What Is Littermate Syndrome?

By Deb Haines

What is littermate syndrome?

The condition develops when two young dogs end up bonding too tightly with each other. It may sound ideal when dogs are such close friends, but major issues can arise down the road. The problem is that their relationship with each other can stop them from creating proper bonds with humans and hinder their social development. As the name suggests, littermate syndrome generally exists in two puppies from the same litter, however it can also be present when two puppies of a similar age are raised together. Although littermate syndrome doesn’t develop every time two puppies are raised together, it is common enough that we warn against getting two puppies at the same time.

Is littermate Syndrome real?
Although it doesn’t happen between all siblings, over-bonding is a commonplace phenomenon and is termed “Littermate Syndrome”

What if they are two puppies from different litters?

Raising two puppies from different litters is a challenge, but not quite as huge of an undertaking as raising two puppies from the same litter. With two puppies from the same litter you are dealing with a pair who are already bonded to each other, and it takes a great deal of effort on your part to become part of their group. Two puppies from separate litters, however, will bond with you as well as each other.

Training tips from our Animal Sense team

Vanessa Williams…………………. To avoid littermate syndrome each dog needs a decent amount of one on one time. Preventing sleeping together is important, and separate training times is important (I would recommend separate puppy classes). Separate play time and together play time is important for them. I do believe that having some separate walks regularly is important, though not ALL walks. They need to learn to develop independently of each other though and that means a decent amount of one-on-one time where it is just the one puppy with the family.

Usually LMS symptoms dont start until the dogs reach adolescence, around 8 months is average. It usually seems to appear out of the blue to the owners because they are not identifying the quiet behaviors and body postures leading up to altercations. Most of the time resource guarding is the trigger as the pups were always willing to share when they were very young, but now that they are growing up, they want things to themselves. “Well they always shared so well before!” is literally THE most common statement I get from owners with LMS pups.

This means the most important training you can do with them is to make sure that they both learn to respect the other puppy when it has a toy/chew/meal through preventing that puppy from interfering and redirecting to a different toy/chew/meal (which is incredibly time and attention consuming! Be ready to watch like you would a toddler that has access to a fork and an outlet!). You also need to spend time rewarding each puppy for sharing nicely with the other. If they are chewing on toys next to each other, they should get pets and treats and praise. If they are chewing on the same toy, I would introduce a new toy to encourage them to each have their own.

You want to be extra diligent about noticing and rewarding good behavior and supervising at all times when the puppies are free to prevent any unwanted behavior. Active supervision means eyes on puppies. Not eyes on cell phone or TV or making dinner. If puppies cant be actively supervised and are moving about, I do not recommend allowing them to interact, especially as they reach adolescence. Puppies can easily learn from each other and that can quickly hamper their training process. One puppy has an accident and then all of a sudden the other puppy that has been housetrained for weeks starts having accidents all over the place. Or the first altercation around a toy occurs and nobody is around to prevent that negative interaction before it permanently damages their relationship.

As the puppies get older, it will be more important to not leave resources like toys or chews laying around, especially when the puppies cannot be actively supervised. You will want to watch their interactions closely for signs of fear or bullying, especially since one will be significantly larger than the other as they grow.

Perform consent tests regularly as they’re playing by separating them and then releasing the one that appeared to be losing the match first. If that puppy dives back into the play, then they were having fun. If they decide to go do something else, it’s likely they werent having fun and need a break. It’s a good idea to break up play frequently anyways and promote relaxation.

On that note, sleep is incredibly important for puppies and the majority of puppies do not get enough of it. Especially if there is another puppy around to play with and distract them, it can keep them from getting enough rest. Make sure that the puppies are sleeping 16 hours or so a day when young and at least 12 when older. If you have to, separate them so that they can calm down. Reward all relaxed behavior to promote this in the future.

Lastly, but most importantly, at the FIRST sign of any disagreement between the two puppies, please be prepared to bring a professional trainer/behaviorist into your home to work with them. This can be costly, so start setting aside for it now. That way, you can nip any issues in the bud before they escalate to permanent damage to the relationship between the puppies. And, if it never occurs, then you have a nice nest egg for emergency vet bills saved up.

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