What makes littermates so challenging?
We often work with owners who have gotten littermates and they often tell us, "We wish we would have known this before we got the dogs!" Sadly, littermates or two same age puppies being raised together will often demonstrate behavioral problems when they mature. Most professional dog trainers discourage owners from getting two puppies at the same time. Issues we commonly see in littermates:
Separation anxiety - owners of littermates often do not separate them enough. The pups then become extremely anxious if separated from each other. Some pet owners do not see how this is a serious problem until it is too late. There are many situations where dogs will need to be separated for instance for medical procedures, travel or should one dog become ill or die. We have worked with several cases where this happened with a young dog, and the remaining dog exhibited severe stress related behavioral problems.
Aggressive behavior - it can be hard to imagine when pups are young, but when dogs mature, they may not always get along as well as they did when they were young. This is especially common when the pups are the same gender and can be extremely serious in some cases. Usually fighting does not start until the dogs are between the ages of 1-2.
Fearful behavior-because it is so much work to raise two pups, owners are often overwhelmed and have difficulty meeting the dog's socialization needs. Littermates usually end up being undersocialized to people and dogs.
Persistent house soiling - house training requires direct constant supervision when the pup is outside of the crate, this is very difficult to do when there are two puppies.
Training challenges- littermates usually bond more closely to each other than to their owner. They then take cues from each other on how to behave and ignore the owner.
This does not mean that owners of littermate puppies should give up and resign themselves to having dogs with behavioral problem. On the contrary, owners of littermates or two same age pups being raised together need to be prepared to do quite a bit of extra work right away in order to prevent behavioral problems. Some of this "extra work" will include:
- Separating puppies both when they are at home and taking them on separate walks, separate play sessions, crated separately, separate training lessons, so forth.
- Enrolling each pup in training classes- littermates usually need more than just basic training. Ideally the owner is taking each dog to a separate training class.
- Socializing each puppy individually - separately from the other pup - so the pup develops confidence with people, dogs and in new environments.
- Supervising interactions to prevent fights and guide the pups to appropriate play.
- Setting up both separate training opportunities and training opportunities when the pups are together - so the pups will listen when they are together as well as when they are separated.
If you have adult dog littermates and are having problems it is not too late to get help. Guidance from a qualified professional can help you improve your dogs' behavior and quality of life.
Resources on raising littermates:
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