What is Littermate Syndrome?

We’ve had a handful of messages in the past couple of days regarding people having issues with keeping multiple dogs from the same litter, or dogs of different litters within a similar age range.

Littermate Syndrome is a condition of over-familiarity and co-dependence, formed between two dogs of similar ages, and does not always involve littermates. In-fact, it can occur in any two dogs who cohabitate from young puppies and are within 12-months of each other. The closer in age, the more time they spend together at liberty, and the younger they started this cycle of dependence, the higher the risk of it developing.
So, what is the big problem and why should you avoid doing it?

The behaviours associated with Littermate Syndrome can vary from fairly mild to significant. The symptoms can include separation anxiety, lack of owner focus, lack of basic obedience, lack of impulse control, excessive vocalisation, over-stimulation, dangerous play, destructive behaviours, and aggression.

The separation anxiety can manifest in panting, vocalisation, manic movement, sleep deprivation, destruction of objects, and self-mutilation. A profoundly stressed and anxious dog is very distressing to watch, and prolonged and acute stress can turn into physical ailments and conditions.

The aggression is often redirection caused by over-stimulation. Because the dogs are over familiar with one another, they skip the normal stages of reading and responding to dog social signals and instead act on impulse. Uncontrolled and repetitive rough play can quickly result in acute and chronic injuries, through to serious wounds and even death from fighting. This is particularly true in pairs of same gender dogs.
They will not grow or mature out of this and it will continue to worsen. The typical scenario that encourages Littermate Syndrome is when two dogs are able to play as often and as roughly as they wish, sleep together, and are exercised walked and trained together.

The easiest way to prevent Littermate Syndrome is to never add two puppies to the household within a 3 year period. If you’re already in that situation, the next thing to do is to separate the dogs. Ideally, initially removing at least one from the property for a couple of weeks at a minimum. If that isn’t possible, use barriers, rooms, and crates, to create separation.

It’s important to prioritise training impulse control, independence, basic obedience and providing consistent boundaries. As a rule of thumb, our dogs must spend more time apart than together, and when they are together we must teach them to be calm around one another. We need to ensure that they do not spend time together until they can be apart comfortably, and they should never be at liberty together unsupervised until they’ve proven their independence.

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