Keeping, Raising and Showing Littermates
KEEPING, RAISING AND SHOWING LITTERMATES
I recently did a Facebook live where Andrea Stone, a fellow Show Dog Prep School fellow instructor and I discussed keeping, raising and showing littermates. Interestingly, among professional trainers there is a popular opinion that raising littermates together is a dangerous thing to do and that you risk them having “littermate syndrome”. In fact, I have worked with clients who raised littermates as one dog so much that they could not function without their sibling. This is obviously not healthy or good for the dogs. Still, I have found the whole “littermate syndrome” to be unfounded. It is true that many average pet owners are overwhelmed with one puppy, let alone two puppies. It is also true that some breeders do not put enough thought into placing multiple puppies in the same home. However, as fellow breeders and show people know, it can be done successfully and in fact, is done without issue all the time.
I have personally never kept littermates, but I have raised two puppies of similar ages together. And, I am not completely against keeping two puppies from a litter, it simply hasn’t happened yet. It would not necessarily be my first choice because it is more work, but it is not a deal breaker for me at all. In Andrea’s case, this litter was her bitch’s second and last litter from the 15 year old frozen semen from her very first Basenji, Shane. This was not just any litter and when she couldn’t decide between the two puppies, she kept them both. Who in the world could argue with that?
Most breeders I know have kept multiple puppies from a litter or have done as I have raising similarly aged puppies from different litters and in my case, different breeds. I have my own Lowchen puppy, Peaches who came to me at about 12 weeks old. I was offered a co-ownership on a beautiful Toy Fox Terrier puppy and was helping to raise and train her as well. It was a lot of work at times to have two very active little puppies, but it wasn’t much more work than having one young puppy.
The most important thing when deciding to keep multiple puppies is whether or not you have time to care for each puppy. Certainly the breed of each puppy matters as well because two Pekingese would likely be easier to keep than two German Shepherds, for instance just due to size and energy level. One should only keep multiple puppies if they truly have the time to give each puppy what they need in terms of training, medical care, socialization, grooming, etc. If you can’t or if you aren’t sure if you can, you should probably not take on more than one. If you do decide to keep multiple puppies, here are some things to consider and tips that may help you bring them up successfully.
Separate Training Sessions
It is critical to give both puppies their own separate training sessions. The easiest way to do this is to teach one puppy to be calm and do their own thing while you train the other puppy. You can put one puppy in a crate with a chewy or with frequent treats for being quiet while you work the other puppy outside of the crate and switch off.
Take each puppy out separately for socialization and fun exposure. Puppies tend to gain confidence from being with their littermates, so you want to make sure that each puppy in your care gets plenty of outings on their own without their sibling. Both puppies should have many opportunities to meet people, go places and get positive exposure on their own so that they develop the confidence to be out in the world without their sibling.
Individual Crate Training
Each puppy should have their own crate and should be trained to relax comfortably in their crate and sleep in their crate if need be. Even if you don’t intend to have your dog sleep in a crate as an adult, it is a good idea that they learn this valuable life skill as a baby just in case. Give each puppy a crate with their own bed, chewies and toys and get them used to being in there. Feeding puppies in their crates is a great way to make the crate a safe and positive place.
If you are showing both puppies you will also need to work on each puppy being quiet in the crate while you work with the other dog. This was one thing that Andrea worked on a lot with her puppies as she has kept littermates in the past and did not work on this skill with them resulting in the dogs not being trained to relax quietly in their crate while their sibling goes off with Andrea to go into the ring. She didn’t want that to happen again so she trained them to relax in the crate and be okay with her leaving with the other puppy.
1 + 1 = 2
It is important to look at each puppy as an individual and not to compare them which each other. Even though they are littermates, they are still individuals with their own personalities and they should be seen and recognized as that. It is easy to slip into a routine and begin to treat the two puppies as one, but it is critical that you make it a point to see them and treat them as the separate beings that they are.
Two puppies can be amazing, but it is important to recognize that each puppy is an individual that has their own needs. Raise them together but with plenty of personalized one on one attention, training and care to ensure two well adjusted, happy, socialized and trained adult dogs.