The title of this post is a bit strong, but I do want to caution people from adopting two dogs from the same litter because “it’s easier” to raise two at once (ask someone with twins if it’s easier than having one child) or “we don’t want our dog to be lonely.” (Because you might be if the dogs are so enchanted with each other that they ignore you).
I’m writing this now because we have gotten a number of questions about this issue lately: “Someone told me I shouldn’t adopt dogs from the same litter, is that true?” Far be it from me to say what you should or shouldn’t do, but there are a lot of red flags related to getting pups from the same batch. Before I say more, I should add that I’ve looked and asked around for any research on this issue and haven’t found a thing that supports (or disputes) what some people call “litter mate syndrome.” (If you are aware of any good research, please let us all know.) What I’m writing here is based on my experience and the anecdotes of others. I’d love it if someday someone did some good research on this to see if our beliefs are well-founded.
The most common reason given for not adopting two pups from the same litter is that they will “bond better” with each other than with you. This intuitively makes sense, in that the pups have already had the closest and most intimate experience with each other, and often during important phases of socialization. You’re already fighting the fact that you’re an alien (aka, another species) and are inherently confusing to your dog.
I’m not sure we know exactly how bonded these pups become with their human family (no doubt it varies tremendously), but functionally what I’ve seen is that the pups are simply harder to train. It’s just hard to get their attention. They are so busy playing with each other (or squabbling, more on that later), that you become the odd man out. I suspect this indeed does have to do with social bonding to some extent, but I have seen pups of a duo who clearly adored their humans. Adored them. They just didn’t listen to them. It seems harder to get their attention, harder to teach them emotional control and harder to teach them boundaries. I imagine that we humans become more like party poopers that interfere in their fun with their playmates, not to mention that we are more tiring, because they have to learn a foreign language in order to communicate with us.
The other problem I’ve seen with pups from the same litter relates to bullying or aggression between the dogs. It seems as though this happens more often with litter mates, but I wish we had some good, objective research on it. I simply can’t say definitely that this happens more with litter mates, but it does appear to. I have seen some nasty cases of bullying or outright aggression between dogs of the same litter, and it feels as though it is more common than between dogs who come into the family from different litters. (Or perhaps are adopted at different times? I’m not sure we can say exactly what the factors are yet.)
That said, I should add that there are numerous cases in which people have adopted litter mates without any problems at all. What happens on so many factors, including the temperament of the pups, their early experience, etc. etc. I would say though, that if you want all the odds on your side, you might hesitate before getting two pups from the same litter if you have a choice or can’t follow the suggestions below.
What if you already have litter mates? Perhaps you’re reading this while two pups from the same litter are playing on the floor beside you. Or perhaps you have working dogs and truly need to keep a number of pups from the same litter until you can evaluate who would be the best prospect. I think the standard advice is sound here: Don’t give the puppies free and constant access to each other. (I just heard from someone that her breeder recommended she never EVER let the dogs even see each other. Do I need to mention that I think that is a bit extreme?) Let them sleep in different areas (okay, make them sleep in different areas) and do lots of one-on-one training. Spend a lot of time playing with each pup by itself, and use play as an important part of your positive reinforcement. (This is also a great way to teach emotional control).