Adopting Littermates - When Two Heads are NOT Better Than One
In early August of last year, I flew across the country, from Albany to Oregon, to bring home my first purebred puppy. I researched breeders very carefully (and admit to having high criteria!) and made plans with one of my favorite friends and colleagues, Christina Waggoner and her daughter Melanie, who met me at the airport and made the trip to the breeder's home. Chris was wonderful enough to make a video recording of me meeting the puppies for the first time, which you can see below.
Let's just say that by 18 seconds in the video, I was ready to bring home all five of these puppies. I was absolutely smitten, well-entrenched in the deepest pit of smit imaginable. MUST HAVE MORE PUPPEHS! When you are confronted with such concentrated cuteness, so many wagging tails, round little puppy bellies, smooches, wiggly bodies, and fluffy puppy fur, an insidious thing happens. A small part of you dies temporarily, the part of you that is known as "common sense."
Let's be honest - the level of cuteness in this video (from the puppies, certainly not jet-lagged moi) is almost intolerable. Puppies are like kryptonite to me. In that moment, I would gladly have smuggled all of those puppies home with me.
Now, seven months later, I would be going insane. I would have approximately 1,000 lbs of Saint Bernard teenagers running around my house, breaking wine glasses, slobbering, and tormenting Her Royal Chowness.
One of the services I offer to my clients is a "new dog package," which includes a consultation to help the owners determine what type of dog may be best for them - breed, sex, age, grooming requirements, activity levels, etc. Sometimes, a puppy is the right candidate, but I NEVER recommend getting two puppies at the same time or from the same litter. Many breeders (good breeders, anyway) will not adopt two puppies out to the same household. Why is this?
I have my reasons, which include: a) two puppies are 7x the work of one puppy and b) some of the toughest behavior modification cases I've handled have been for clients who have attempted to play the "multiple puppies at one time" game. A lot of people think "raising two puppies will be easier than one. They can keep each other occupied!" If you believe this, definitely seek out a mother of human multiples - twins, triplets, quadruplets, and tell her your theory. Trust me, her responses will be enlightening!
Here are some potential problems with raising two littermates:
- Your puppies will not likely be able to hold their bladder or bowel movements overnight. They may also not have mastered the art of "synchronized defecation," which means one puppy may decide to loudly request you let her out of her crate for a potty break at one a.m. and your other puppy may decide, "you know what? 3 a.m. works much better for me." With one puppy, you may need to get up once in the night. With two puppies, plan on getting up at least four times. Also, sometimes that crying doesn't mean, "I want to potty!" sometimes it means, "Hey, I want to play with my sister NOW!"
- Each puppy will need a lot of individual time with the family. They should spend much more time separated than they spend together, and they will loudly complain about this at every possible opportunity. You should plan on attending separate puppy classes, giving separate walks, having separate puppy socialization adventures, separate potty breaks, separate trips to the vet's office, etc.
- I have never seen a puppy teach another puppy any of the following: sit, down, reliable name response, targeting, focus, or how to pass a CGC. I have, however, seen dogs teach one another that eating poop is fun, counter surfing is fun, barking is fun, digging out from under the fence is fun, whining and barking in the crate is fun, jumping on guests is fun, and that chasing cats or other small animals is really fun.
- Aggression - some of the worst aggression cases I've seen have been between two littermates. While this usually happens when dogs enter adolescence and are not yet fully physically, socially, or mentally mature, it can happen even sooner. This is most frequent in same-sex pairings but may happen in male/female pairings as well. Anecdotally, I see this the most commonly in bully breeds, terriers and guardian breeds, followed by herding breeds, but it can in any littermate pairing, including those who are toy breeds, "friendly" breeds, or mixed breeds.
- Intense bonding can create problems - it is not uncommon for littermates to develop separation anxiety problems from each other, where each dog only feels "complete" when his littermate is present. This can be a very, very tough challenge to fix!
- Puppies are expensive. Two puppies are more expensive than one puppy. I'm not talking about purchase price - you also need to double food bills, vet bills, equipment expenses (collars, leashes, harnesses, crates, toys, etc.), dog walking/pet sitting expenses, training expenses (puppy class), etc. You may also want to consider the cost of: medical treatment for your own insomnia, hair dye (to cover the greys which may pop up!), and expanding your current red wine/chocolate/massage therapy/mani-pedi budget - you will need some de-stressing and decompressing! Also, you may need to replace twice the number of expensive high heels, jeans, cell phones and cables, and other things that puppies love to destroy, so make sure you budget that into your plans.
There is at least one benefit to owning littermates - you can throw out your ankle weights! If you think it's hard to work with one puppy hanging off your pant leg, teeth firmly embedded in your pant leg, try doing it with two!
Here is an older entry from the Dogster Guide to Behavior & Training blog about considerations for adopting a second dog to the household. It was not written specifically about littermate adoption, but should give you additional insight on the challenges of raising two or more dogs successfully.