labrador puppies

Littermate Syndrome

The Siblings

Many experts including trainers, behaviourist, breeders and rescues these days are discouraging people to take on canine siblings.

The question is Why?

Well research produced has suggested that the potential for behavioural issues arising is higher during key development periods in siblings due to their deep routed bond.

This research has concluded that keeping littermates can possibly impede their ability to correctly absorb and understand human and canine communication. Which in turn creates fearfulness, anxiety and the strong almost unbreakable need to be with each other.

Some trainers liken it to human twins, there has been hundreds of studies on twins conducted on identical or fraternal twins. They aim to reveal the importance of environmental and genetic influences for traits, phenotypes, and disorders. Twin studies are part of the broader methodology used in behaviour genetics. These studies have been used to track traits ranging from personal behaviour to the presentation of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.  

The Signs to look for

Insecurity and fearfulness around unfamiliar people, anxiety when separated from each other even briefly, difficulty learning basic obedience skills with the most dangerous and intense behaviour being fighting incessantly.

Dr Ian Dunbar one of the leading Behaviourists in the studies of littermates pointed out “It’s more than twice the work; it’s exponential. The two combines to produce levels of energy that we can barely measure. Tension develops in training and compliance as they squeeze the owner out of the relationship. They’re always living with an enormous distraction—each other.”

They will always be Together

I admire any owners that commits to raising siblings, but this admiration comes with advice and a warning. Should you wish to take on the challenge ensure the puppies spend significant portions of every day apart so that each learns how to be alone.

Which means feeding, training and walking should be done separately if possible.  Separate bedding or crates is always a good thing, if you can put them in different rooms as well. If you attend training classes, then try to split or separate them so that both learn to interact with other dogs without being overly distracted or dependent on each other.

I know that this type of arrangement can be extremely time consuming and exhausting for you as the owner, but it can be a massive leap at this early stage to defeating any future behavioural issues. The fact is if you don’t teach sibling puppies early on how to be alone, it will be catastrophic as the years pass.

Increasing Awareness

Over the years I have seen a growing recognition of the risks of raising siblings from all sectors of the Canine Industry and the word appears to be spreading. The consensus among all canine professionals is that taking on littermates is not worth the risk. Although I have not gone into great deal about the seriousness of the behavioural issues linked to raising siblings, I myself have seen first-hand how devasting this can be on owners and the siblings. I have seen sibling at the point of wanting to kill each other, I have also seen one sibling totally shut down physically and emotionally when separated from his brother.      

Having seen many of these things myself I would personal encourage new owners to simply take on a single puppy and to focus on the training and create that strong bond unique to humans and dogs.

However, that does not mean once your puppy is that little but older you can’t introduce a second puppy. This way they will be at two completely different stages and more importantly they will not be genetically related.