When you visit a litter of puppies you might find it hard to imagine separating your new pup from their siblings.

As cute as they may be, two puppies are not necessarily better than one, and adopting multiple puppies from the same litter has been linked to long term behavioural issues. Here’s what you should know if you’re thinking of adopting, and what you can do if you’ve already adopted siblings to help minimize issues associated with littermate syndrome.

Why Experts Do Not Recommend Adopting Littermates


There is not much scientific research on the topic, but most veterinarians and dog trainers can tell you plenty of stories of siblings that cry when they are separated, yet may also fight violently when they are together.

Two strongly bonded puppies may have trouble paying attention during training. They may pick up one another’s bad habits, and may be more prone to fearfulness, especially when apart.

The risk of severe behavioural issues resulting from their strong sibling bond can be minimized by giving them plenty of opportunities to enjoy spending time apart.

Individual Time With Your Littermates

Build your bond with each puppy with individual walks, playtime, and training sessions. You can work with a family member when you separate the puppies, or give them each some alone time while you work with their sibling.

When you spend time with each puppy, you can get to know their personality and watch their unique strengths blossom. They may even have different preferences for positive reinforcement; one sibling may respond best to bites of cooked chicken, while the other might prefer to be rewarded with a game of tug.

Work on foundational skills like sit, stay, and recall during one-on-one sessions to ensure that your puppies will learn how rewarding it is to listen to you, even when their sibling is around.

Times of separation should always be fun. While your puppies may cry out in distress at first if they’re not used to being separated, they should be able to adapt quickly once they start to bond with you.

Prevent Fighting Associated With Littermate Syndrome

Just like human siblings, littermates will fight if they have to share the same resources.

Your puppies should never eat out the same bowl. Always feed your puppies in their own bowls, preferably on opposite sides of a room or in crates so they never have to worry about their sibling trying to sneak a bite.

You may also want to keep them separate when they enjoy high-value treats like raw meaty bones, bully sticks, or other chews. Make sure your puppies have plenty of toys. Buy two of their favourites so they do not have to share.

Work With A Trainer To Combat Littermate Syndrome

Despite the challenges, taking on littermates can be a uniquely rewarding experience. However, it’s tough for even the most experienced dog owners. You don’t have to go at it alone.

Healthy Houndz offers private training to local clients in North York and Toronto, and remote training via Zoom for dog parents around the world. We only use science-based, fear-free techniques to help raise well-mannered family dogs.

Set up your free 30-minute consultation call to get started on a training plan that’s perfectly tailored for you and your puppies.