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I am not a dog trainer or behaviorist. If you are having issues with your littermates, please contact a professional dog trainer for guidance. Working with a trainer made raising littermates easier for us.

Pondering How We Escaped Littermate Syndrome

When I was researching adopting littermate puppies, all I found were article after article sharing WHY it was a bad idea.  So I asked dog lovers and heard the same thing.  This isn't a good idea.

It only took 2 people being excited about the idea to convince me to go for it.  And, to be honest, I would have done it without their approval.

The idea of not having Sydney or Zoey in our family is depressing.  Our girls add something to my life that I don't want to be without.  I can't quite explain it, but it's there.

I get a lot of emails from people who are contemplating adopting littermates.  Keep the Tail Wagging® seems to be the one blog that shares positive experiences.  The other day, I found myself in a very uncomfortable discussion with someone who is very anti-littermates and was convinced that we were having a terrible time with our dogs.  

I took it all in stride because we've been judged for our choice many times.  Most people back off when they see that you have a genuine love for your dogs and want to see them happy and healthy.

Here are a few of the assumptions she (and others) made about our experience with our dogs…

You Can't Train Littermates Together

You can't train them together, so that has to be expensive – actually, we did train our littermates together.  We hired a private, positive based trainer (who came highly recommended) for Rodrigo and Sydney and it didn't cost much.  I think we paid less than $200 for three 2-hour sessions with our puppies.  PetSmart puppy class is $110 per puppy for six weeks and we share the trainer with other puppies.

Scout and Zoey attended the PetSmart puppy class, which was an amazing experience.  PetSmart was kind enough to cover Scout's class and we covered Zoey's class.

Littermates Fight All the Time

Littermates fight all the time, that has to be so stressful – Rodrigo and Sydney did get into a few scuffles and I blame myself for that; I didn't learn their signals that would tell me that all was not well.  I didn't know that when you leash up dogs for a walk and then chat for 20 minutes before you leave, the dogs will get frustrated and take it out on each other.  I didn't think it was necessary to monitor them when they had chew toys or chew treats.  I learned quickly, I built my confidence where our dogs are concerned, and that solved everything for us. What I learned is that my dogs needed a leader they could trust. Once I showed them “I got this,” they settled down.

Scout and Zoey have never fought.  There have been some growling from Zoey when Scout comes sniffing around her toy or treat, but nothing more.  The adult dogs don't fight with the puppies; there are warnings and corrections, but no fights.

Littermates Only Bond with Eachother

They only bond to each other and not to you, that's got to hurt.  Nope, our dogs are very bonded to us.  I can't be in a room alone unless I close the door and 3 of our dogs know how to open doors.  We spend time alone with our dogs or as a family.  When Rodrigo and Sydney were puppies, J would play with Rodrigo outside, while I played with Sydney inside.  Today, it's always a surprise to see where the dogs slept during the night.  Although they enjoy each other's company (we are a family), they are independent within their family too.

What is Littermate Syndrome?

This is my definition.  Littermate Syndrome is the term used to describe the downside of adopting littermates.  Many breeders, dog trainers, and animal behaviorist believe that littermates…

  • bond more to each other than to the humans in the family; this is a problem should one of the dogs pass on (or need to be rehomed) because the other will never be happy on their own.
  • fight for the role of pack leader all the time; these fights can be violent and dangerous for the dogs and the family, it's also very stressful for all involved.
  • littermates are expensive; many people make the mistake in their logic that two puppies equate to 2x the cost – it's significantly more with toys, food, supplies, vet bills, training and more.

How We Escaped Littermate Syndrome, Twice

I read all the warnings and even stood up to some cyberbullying from a couple of passionate dog trainers out of Oregon.  Although those ladies were awful, they did me one favor and recommended the most amazing dog trainer in Western Washington, Shannon Finch of Animal Kind Training.

That was the first step to our success.  Working with someone who didn't judge us and who saw how much we loved our dogs was amazing.  The only warning she gave us was ‘if the dogs start fighting, call me immediately so that we can get to work.'  We never had to make that call.

How We Addressed Littermate Syndrome

They only bond to each other – we separated Rodrigo and Sydney so that each of them bonded to each of us; this was a lot easier than I expected.  We took them on separate walks, we had separate playtimes, sometimes I'd take one on a ride and leave the other at home.

They will fight for dominance – we got to know their signals and we learned more about how dogs think. The scuffles stopped and the dogs were never left alone with valuable things (favorite toys, chews) because Rodrigo likes to hoard toys and chews.

They can't be trained together – we got a recommendation for a trainer who would train them together (Shannon Finch) and our PetSmart trainer (for Scout and Zoey) only requested that both of us attend training classes because her exercises were for one human / one dog.  We switched off with our puppies during class.

Littermates are expensive – and this is no joke and we feed them raw dog food.  I think one thing we dog lovers forget is that puppies chew on everything; we lost sunglasses, shoes, golf shoes, wallets, a watch, and we still have clothes with holes in them.  We went through dog beds, dog toys, and did you know that herding dogs love to dig holes – especially when they hear a mole underground?

So not only do you need food and the traditional supplies – but you have to account for replacing destroyed things.

Isn't the vet bill just twice, because of two dogs?  Nope.  With 2 dogs, you have twice the chance of unanticipated injuries.  This is why we have pet insurance on all of our dogs.  Life offers no guarantees.  We didn't anticipate arthritis, an attack by a coyote, or a partial cruciate tear.  And then there are the repeated rashes and ear infections prior to transitioning to raw.

This may be how we escaped littermate syndrome twice.  Maybe we just have a way with dogs that helped us succeed with our pack.  Or maybe we were just lucky.  But whatever the case, I think we'll adopt littermates again and again.  It works for us.

If you are considering adopting littermates, sit down and ask yourself if you have the time, the budget, and patience.

  • The first summer that we had Rodrigo and Sydney (Memorial Day through September), we spent over $2,500 in adoption fees, food, supplies, dog training, and vet care (vaccinations, spay and neuter surgeries).
  • Our raw food budget is $250 a month (down from $500 when we first started).
  • And we haven't taken a vacation away – together – from our dogs since we brought them home several years ago because it's hard to find a pet sitter who can handle so many dogs and we don't trust kennels.

It's a huge commitment.  It works for us; it doesn't work for everyone.

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