‘Littermate syndrome’ attempts to explain behaviors of some dogs
By HELEN PALMER
I was reading the September issue of Pepper ‘N Salt newsletter and learned something new (to me). The article is titled “Littermate Syndrome” and is the name recently given to the phenomenon of one or more behaviors exhibited by pups that have been raised with their siblings.
I checked the sources given and got a page full of websites which I read as well. It seems the behaviors are not always exhibited and some websites challenge the new name.
The article in Pepper ‘N Salt gives a brief outline of what these behaviors are; the differences in raising pups from different litters instead of littermates; and also, tips on preventing the syndrome if you do elect to keep two or more sibling puppies.
According to an article written by Dr. Karen Becker, the condition can occur when puppies born in the same litter and not separated after weaning can bond to each other to the exclusion of humans and/or other dogs. The syndrome is noticed when there are two pups and one is taken out for training, exercise or a clinic visit, and the other pup shows signs of severe separation anxiety. One ominous observation is that one of the pups can develop aggressiveness when separated from the other pup.
The article in Pepper ‘N Salt newsletter gives a list of common problems that may arise. One is the detachment from humans, which makes training difficult. I was sort of surprised to learn that if the pups are raised together, without proper socialization and training, to adulthood, that they may never mature to their full potential; “that they remain distant from the rest of the world.”
To avoid this problem, if you plan to keep two pups from the same litter, you must start as soon as possible working with them individually. Encourage independent activities, if you work one pup in agility, train the other in Rally obedience. Don’t walk them together; instead plan different routes for each so the scent of the sibling isn’t noticeable.
If the dogs are older, “start their journey to independence gradually.”
“The goal is to help them associate good times with separation.” Another possibility is to crate them separately. If each dog has his/her own “den” (crate) they will begin to feel security when sleeping in it.
If you have sibling pups, you will need to treat them as individuals. Otherwise, you will find it harder to get their attention, teach them emotional control and teach them boundaries, according to Becker.
Try to find out their individual interests. If one shows an interest in sniffing out new scents, start working on scent discrimination or tracking. If one likes to swim, locate a training school with a pool and teach him “dock diving” or other water sports. If there is an interest in chasing, find a group that participates in lure coursing and has a practice course set up in a reserved field.
There are many activities invented by the American Kennel Club that can be modified for an individual.