Puppies are undeniably cute and fun, we love their adorable antics, their clumsy ways and how they need us so much in those early days. So why not double the fun and get two of them? As tempting as it can be to take on two puppies, there are many reasons why it’s a terrible idea.
Let’s first think about why you might want two puppies …
They’re so cute and who can resist having two of them?
You only wanted one but now there’s one lonely puppy left in the litter … oh go on, what’s one more?
Two puppies surely means they can keep each other occupied and entertained
Isn’t it so much better for puppies to have another puppy companion?
Your new puppy doesn’t like being alone so why not get another to keep them company
Your puppy has been such a joy, it might be fun to get another and bring them up together
Now you might think these are all valid reasons and they make sense to some extent, if you’re already taking on one puppy, surely having a second at the same time won’t make much difference?
The problem is, it actually does make a huge difference. Perhaps when they’re small and needy, you’re already living on puppy-schedules, toilet routines and sleepless nights, having two seems perfectly doable. However, fast forward a few months and this is when the troubles are likely to really begin.
If you’re thinking two is better than one because they can keep each other company, you need to ask yourself WHY this feels important to you. If it’s because deep down you know you don’t have the time to dedicate to a puppy and having two will relieve you of some guilt or make your life easier in some way, then in all honesty it’s best you think again and put any puppy plans on hold.
Some people get lucky and manage to bring up two puppies together with very few issues, in some cases it can work wonderfully, but on the whole it doesn’t. Most people who get two puppies close together will tell you it really is double the work and often there are more problems to deal with later on. If you want to do it well, you need to put in an awful lot of time and effort, so if having one puppy sounds like hard-work, having two will really ruin your life!
Also consider, most reputable breeders won't sell you two puppies from the same litter. I would be questioning any breeder willing to sell two together.
Littermate syndrome can occur together when two littermates or two puppies of similar age are raised in the same home, the two puppies develop a strong bond and a co-dependence on each other, leading to reduced bonds with their owners and increased risk of problem behaviours.
It’s easy to assume that by having the constant company and interaction of another dog, the puppies will automatically be socialised with other dogs.
In reality, the bond and reliance the puppies develop with each other can hinder their ability to learn about the world around them. They are less likely to be observing their surroundings or learning to interact confidently with other dogs or people.
Interacting constantly with another puppy means social skills aren’t developing properly, the puppies may be practicing inappropriate play which won’t be tolerated by other dogs they meet. Puppies ideally need to learn good social skills from well-mannered adult dogs, with the supervision and help of their owners. Puppies rarely learn good skills from each other, so it’s important they experience controlled interactions with a wide range of suitable dogs.
As the puppies grow up, it can become increasingly noticeable that they’ve had limited positive exposure to the world around them, if they’ve been busy focusing on each other they can quickly be overwhelmed on their own.
Typically, two puppies together will keep each other distracted from truly observing everything they encounter and as they mature they are more likely to be worried by new experiences or feel conflicting emotions around other dogs and people.
Ideally, socialisation should involve a lot of support and communication from the owner, helping the puppy take in information while also always checking back in for guidance. This keeps exploring and learning positive, and avoids the puppy becoming too worried or excited by new experiences, and it teaches the puppy to rely on their owner, setting them up perfectly as they mature.
This is hard to do with two puppies because they will naturally be more focused on each other and their bond with their owner is likely to be weaker.
In order to effectively socialise both puppies, it essentially requires double the work…
Separate walks so each puppy can have their owners undivided attention
Separate trips to experience new places and environments, on their own each puppy can properly take everything in and rely on their owner for support
Walking and socialising them individually allows you to see how both puppies respond, even littermates can vary hugely in their personalities, one may be more confident while the other more timid. This can be hard to see when they’re together but much more noticeable on their own
The Impacts of Littermate Syndrome
You might be thinking why is it really a big deal, what’s so bad about having two dogs who rely on each other?
There are a few typical challenges which can occur when two puppies are raised together …
The puppies can’t cope without each other – you might say it’s not a huge deal since they don’t need to be separated but consider the stress when one needs to go to the vet and the other is left alone.
On a daily basis it can create challenges if one dog is being walked ahead of the other on the lead or for any reason you want to walk them on their own. Suddenly being separated may mean both dogs are very stressed and unable to cope on a walk or at home alone.
Tensions grow between the puppies – conflicts can occur between any dogs living together but it’s often more pronounced in littermates or dogs of a similar age. When both reach adolescence, hormones are raging and changing and this can lead to tensions growing. Sometimes it only takes one fight for the bond to be broken and unrepairable. It’s not unusual to be left with dogs who can no longer coexist.
When they’ve got along great as puppies, it can be a shock when conflicts start to happen and it’s something which rarely resolves on its own. Tensions between dogs are always likely to get worse rather than better, unless you start managing them more carefully. This may mean separating the dogs when eating, not giving high value chews or treats in close proximity, or separating them at high-excitement or stressful moments. This can become very complex if you have two dogs who struggle to be separated from each other but will also fight over resources or when stress/excitement is high.
You become insignificant compared to the bond between them – if the puppies spend a lot of time together, you will be in a constant battle for their attention. When they form a strong bond with each other, it’s hard to counter this and make yourself equal or above what they have together.
Most people choose to get a dog because of the companionship they offer, if your puppies always choose each other over you, it can seriously reduce the enjoyment of having them.
They influence each other’s behaviour in a negative way – each puppy will have their own personality, they could be wildly different or fairly similar, but regardless they will learn a lot from each other. If you have a fearful puppy, they may take confidence from the other if it’s more confident, but equally the confident puppy could become more fearful. If one is barking at things, the other will be likely to join in and learn this behaviour.
The puppies will be influenced by each other, meaning they won’t always make good choices, for example, a fearful puppy may get enticed into situations which it finds scary because it’s following the bolder puppy, this is definitely not a good thing and can create big problems later on.
They spend more time learning from each other than you – when the puppies are following each other and influencing how they respond and react to things, it’s harder for you to support them and teach positive responses from both. It’s dangerous to allow them to learn from each other because more likely than not, it’ll be unwanted behaviours which begin to escalate.
Teaching one dog to walk calmly on the lead and come back reliably is hard enough, so trying to teach these skills to two dogs is near impossible.
They will always be feeding off each other’s behaviour, if one is running over to greet other dogs, the other is likely to join in, if one is pulling ahead on the lead, the other will be trying to keep up … and so on.
While this can be worked on through training, it’s important to teach the skills individually before bringing the dogs together, only once both have a reliable understanding on their own, can you expect them to respond in the same way together. In some cases, it can never work. If you have two dogs who hype each other up or stress each other out, you may never be able to achieve the same control when they’re together. The dynamic between two dogs, especially those who have grown up together and who are closely bonded, can create lifelong issues for some.
Avoiding Littermate Syndrome
To ensure that each puppy develops as an individual, they need to have all the attention and bonding opportunities that a single puppy would have. This means that the puppies spend far more time on their own with dedicated attention from their owners than they spend interacting with each other. It’s not easy and that expectation alone can be enough to put people off having two puppies together.
Separate walks – teaching skills like recall, lead walking and social manners individually
Separate play – play time to encourage bonding with their humans. Time spent playing with people should far outweigh time spent playing with their littermate
Separate training – each puppy will need different training priorities, one may need more support with confidence building, the other may need to learn better impulse control. Separate training is essential so you can see what each puppy needs individually
Separate meals – conflicts can quickly occur if there’s any competition for resources, feeding separately avoids conflict over food and also gives another bonding opportunity between owner and puppy
Separate time – it can’t be underestimated how important it is to teach both dogs to cope on their own. Taking one out and leaving one at home should be a regular occurrence to make sure both can relax without the other
Walking and playing with the puppies separately in the early weeks and months is essential to ensure they bond properly with their owners and are therefore able to learn and focus without relying on each other.
Only once both puppies have a good level of training, and their individual personalities and behaviour traits are well understood, can they start to walk or train together.
For most littermates, it will be a lifelong need that they have a balance of time together and time as individuals. There will always be ups and downs and new challenges to face, especially through the changeable adolescent months, so being prepared to commit to individual time for each dog is the only way to make it work and avoid more problems developing.
Most dog professionals will have experienced the fallout of people bringing up two puppies together and the impacts of littermate syndrome, unfortunately it often ends in heartbreak when the family is forced to choose which dog to keep and which to rehome.
It can be kinder to both dogs in the end and allow them to enjoy their lives as individuals, but it can be avoided right from the start by being aware of the risks of littermate syndrome and either accepting it’s too much to take on, or by being absolutely dedicated from day 1 to bring the puppies up as individuals and put equal time into them both.
Written by Naomi White