Youâ€™re thinking about adopting a pet. Youâ€™ve decided on a canine. Youâ€™re sure you want a puppy, not a grown dog. Your friends have adopted littermate kittens, and youâ€™ve seen how much fun two kittens can be together. Youâ€™ve read that veterinarians, cat behavior specialists, cat trainers, and cat owners agreeâ€”adopting littermates is a good idea when youâ€™re talking about cats. Youâ€™re wondering if the same is true for dogs.
Is adopting littermate puppies a good idea?
Adopting littermate puppies is NOT advised.
I asked dog-training professionals if they encouraged or discouraged the adoption of littermate puppies, or non-related same-age puppies, to inexperienced dog owners.
RisĂ« VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC (Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania)â€”psychologist specializing in families, play therapist, certified dog behavior consultant, co-founder of the International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy
I usually discourage it, although many years ago, as an owner and not yet involved in training, I did get littermate puppies. Fortunately, my instincts were good and I worked a lot with themâ€”each individually and then together. Overall, we did okay with them, and once I learned more about overcoming a couple little problems, it was fine. But from that experience, I can honestly say that getting littermates is at least three times the work!
And yes, there are some issues that commonly come up, especially if that level of commitment isnâ€™t there, and I do talk with people about that.
[In my experience], one thing that was difficult to deal with was the end. [My littermate puppies] both lived to 17, but one had cognitive disorder and was totally deaf and mostly blind. The other was almost totally blind and had other issues. They spent a lot of time together, mostly sleeping. All that was fine, but one was clearly ready to head off into the great beyond before the other. The healthier one was the one with dementia. I did some tests to see how she would make out if the other one was not there, and it wasnâ€™t good. So I had to say farewell to both of them together, even though one was not really completely â€śreadyâ€ť yet. But it was the right decision since her quality of life would have plummeted once the other one was gone. Just very hard to say goodbye to both at the same time.
Cheri Spaulding (Eugene, Oregon)â€”Rock Nest Training and Pet Care, LLC
I never recommend having puppies who are the same age, let alone littermates. They will likely become more bonded to each other than to humans, thereâ€™s the added dimension of training and how is that going to happen, and they both grow old and die at approximately the same time. Iâ€™ve seen it work out okay, but training is difficult because usually thereâ€™s one person in the family who does all the training, so they have a lot to do. Then the two dogs [I knew] died a year apart.
I had two dogs that were less than a year apart. They were very bonded with each other. They both got ill with different types of cancer at the same time and died within three. months of each other. Training was very difficult (even though I was a trainer) and I was devastated when they died. The one who died last was very lost without her mate for those couple of months, as well as being very sick.
I get a lot of calls of people who have bought littermates, usually Labradoodles. The dogs are out of control and the owners are overwhelmed and they donâ€™t want to have to work them one at a time. I got into a little bit of a discussion with [a] breeder on a local pet Facebook page. She was asking other breeders what kind of discount they give if they sell littermates. To sum it up, I told her she was a greedy person for doing that and why.
[There are] issues connected to littermates in the house that people donâ€™t even recognize, and itâ€™s so hard to convince themâ€”thatâ€™s the problem. Iâ€™ll give you an exampleâ€”the client complains that neither dog will listen to them. I say, thatâ€™s because one species especially close in age or related will bond quicker and stronger to each other than to other species (I might simplify it a little). Almost before I get the words out of my mouth, the client will say defensively, â€śMy dogs like me fine.â€ť
Photo by Natalie Bridger Watson
Cynthia Gordon (Seminole, Florida)â€”Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Gentle Touch Dog Training LLC
[I] discourage littermates but not multiple puppies. I have experience both ways and can share the pros and cons with my clients. What I have found in my own experience is that when one has siblingsâ€”and I have done it this wayâ€”the siblings become dependent upon each other. Generally, one of the dogs will have a more independent personality and the other one will be beyond dependent. Separating them for even moments can cause major anxiety. I have also gone the route of having two pups from completely different litters with a two-week lag time between acquisitions. What I find then is that I simply have two puppiesâ€”a lot of work, but none of the dependency issues. Easy to work with separately, easy to separate, easy to allow both personalities to grow to their full extent.
Even as a full-time positive-reinforcement trainer, I have had extreme difficulty when working with my own sibling dogs. And ultimately when one passed long before her sister, the depression was unmatched by anything I had ever seen. It needed to be medically treated for the other dog to get over it, although she had endured the loss of other dogs in the household with a normal amount of grief.
Cindy Lewis-Bruckart (Newburg, Oregon)â€”Regarding Rover
I discourage it, but Iâ€™m usually called in after itâ€™s already been done. I am far less concerned when itâ€™s male/female or male/male. But the prognosis is grim for female/female littermates once they reach social maturity. I donâ€™t personally know anyone who has been successful with that dynamic.
Debby McMullen (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)â€”Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Pawsitive Reactions, LLC
[I] discourage [adopting littermate puppies] heavily. It takes a lot of work to do that successfully. I know of one success story and multiple horror stories. Many reasons why not. They can either bond too closely with one another or they end up fighting. Think of human siblings living together forever. How often would that work out? Especially same-sex. That is absolutely the worst thing that you can choose to do as a dog parent, is to parent same-sex siblings.
Dae Grodin (Erlanger, Kentucky)â€”Dog-Abilities LLC
[I] discourage it, although currently I have two sets of clients with littermates and one that was from last year. So far all have been successful, but theyâ€™re all still pretty youngâ€”under a year and a half. One set is also two female German Shepherds.
In general, however, I think itâ€™s just really hard for people. Everything is double the amount of work. People never seem to realize this when they decide to get littermates. Iâ€™ve been amazed at how many breeders suggest getting littermates. I did have one client with two boxer littermates. The breeder suckered them into getting another puppy that was a month younger than the two littermates. Talk about chaos.
Inna Krasnovsky (New York, New York)â€”Wag The Dog NYC
I had a client who bought two male Great Dane littermate puppies from some back yard breeder/puppy miller in Texas. The breeder shipped the puppies to New York City, no questions asked. The owner lived in a small apartment and worked very long hours. I did my best to help them all. Owner was kind of a jerk, borderline hostile, and had a weird vibe. The puppies barely looked at him, spent most of their time with each other, and were already growling and barking at people they were unfamiliar with. Long story short, this was over a year ago. I saw him once walking the two Great Danesâ€”both were wearing prong collars and shock collars. I felt like a failure for sure.
Carol McPherson (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)â€”Hoolaka Canine Specialists
I would discourage [adopting littermate puppies], although I did it myself. It is more that twice the work. It can certainly be done, but itâ€™s probably beyond what the average family wants to invest, time-wise. I advise separate puppy classes, vet visits, walks, and training sessions (training sessions together as well). Itâ€™s been my experience that female siblings are the most difficult. (I am sure other trainers have different experiences.) When I was still doing puppy classes, I never allowed siblings in the same class.
Colette Kase (Yucatan, Mexico)â€”retired dog trainer
I discouraged it except in certain circumstances. For owners looking for a companion that they could exercise off-lead and take with them out and about on a regular basis, I very much discouraged it, as the puppies, without incredibly good management, were likely to become very dog-focused. I also discouraged it if it were suggested by a breeder who in my opinion was giving bad advice. Iâ€™d often see this with dogs like Labradors, where busy families were purchasing a family pet and the breeder would realise that they probably didnâ€™t have enough time to train, stimulate, or exercise the puppy properly. So the breeder, rather than suggest it might not be the right time for a Labrador, would suggest they purchase a second pup â€śso they could exercise each other.â€ť I would also add that welfare organisations often have to take in surrenders from people who have been convinced by breeders to buy littermates. Or they certainly did when I was working in the field.
Lynn Cashion Kosmakos (San Francisco East Bay, California)â€”Oakland Dog Training Club
I encourage a minimum of 18 months between bringing any two dogs into a home, with the exception of a bonded pair of mature adult dogs. My personal ideal is a six-year age difference between dogs in a household.
Laura Bourhenne (Los Angeles, California)â€”Animal Attraction Unlimited
One client went with their previous trainer to adopt a puppy. Both the rescue and the trainer encouraged her to get two puppies. Of course the trainer did because the woman has $$ to burn, and it meant more of it for him. But still, at one year old, these Labradors were both living in the same ex-pen, not house-trained, and not allowed out of the kitchen when they were allowed out of the pen. It was so sad. The dogs were not well taken care of and the woman didnâ€™t do much of the work, it was the staff. It was discouraging all the way around.
Rebekah Piedad, KPA-CTP (Livermore, California)â€”Top Notch Kennels
Strongly discourage due to the tendency of owners to allow the puppies to become dependent upon each other rather than upon the owner, thus causing extreme separation anxiety when the puppies are apart. Also, littermates will occasionally begin competing for resources or otherwise having conflict once they reach social maturity.
Lee Stone, CPDT-KA (South Hedland, Western Australia)â€”DogTag Dog Training
Discourage it. Although as others have mentioned, I rarely get asked in advance. I am usually called out afterwards or see them in classes. I discourage it because in every case where I see littermates in the same household, there are always issuesâ€”specifically, separation anxiety from each other, at least one dog being fearful, and, in many cases, aggression between the dogs as they mature. I rarely see clients who have the ability to do what is needed to ensure littermates are raised appropriately.
Sarah Adams (Carson, Washington)â€”dog trainer
NO to littermate puppies. Generally, one of two things happens.
1. Puppies overbond to each other, which can lead to a host of issuesâ€”canâ€™t handle separation from each other, increased predatory behavior, harder to train, etc.
2. Puppies get a little maturity, decide that they donâ€™t actually like each other, and the fights start. I see this in my breed, or other bull and terrier breeds, where someone decides itâ€™s a great idea to get two males from a litter, and then wants to know how to get their dogs to stop fighting. In my own last litter of two pups, a male and a female, I placed the bitch pup with a friend; we got them together a lot, and as they reached adolescence, my boy decided he hated his sister. And this is a dog who is very dog-tolerant. Only a few dogs he doesnâ€™t like, and one of them is his litter sister.
Chelsea Edwards (Portland, Oregon)â€”Safe Dogs By The River
I am with [Sarah] on these points. I might add:
3. Most people donâ€™t have time for one puppy, and two is a HUGE commitment of time if done keeping the dogâ€™s welfare in mind. Separate classes, separate tools/gear, separate walks, separate training sessionsâ€”as well as together tools/gear, together walks, together training sessions. This does not even take into account any health or behavior issues that may manifest, nor does it address adolescence, sexual maturity, sterilization options, or veterinary realities. I have seen some situations where it turned out â€śokay,â€ť but there was much potential lost. I have come to believe that is one of the greatest unintended consequences of this choice: lost potential.
Next week: Veterinarians, veterinary techs, breeders, groomers, and boarding-kennel operators chime in on adopting littermate puppiesâ€”why itâ€™s not for novice dog owners.