Thursday, September 17, 2015

Littermate Syndrome and the Importance of Getting Dogs Out Separately

When I was thinking about getting a second dog, someone told me "two are easier than one!" She was wrong, SO wrong. Let me tell you, two are not easier than one, especially if you get two littermates. (My two dogs are NOT littermates.) Sure, having two dogs and watching them cuddle and play is wonderful but it's not all rainbows and butterflies. Let me explain. Two dogs are actually three times the work! Each dog needs separate walks and training sessions but they also need to walked and trained together!

In the past, I didn't do so good with the separate walks and outings. The past few weeks I've been trying to get better about it and I've been walking the girls separately in the afternoon. When we first got Phoenix we took her wherever Zoe went and she learned a lot of things from Zoe. Zoe taught her that not all strangers are evil and not every dog is bad. It's been really good for her but I've also recently learned that she depends on Zoe for her confidence. She's is very unsure of what to do without Zoe around. Zoe does a lot better than Phoenix on her separate walks. We had a few moments of "hey, where's the other one?" but Zoe was mostly fine and actually happy to be out by herself.

We hung out together, played and did tricks!

Littermate syndrome is a real thing. I've seen it in client dogs and we are experiencing a mild form of it when the girls are separated. There are different types of littermate syndrome and your dogs don't actually have to be littermates to have it. It can happen with family dogs just as easily. I generally don't recommend getting two puppies at the same time but sometimes it can work out if the family is dedicated enough. Each dog needs individual time with the owner and the puppies should be separated every single day. Teaching dogs that it's okay to be alone should be a part of everyone's training program.

One type of littermate syndrome that is common between two female puppies (it can happen with male/females and male/males but it's not as common as female/female) is hate for each other. This happens all the time. The dogs were fine when they were little then suddenly they got older and they were no longer fine. People go on dog forums and contact trainers to find out what they should do and usually it is recommended that one of the puppies finds a new home. I'm not a big fan of crate and rotating but that can be an option for some people. I've personally seen serious fights between two female dogs who grew up together and most of the time they required a vet to patch them up. If the dogs have decided that they hate each other and they are fighting, please get a pro trainer or behaviorist to help you.

Don't take my sister away!

Another form of littermate syndrome is hyper-attachment and depending on the severity you might need a pro trainer here as well. If you can't take one dog away from the other without them freaking out, you have a hyper-attachment problem. It's a lot like separation anxiety and I've heard of some cases where one dog was removed and another destroyed an entire door trying to get out to find them. Or barking and screaming endlessly. This is not healthy. At some point in your dogs lives, they might need to be separated. One of them might get sick and have to stay at the vet hospital. You might have to take them to the groomer and they need to be crated separately for their safety. At some point they may need to be apart and preventing an anxiety attack is important.

When you have multiple dogs, you should be doing separate walks, separate training sessions and they should each have one on one time with you. When we got Phoenix she was so skittish of us that we relied on Zoe to help us out with her. We needed Zoe to show Phoenix that she could trust us. I did separate training sessions with each dog but I didn't do a whole lot of separate outings. It was a mistake and I'm lucky they are not hyper-attached to each other. They both experience some mild anxiety when the other dog leaves. I think the anxiety on Zoe's part is more that she wants to go and she can't. Zoe is actually fine if I leave her with a stuffed kong and she is able to eat. Phoenix is very attached to both Zoe and myself and is definitely upset that I'm taking Zoe away. She will not take a stuffed kong and she doesn't want any other special treats either. She is better if I stay home with her and it's my husband who is leaving with Zoe.

I love separate walks with mom!

So what do you do with a dog who freaks out when the other dog leaves? I'm treating it just like separation anxiety and we are doing a separation anxiety protocol. The link I provided goes into great detail on how to work with the dog and it's an amazing article. There's also a great video by Kikopup on training your dog to love being alone and you can find it here: How To Train Your Dog to be Left Alone

With doing the training, it can sometimes take me a little while to get out the door with Zoe but I'm noticing that Phoenix is less worried about it. She's not thrilled that we are leaving without her but she does okay. When we started this training I began with very short outings with Zoe. We would go out and come right back in and then I gradually increased the time we were gone. I'm hoping that by continuing to do this, Phoenix will be confident going out into the world without Zoe and also be okay with staying home when I take Zoe. I'm wanting to do dog sports eventually with them and they would likely be attending separate classes so this is a really good start.

If you have multiple dogs, I would highly recommend doing the separation training. It's good for them and they need one on one time with you. I've been loving spending time with each of my dogs on our own and we've been having fun. I always feel a little guilty right as I'm leaving but it passes pretty quickly.

If you have any questions or need help, feel free to email me. I also have additional resources on my training page.


  1. These are things we need to work with for "The Things". Thanks!

  2. Me and Stanley are litter mates. Mom is going to try and have more separate time for us.

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  3. This makes sense. They love to have that interaction with you alone. It's like special time with mom. We only have one dog and have thought about adopting another and this is good information to have.

  4. Unfortunately, in the past year, we've been developing the first kind of littermate syndrome you mentioned, the hate for each other. Pallo has always been a resource guarder toward other dogs (not to me or any other humans at all), and in the past year, he's gotten much, much worse about it, possibly in part due to his seizures. Koira doesn't react well to being snarled and snapped at. And every time they get into a scuffle, even if no one gets hurt at all, the guarding gets worse, the reaction gets worse, and the fight gets worse. We've been doing crate/rotate when I have both dogs here, but for the past month or so, Pallo has been staying with a friend for the most part, just coming home to visit for a day or two here and there when my friend needs a break. Luckily she is happy to have him visit and has a ton of kids who love Pallo, and Pallo loves kids (they are toy throwing machines to him, and treat dispensers). Unfortunately it seems that the issues the two of them were having has made Koira more dog selective than she was before- I think she is cautious and thinks that other dogs might try to snap and growl at her like Pallo has been doing, and it makes her insecure with other dogs. We've just mostly been avoiding other dogs. Still going to the park, but leashing up when other dogs approach and not really allowing any close greetings. She hasn't been much of a player with other dogs for years now, so I don't think she misses it any. I do wonder if I had made a bigger effort to do things with the dogs individually if we would be having these issues now. But there is no way to know, and no way to go back in time.

    And that was a really super long rambling comment. Sorry.

    1. I'm really sorry you're going through that with your dogs! :(

  5. We originally wanted litter mates but changed our minds because we heard they would bond with each other and not their humans. Male/Female works fairly well in our household. Delilah can be snarky and dominant and Sampson is Mr. Low-key.

    My dogs like each other, but they are not 'bonded' like I've seen other dogs. Delilah doesn't care if Sampson goes somewhere without her as long as she gets a treat. Sampson is more of a baby, I usually take him to my mom's if at all possible. It's more like he's ticked off that he's not going as opposed to her leaving.

  6. You know, Nala really benefits from the social support of another dog when we're out in the world, too. When we first started trying to hike again after doing some separate work on Nala's environmental sensitivity, she was still kind of wigged out by novel places and wouldn't take food at all for fifteen minutes when we got to a hiking trail--or when she saw another dog. Just seeing other dogs be happy to explore would convince her that the new place was okay and she would acclimate much more quickly. So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think it's so bad that you haven't taken the girls out separately much before this--I bet Phoenix really just wasn't ready.

    Nala had mild separation distress when we first got her and we worked through this exact same protocol! It works really well! I'm sure Phoenix will be happily taking treats when Zoe leaves soon. We also gave Nala L-Theanine while we worked through it--I think I remember you saying that Phoenix used to take it. It might help you guys train through this, as it did for us.

  7. Fabulous post! I love having dogs close in age, but it's not easy. Nola is almost 5, Pike turned 1 in February, Olivia turned 1 in July, and Ellie is 8 months old today. They're trained apart, crated apart, given individual time, ect. You couldn't pay me to have litter mates. I aim for my dogs to like or at least tolerate each other, but not be bonded beyond "oh hey, playmate!".

  8. I am a failure at separate training and walking. Bentley and Pierre do everything together. I know that I should work with them individually, but they get so sad when they're separated.

    1. I totally know your pain! When I first started working with them separately, I felt really guilty about it! Usually it only lasts about 5 or so minutes and then I'm very happy to just have that one-on-one time. It's really nice. Now that Phoenix is more used to it, it's easier on all of us!

  9. I adopted two of my dogs at the same time. I had just lost my 4-year old dog to cancer, and 15-year-old dog 3 weeks later, so I felt I needed to fill a 2-dog hole. I my I love my dogs, but I agree with you; I'd never adopt 2 puppies at the same time again. Now I have 3 dogs, and I've also begun spending separate time with them.

    --Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats


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