Frequently, I have people who email to tell me they want two puppies, and preferably
from the same litter. They usually say something like, “We want to have two dogs
eventually anyway, so we might as well get them at the same time so they can grow up
together as best friends.” And it’s true; when you raise two puppies together they
usually do grow up to be inseparable best friends, but often to the detriment of the dog-
human relationship. Inevitably they spend far more time together than they do
individually with you, with a likely result that they become very tightly bonded to each
other and you are only secondary in their lives. Many owners of adopted-at-the-same-
time puppies ultimately find themselves disappointed in their relationships with their
dogs, even when they are committed to keeping them for life. This super-bonding also
causes tremendous stress (and stress-related behavior problems) on those occasions
when the dogs do have to be separated - and sooner or later, something will come up
that requires them to be separated. Furthermore, these dogs are more difficult to train.
Because they don't have the strong human bond, they don't have the desire to engage
their owners as much as those who are raised alone.
Others will say, “I want to get two puppies so they will have someone to play with while
I’m at work.” While it’s a good thing to recognize that your pup could use some
companionship during the day, it's difficult enough to raise one pup and give it the
socialization that it needs. Two pup homes almost always end up with dogs that only
getting 1/2 of the amount of time they need to be properly socialized. It sounds like a
great idea- the dogs can keep each other company (after all, they are pack animals) until
the humans come home. But if you think one puppy can get into trouble when you’re
not there, just think what kinds of mischief two pups can cook up when left to their own
devices. There are great interactive dog toys on the market that can help occupy your
pup when you are gone. It’s also important to understand another puppy or a pen full
of toys will not substitute for social time with you. Adopting a puppy is making a
commitment, and it’s important you give that some serious thought before adding a
baby dog to the family. It’s fine to give your pup playmate-time via arranged play dates
with a friend’s healthy and compatible puppy, but don’t think adopting a second pup is
an acceptable substitute for your own interaction with your puppy.
Occasionally, I have people who have two children, and they want them each to have
their own puppy. Most families I know have enough trouble getting their kids to fulfill
their promise to feed, walk, and clean up after one family dog. Mom ends up doing
most of it anyway. With two, then Mom gets to do double-puppy-duty.
Another thing to consider is that all dogs have a very strong pack instinct. The more
dogs in a pack, the stronger the instinct becomes. Raising two pups means an elevated
pack drive, and with the pack drive issues comes RANK ISSUES within the pack.
Elevated pack drive means that one or more of the dogs is going to become the alpha
dog, which causes dominance problems with the other dogs, family members, and
guests. It results in dogs becoming more territorial and more aggressive. Establishing
rank can often lead to dog fights when the dogs reach maturity (18 to 30 months of age).
Most training professionals strongly recommend against adopting two pups of at the
same time, and especially not two from the same litter. This scenario even has a name:
Littermate Syndrome. This term describes the behavioral issues that can occur when
pups from the same litter (or pups from different litters of similar ages) grow up
together. Problems that are typical include:
1. The puppies will bond together, not with their human family. When puppies
individually leave their litters they can easily bond with their human family, but
having a littermate present inhibits this process.
2. The puppies may never fully reach their potential as individuals, also called “failure
to blossom.” A puppy that is dependent upon his littermate will not have the
opportunity to grow as an individual and be independent. When pups are placed
together, they learn to rely on each other. One of the puppies always becomes shy,
even when both puppies started off as bold and outgoing. This is a huge problem,
since it means that the shy puppy never reaches his or her potential. In fact, this was
such a major issue that the guide dog experiment was quickly halted, and to this day
guide dog organizations only place one puppy at a time in puppy raisers’ homes,
even when the homes are highly experienced. In addition to one puppy becoming
shy, there are other behavioral implications for two puppies who are adopted at the
same time. Oftentimes even the “bold” puppy turns out to be quite nervous and
uncertain when separated from his or her littermate. Furthermore, the puppies
frequently become incredibly co-dependent exhibiting heartbreaking anxiety when
separated from one another. At social maturity, these puppies may begin fighting
with one another, and sometimes quite severely.
3. Dogs that fail to mentally grow and gain confidence may exhibit anxiety, fearfulness,
destructiveness and even aggression.
Even puppies who are not related can exhibit littermate syndrome when placed
together. Professional trainers recommend against getting two puppies within six
months of one another, because the risks are just too high. This doesn’t even take into
consideration the other practical considerations, such as the increased costs of vet care,
food, supplies, and training; the extra work of training and caring for two dogs; or the
time requirements of two active puppies.
So how can a dog owner avoid the complications of Littermate Syndrome? The obvious
answer is DO NOT adopt two puppies at the same time. If you know that you want two
young dogs, the best plan of action is to obtain your first puppy and enjoy watching it
grow, learn, and become part of your family. When the puppy has matured, a second
pup can be welcomed into the pack. I recommend that you wait at least 6 months
(preferably one year) before adopting the second pup. Schnauzers are so very smart,
that you will find training the second puppy is really much easier, because the first pup
will train the second pup for you.