Littermates: The Perils of Keeping Two Puppies

When dog owners choose to adopt two puppies from the same litter (or at the same time), I am reminded of this article from CFBA Member Associate, Barbara Sykes.  Very good advice to digest before taking the plunge … I include that I adhere to similar practices when including a single new puppy to my established pack.  I want my puppy to bond with me first – not the other dog! 


The Perils of Keeping Two Puppies


What is the first thing many people say to someone who is pregnant and expecting twins? Oh dear, twice the work and twice the trouble, of course there is always the ‘up’ side of twice the joy. But imagine bringing up a child who cannot speak your language, does not understand your way of life and has a hearing and speech impediment restricting them from ever learning your language fluently. Then imagine those same obstacles but with twins. Pretty  daunting isn’t it?  But this is exactly what happens when you take a puppy into your life and if you were to take two then you really have taken on some work.

A puppy does not understand your language nor your way of life. It will never be able to talk in your language and there will be times when its hearing, which is totally different to ours, will not record some sounds as you intended it to hear them.  So if you were to put yourself in your dog’s shoes for a while and imagine being in a house full of people who you cannot understand and just one other who looks, thinks, and communicates just the same as you. Who are you going to team up with? Who are you going to want to spend your time with, converse with, play with and share quiet moments with?

Quite often people will buy two litter mates, sometimes they can’t decide which to have so they take two, sometimes they take two to keep each other company. If made aware it is not advisable to buy littermates some prospective owners will go out of  their way to buy two puppies of a similar age but from different litters. Why should it be a problem? Communication, or rather lack of it, is one of the biggest setbacks, You may try very hard to communicate but you cannot compete with another dog. It is lovely watching puppies interacting together; I am the first to admit that many an hour can be spent just watching them. But when they are interacting together they are learning how to communicate with each other and if you are not careful you will find yourself ignored at best, and at worst left out of the equation all together.     

Taking a puppy into your home means making sure that each day you have some time to spend with it, quality time. Your pup will begin to look forward to this time with you, and before long each time it sees you it will be wagging its little tail and eagerly awaiting anything you want to offer, be it words, games, education or just a quiet few moments together. But if this puppy has a mate of its own kind why should it look forward to communicating with you? Granted you may have some food for it and you may play games with it but if it is sharing this time with you and another puppy it is not quality time. It is not seeing you as the beginning and the end of everything, it is not reliant on you for companionship, games, interaction and it is not even dependant on you for information on how to behave, for between them the two pups will have already decided how to behave. They will have been familiar with how a pack works when they were in the litter pack, so they will simply continue as they did before only instead of you being in control they will become self appointed pack leaders. You are not expendable, for you feed them and provide whatever they may need but you will not be their main source of information, they will use each other for that.

As difficult as it may be to rear two puppies together prospective owners will often feel they can cope with any problems that may come their way and they are more than willing to take on the extra work. However consideration must be given to  what may happen to the development of the pups in question, for if they were to remain in a canine  pack they would develop into senior active members within  that pack. Each would have a role to play and the name of the game would be survival for the pack. They would learn to develop certain skills, how to interact with others and above all how to listen to and respect senior pack members.

When two puppies leave the familiarity of their mother’s discipline to enter your home they will expect to find similar rules within your pack as mum would have provided. Your home and way of life will be alien to them but they will recognize certain familiar instincts and actions in each other and will respond accordingly. Unfortunately they will not develop their instincts and characters with balance as each one will be playing a single role. One will dominate the other on many occasions and will seem to be the pack leader, but you may find the seemingly introvert one suddenly ceases to be subliminal and surprises you by showing aggression when you least expect it.

It is not surprising if you study them carefully for one will be the obvious strong character, the one who always pushes in front and demands attention often leaving the other sitting timidly on the sideline. The stronger dog is being a bully and is getting away with it, however it may not be a naturally strong dog, dominating a litter mate does not mean it is a tough guy, it means it has learned how to bully. This dog is being allowed to believe it can get away with dominance and it may therefore develop aggression towards other dogs, but it could also become a coward if it is picked on by another dog. The timid dog is nervous of its stronger mate and has been educated to be subliminal to it but this does not mean it will be timid with other dogs, in fact it could be the stronger of the two. But if this dog is naturally timid then the bullying it receives from its mate will make its life an endless nightmare as it will never learn to stand up for itself or to be a proud dog.

The above paragraph shows how the two pups can develop into adults with almost a split personality, they will find it difficult to develop into the mature dogs they should be, each with a strong individual character, as they will not have developed as individuals. Thus one, if not both, can suffer by never knowing what their true role within the pack should be. When two puppies are constantly in need of  attention it is difficult to provide them with individual  stimulation. For example playing with both puppies at once is fine but they are actually playing in a threesome, they will copy from one another instead of working out situations for themselves. Yet if you play first with one and then with the other the second puppy is getting secondhand thoughts and games, for it is  natural to expect puppy number two to react to a situation in the same manner as puppy number one. If the puppies react differently it will give rise for comparisons between the two and may even cause temptation to try and make one react like the other rather than allowing it to develop its own style.

Training must be ongoing, but time should  be allowed to walk them separately to teach them how to behave on a lead, for if not careful they will copy bad habits from one another. Recall also should be taught separately, if not one will follow the other’s lead and they may not go where you want!

Two puppies need to spend time apart. They can play together but not all of the time, they must have this time as a treat and learn not to take it for granted. They need to be taught the recall and then asked to come to you individually, regardless of what the other sibling is doing. The problems are not insurmountable but the relationship with a ‘twinship’ is rarely the same as with the single dog.

To have the best of both worlds it is usually better not to get a second puppy until the first one is well over six months old and certainly not before it is obedient and you are its  best friend.


©Barbara Sykes MCFBA MBIPDT

Mainline Border Collie Centre & TLC Training




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