Two Puppies? Littermate Syndrome

Raising Littermates

By Sally Bradbury

If you are considering buying two puppies together or if you already have a puppy and are considering getting another, please read this first.

Littermate Syndrome (LMS) is a collection of symptoms that can occur together when two littermates or two puppies of similar age are raised in the same home. Precautions must be taken to minimise or prevent these symptoms from occurring.

Where one puppy would be bonding with his new human at 8–12 weeks old, two puppies that stay together are continuing to bond with each other, to the exclusion of the new person in their lives.

Ensuring that each pup develops separately would require two dedicated people to take a puppy each and give them the attention and bonding opportunities that a single pup would have.

This means that in the early days, each pup spends ALL of their time with a person and only a limited amount of time with the other pup.

This includes:

  • Co-sleeping with their person
  • Separate walks
  • Separate play
  • Separate training
  • Separate meals

It is recommended to walk and play with the pups separately during this bonding period. Occasionally walk and play together so that both pups learn to be attentive to their person with the distraction of each other.

I have two pairs of siblings. The only reason we got two puppies at the same time from the same litter is that we both wanted a pup from that litter. (We compete in agility.) Three years later, the same happened again.

In order to prevent problems associated with LMS, we made sacrifices and put in a lot of work.


First of all, we collected one puppy from the breeder and left the other one for six days so that they were totally separated for that time.

When we brought the second puppy home, another week passed before they met again.

Hubby and I slept separately with a puppy each. The pups didn’t see each other during night-time toilet trips and early mornings. Nor did we.

Both of us spent lots of time training, playing, and bonding with our pup. Then both of us spent lots of time training, playing, and bonding with them both. So everything they could do individually, they could also do together, without being distracted by each other.

Mostly, they were walked separately up to about nine months old.

I usually recommend this sort of separation for up to a year to ensure that you have two separate dogs responding to you when you do walk them together. Not two halves of a whole.

I have seen many heart-breaking cases of LMS in my professional career. I have helped with re-homing a fair few halves of pairs as well, with ages ranging between eight weeks and 18 months.

Problems I have seen include:

  • Dogs that scream when they are apart and fight when together
  • Pairs that are totally oblivious to their humans. One pair even ran into their owner when they were playing and broke her leg
  • Others, where one pup has developed normally and the other is dysfunctional

Once this has developed, it is very difficult to turn it around because some things can only be learned in puppyhood. The dogs need to be separated to have any chance at rehab, but often one or both simply cannot function without the other one so it’s a Catch 22.

Obviously, even though I’ve done it, I don’t recommend it unless there are two dedicated and experienced adults that are going to raise them.

Double Trouble – Two Puppies at Once?

By Emma Judson

Hopefully you are reading this before buying any puppies at all and are only considering having two puppies at the same time, possibly littermates.

STOP! Sit back down. Hold your horses. Wait a second.

Raising two puppies at once is one of those things that one or two people, someone you’ve heard of, maybe a family member, did and got lucky. We will come back to these people later!

Believe me, for the rest of you, it’s a slippery slope to a nightmare and a catastrophe and a wholly unenjoyable puppy/dog owning experience.

First, ask yourself why two puppies seem a better idea than one puppy?

The top answer is because ‘two will keep each other company’. Now, ask yourself why you need them to keep each other company? Would that be because you aren’t going to be there so much?

If the answer is yes, then honestly, you don’t have the time for one puppy. Not without making some other arrangements such as a puppysitter, a doggy daycare or crèche, a family member minding the pup during the day, or being able to take the puppy into work with you.

If none of the above can be done, then either wait until it can, or consider an older dog who can cope with being left. Dog ownership is a privilege for those who have the time, money, and patience. Not a right for those who plain ‘want’.

Next top answers will be ‘because they are cute/because the kids wanted one each/because we couldn’t split them up/because we couldn’t choose between them/because the breeder offered us a discount if we took two’.

Puppies only look cute because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t put up with the horrible things they do. Puppies are not really cute at all. Stop thinking about cute. It baffles your brain, and you forget the important things in life. Cute is a survival mechanism. It’s there to trick you. Ignore it! Puppies are incontinent, puppies bite, and they bite hard. Puppies make extremely loud noises and demand and need your attention 24 hours a day. Puppies are extremely expensive, tiring and will eat your most expensive stuff, rip up your carpets and sofa, and drag your shoes out into the yard to bury them. They make the neighbours hate you. Make you sleep deprived.
Make you stand in poo or wee. Puppies are not cute!

What kids want, while sometimes important, is not important when it comes to ‘I want a puppy’. Yes, sure they want a puppy. Next week, they will want to swap it for a games console. The week after, they want a skateboard. I have nothing against kids. I was one. But what kids want when it comes to cutesy things is not a reason to commit to 12+ years of dog ownership.

Splitting puppies up is good for them. If they are together, puppies only practise being puppies, and I will get on to what that really means in a moment. Puppies do not learn how to be nice sensible adult dogs from other puppies, just like toddlers do not learn how to be quantum physicists from other toddlers. They learn this from adults.

In any given ‘wild’ situation, baby animals of sociable species split up as they hit adolescence. Between ‘baby animal’ stage and ‘adolescent’ stage, they mix with a wide range of other ages of animal of their species. From similar aged animals to old ones, and from nice ones to crabby ones, and everything in between. When everyone in their social group is fed up with them, they go on their merry way to seek their fortunes in the big, wide world. Occasionally, some buddy up for a while through choice. A choice made as adolescents and adults.

In your home, there is no choice. They are stuck there. Permanently. In a tiny space. Those pups have grown up only with each other, rather than with other adult dogs, aunties, uncles, and cousins, who would have taught them all manner of things. Who is to say whether they will still love each other through adolescence and choose to stick together, or whether they will hate one another with a vengeance and fight to the death? Certainly not you or me. And do you want to live with the possibility that this will happen, and you will have to choose between your beloved pets? Or live with the fear that, one day, someone will leave a door open and Fluffy will rip Precious’ head off? Or that King and Prince will fight, and your toddler will get in the middle of it and get hurt?

Believe me, splitting up puppies at eight weeks is as easy as anything compared with the horror of discovering one of your dogs wants to kill the other.

If you can’t choose, toss a coin, let the breeder choose, or go for a walk and think about it for a little while longer. You will find a way of choosing.

You have made harder choices before in your life and you will probably come across harder ones again in the future.

And finally – because the breeder offered you a discount?

Any breeder who is happy to sell people two puppies from the same litter, especially same sex littermates, has only one thing on their mind. Your money.

They don’t care if the puppies live happily ever after. They don’t care if you spend the next 12 years in a living hell. They don’t care if you have to take one to the vet to be put down. They just want your money.

The same goes for puppy farms, pet stores and backyard breeders. Along with the breeders of wolf x or made-up breeds, all who breed or sell pups without the health tests necessary, without care or consideration towards the parent dogs, without giving you the advice you need to make sure your pup lives a long and happy life; they are in it for the cash and nothing more.

So, you don’t want two puppies to keep each other company because you reckon you have the time. You aren’t doing it just because they are cute, and you reckon the breeder is a responsible and reputable kind of person.

You still shouldn’t get two puppies.

They will take three times the work of one, if not more. Everything you do with one puppy, you must do separately with the other puppy and again, together with both.

So, that’s three times the socialisation, three times the training, and three times the walkies.

It’s also a million times harder to toilet train two pups, because if you have them outdoors together, they will play and forget to poop. Put one indoors while you do the other, the one indoors messes in the house.

Unless there are two adults fully committed to doing this work in the same way as one another or you have achieved omnipresence, it’s going to take way longer.

How many months of wee and poo on your floors are you going to be happy with? Because realistically, one puppy takes up to nine months to be reliably house trained. With two, you could easily have 18-month old, almost adult dogs still going in the house or whenever your back is turned.

So, you need two adults to train them together. You can’t leave them alone together because if you think one puppy can cause some destruction when left alone, you haven’t seen a thing compared to what two puppies can do. Eat your sofa? Rip up your carpets? Or put them outdoors and watch them eat through the neighbour’s fence and howl and play fight all day long.

And that is when they still like one another. Wait until they reach sexual maturity and decide that this town ain’t big enough for the both of them.

As I said at the beginning, there’s always going to be someone you know, or you heard of, who reckons they made it work. I’d say for every one of those people who is actually telling the truth, ten more are lying or at least glossing over some details. Ask more detailed questions. Ask them where they can and cannot take their dogs. You’ll find out most likely that their dogs never leave the property or cannot be separated because one yells the house down if the other leaves the building. Or they can’t be kept together because one wants to kill the other. Or they can’t be trusted around guests. Or they won’t walk nicely on the lead. Or, or, or.

Question these folks who say it’s OK and find out if their lifestyle is actually anything like yours. Maybe it did work for them. I’m not saying it never can, but there’s a degree of luck there. And maybe you find out that this person is home all day, has ten acres of well-fenced land, and no neighbours for 100 miles in any direction. Maybe they show dogs or work them. There will be some details that mean what works for them may well not work out for you.

Most people make mistakes with puppies. We are only human after all, and mistakes are something we humans do pretty well. One undersocialised puppy is a pain to deal with. Two are a nightmare. By the time you realise that two puppies were a mistake, it’s usually going to be one of those pups who suffers for your error the most.

If you have already got two puppies, you might think I am over-reacting or painting a very bleak picture to scare you. Believe me I am not writing this to wee on anyone’s parade. We all have dogs because we like them, and we have a vision in our heads of what our life with our adult dog is going to be like. It’s going to be fun and fairly carefree with our dog by our side, obeying our cues, and having a ball.

By taking on two puppies at once, you drastically reduce the chances of that becoming a reality. You only need to take a look in rescue centres and shelters around the world to see that millions of people fail to raise one dog every single day.

Why make it any harder than it already is? The world is rapidly becoming less and less dog-friendly and dogs are expected to behave impeccably in every situation. Give yourself the very best chance you and your dog can have of having a happy life together. Get one pup at a time from a reputable shelter or breeder. If you got two pups together and you are struggling with them now, TAKE ONE BACK. Re-home him or her. It’s a lot easier to do now at a few weeks old than it will be in 6- or 12-months’ time when it’s not just a struggle. Very few people want to take on half-grown out of control pups who have learned bad habits from their sibling.