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I love when readers send me emails about raw feeding and raising littermates. There is so much information online that it's nice that the Internet has provided a venue for all of us to share notes and support one another. Below is an email I received from a new dog owner; I've made minor edits to protect the person's privacy…
“Hi, just wondered if you could give us some advice. We're due to collect 2 working cocker spaniel pups (boy and girl). We have been worried by all the negative advice regarding this but intend to go ahead anyway. If we try and keep them apart during the day in separate rooms/crates how can 1 person [one persons will be home during the day] keep them both occupied? Just wondered if you had experience of this. Also can they be together some of the day, and if so how long would you think is ok? We are just trying to do the best to avoid the dreaded (supposedly) littermate syndrome. Any help on this much appreciated.”
Why People Are Concerned About Littermates
Like many people, I made the choice to adopt littermates on a whim. We adopted Rodrigo first and a few days later, I contacted the rescue to adopt another puppy and they chose the only female in the litter – Sydney. My logic was that they would keep each other company, Rodrigo would have a playmate, and we planned to have two dogs eventually. It wasn't until we made the decision that I began Googling “adopting littermates;” I wanted tips on how to make this go smoothly. All I found were warnings not to adopt littermates.
One of the concerns people have is that the puppies will bond with each other and not with the humans in the family. This bond will make it challenging to train the dogs and the dogs will develop separation anxiety when their sibling is away (vet appointments, for example). We had a hard time finding a puppy class that would welcome littermates – they would only accept one puppy. We finally found a private trainer, Shannon Finch of Animal Kind, who came to our home once a month for 2 months.
When we brought home Scout and Zoey a few years later, the training community had shifted and they were able to attend puppy class together.
Should We Keep Littermates Apart?
When I started Keep the Tail Wagging®, I wanted to share our experience raising littermates. At the time, we had one set and maybe we got lucky, so I wasn't qualified to tell others how to succeed. Today, we have two sets of littermates and while I still may not be qualified to advise people on this choice, I know that our success is due more than to luck. The one thing that we did that I think made raising littermates easier was to work with a dog trainer. And not just once. We went through puppy classes and we actively work on training with our dogs to this day (Rodrigo and Sydney are nearly 10 years old and Scout and Zoey are 6 years old).
If you would have asked me about keeping littermates apart when we adopted Rodrigo and Sydney, I would have told you that the act of separating them was cruel. I still feel this way today. We're already separating the puppy from his home and littermates and putting him or her in a place where she's alone – why not allow them to be with their sibling?
With Rodrigo and Sydney, we allowed them to sleep together in a large kennel until they showed us that they were comfortable sleeping apart (no more puppy piles). They were about four months old when they stopped needing each other for sleep. Scout and Zoey gained their independence at around 10 months old and we think it's because we had two adult dogs in the house that helped speed things along.
We allowed the puppies to play together when they wanted to play together. We only separated them when one puppy was sleeping. If Sydney, for example, was sleeping and Rodrigo was bouncing off the walls, I'd take Rodrigo to another room and play with him. Sometimes my boyfriend and I would take a puppy and play with them separately. When they were small, we did this on opposite sides of a big room until their confidence grew.
We have walked our puppies separately, but rarely. If one of the puppies was sleeping, then one of us would take the other for a walk. Mostly, we walked the puppies together. As adults, we walk the dogs based on their temperament. Rodrigo is reactive and does best on pack walks with friends or solo walks with me. Sydney prefers solo walks too. The younger three dogs are walked together (Scout and Zoey are the littermates and Apollo is our newest family member).
How to Bond with Littermates
We've had littermates for close to ten years and we're very bonded to them. I sleep surrounded by our dogs. They want to be with us all the time. If I'm in the kitchen, at least three dogs are in the kitchen with me. When I go to bed, I have dogs following me to the bedroom. And when I put on my coat and boots, my dogs are at the door, ready to go. We didn't have an issue with our dogs not wanting to bond with us.
There are times when I take the girls for a walk or just the boys. And there are times when I'll take one dog on errands with me. I do this because this is our family dynamic. I don't make choices based on how much DNA our dogs share.
We bond with our littermates the same way people bond with their dogs – we cuddle with them, we play with them, we walk and run with them, we talk to them, and we love them.
If you have littermates (or are contemplating bringing them home), please don't stress about all of the negativity online. If you are prepared for the work that comes with raising littermates and have a reputable dog trainer ready to work with your puppies, then you will be on the right path. However, if you don't have time for littermates or the budget for a professional dog trainer, I do not recommend littermates. It's a tremendous amount of work, the cost is more than expected, and it's about four or five months of chaos as you train two puppies at once.
Read More About Littermates
- Are Your Littermates Fighting?
- Should Dog Owners Keep Their Littermates Apart?
- 22 Reasons Why Raising Littermates Has Rocked
- Serendipitous Saturday | A Letter to the Editor About Littermates
- Positive Perspective on Training Littermates with Fernando Camacho
A great book to read to help you better relate to dogs is Think Like a Dog and Enjoy the Rewards.