermate Syndrome?

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When you visit a breeder or a rescue operation with the intention of adopting or purchasing a puppy, you may receive the advice that it is better to have two rather than one. The logic behind this advice is that two puppies, especially two from the same litter, will feel more comfortable in the home than if they were adopted alone – ideally, two puppies will also be able to keep each other company and play with each other when you are not able to. What many people do not realize is that bringing home two puppies from the same litter may lead to behavioral problems and other challenges – this is referred to as littermate syndrome.

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Signs of Littermate Syndrome

While adopting two puppies from the same litter may seem like a good idea, a number of trainers, breeders, and animal behaviorists sometimes discourage this practice. Why? Because the puppies may bond so closely with each other that it makes bonding with their human caretakers and other dogs more difficult. It is important to realize, however, that littermate syndrome can be a risk – it is not a guarantee that two puppies adopted from the same litter will develop behavioral problems.

The signs of littermate syndrome vary from one case to another with some cases being more or less severe. One of the most common signs of littermate syndrome is fearfulness around people or other dogs – this may also occur when the two puppies are separated from each other. Because the two puppies have bonded so closely, they do not know how to interact with other dogs or with humans. As a result, unfamiliar people and situations could induce fear. In some cases, littermate syndrome makes it incredibly difficult to train the puppies because they do not respond positively to anyone other than their sibling.

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Dealing with Behavioral Problems

The key to dealing with littermate syndrome is to take preventative steps starting the moment 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. If you allow the two to remain by each other’s side day in and day out, they may become hyper-attached and they will experience extreme distress if one is separate from the other by even a small distance. Even vet visits, walks, and feeding time should be done separately.

The longer you wait to deal with littermate syndrome, the more difficult it is going to be – and the more traumatic for the puppies. It is around week seven that puppies are old enough to begin socialization, so every week (every day, really) that you wait past that mark makes it harder and harder to remedy the situation. You should begin by crating the puppies separately at night (in different rooms, if possible), feeding them separately, and walking them separately. You should also keep them separated during play time and training time. Training is incredibly important in dealing with littermate syndrome because it encourages your puppies to look to you for direction, not to their sibling.

Dealing with littermate syndrome is very difficult, but it can be done. It is also important to note that not every pair of siblings will develop this problem. Even though it’s not a guarantee this will happen, you need to be prepared to take steps in preventing littermate syndrome you so if you plan to adopt two puppies from the same litter.

 


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