What Is Littermate Syndrome? How To Prevent and Handle It


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You were so thrilled to get two adorable puppies from the same litter.

But now they’re beginning to have some behavior problems. So you wonder what happened.

Or you’re thinking about getting two young puppies at the same time and wonder if it’s advisable. 

Golden Retriever littermates in a box. Do they have littermate syndrome?

In this article, I’ll describe what littermate syndrome is and what you can do to prevent or manage it.

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What Is Littermate Syndrome?

Littermate syndrome describes what occurs when two puppies who are raised together bond too much to each other. This may sound great at first, but it isn’t. 

They will bond to each other more than they bond with you. 

Because the puppies bond so greatly with each other, they become so dependent on each other that, when separated, they experience extreme stress and anxiety.

The two puppies don’t have to be from the same litter. Littermate syndrome can also occur if you get two puppies that are near in age, such as within about six months of each other.

Although littermate syndrome doesn’t always occur, it can. 

Behavioral Issues that May Develop Because of Littermate Syndrome

Because two puppies with littermate syndrome over-bond, they don’t go through normal puppyhood development phases and may have behavioral problems. 

Puppies experiencing littermate syndrome often lack social skills because an owner may believe that they’re playing and living together is the only socialization they need. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

Each needs to develop as an individual to flourish. Puppies with littermate syndrome may suffer from the following behavioral problems:

  • Fear of people and other dogs, which can potentially lead to aggression
  • Extreme separation anxiety
  • Crating issues
  • Issues when encountering new situations when without the other puppy
  • Leash reactivity
  • A higher incidence of the two puppies fighting as compared to non-siblings being raised together

The issues often aren’t experienced right away. They develop over time and can intensify when the puppies reach social maturity.

Start each puppy out on the right paw.

Signs that a Puppy is Anxious or Stressed

There are many signs that a puppy is stressed. These include:

  • Yawning when not tired
  • Vocalization (whining, barking, howling, whimpering)
  • Resisting entering the crate if already crate trained
  • Panicking and trying to reach the other puppy
  • Salivating and drooling
  • Panting
  • Lip licking
  • Trembling and shivering
  • Fidgeting or pacing
  • Tense body language
  • Chewing or licking self
  • Vomiting
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation’
  • Diarrhea
  • Destructive behavior

How To Prevent Littermate Syndrome

The best way to prevent littermate syndrome is to not get two puppies at the same time. 

Littermate syndrome may occur if you get two puppies from the same litter. But it may also occur if you get two puppies within about six months or more of each other.

It’s hard enough to raise one puppy because of their many needs, which include house training, crate training, exercise, obedience training, and socialization.

So think long and hard before deciding to get two young puppies together. 

When I got my sheltie puppy Amber from a great breeder, my husband wanted to get another puppy from the same litter. After all, they were adorable. 

But cooler heads prevailed and we only went home with Amber. 

The breeder knew how difficult raising two puppies is. And I also knew the potential problems that could develop and the massive amount of work it would be to successfully raise two puppies.

Generally, good, conscientious breeders, rescues, and shelters won’t adopt two young puppies out together to avoid littermate syndrome.

How To Manage Littermate Syndrome

If you already have two young puppies, there are measures you can take to make the situation work. But I won’t kid you, it will take a lot of commitment on your part. 

You need for each puppy to have confidence when separated from the other and that great things happen when they’re apart. Gradually get them used to being independent. 

And you also need to teach them to have good behavior when they’re together. 

Some puppies experience littermate syndrome greater than others. Often one of the two puppies experiences more stress and anxiety than the other does.

To help avoid or manage littermate syndrome, you can do the following:

Crate each separately. 

It’s important not to crate them in the same crate. As adorable as they may look together, being together too often will just promote littermate syndrome to occur.

Start with crates next to each other, moving them apart over time. 

It may take days or even weeks to move the crates to opposite ends of a room and eventually into separate rooms.

At first just move them inches apart, then further and further apart over days or weeks without stressing the puppies.

Set them up to succeed in their crates. 

Exercise each puppy before entering his crate so that he’s less likely to be anxious. And make the individual crates a great place to be.

Put a frozen stuffed Kong that each gets only when he’s in the crate. Train each to love being alone in his crate.

Plan separate time alone with you. 

Take each puppy in an area of your house away from the other pup. Make it a party to be with you and away from the other puppy.

Play games with special toys. Give him special treats. Have him fetch and play tug. You want each puppy to see that you are a lot of fun to be with–even more fun than being with his brother or sister. 

You also want to have some calm time with you. After the puppy’s had a sufficient amount of exercise, have him relax with you. Pet him and gently massage his back. Praise and reward calm behavior.

PRO-TRAINER TIP: Have a supply of great, yummy treats that your puppy can’t resist ready as a reward. They should be small, no larger than a pea. Always have your reward treats ready before giving your obedience cue. Using a special treat such as small pieces of cheese or boiled, deboned chicken can help a dog have a positive association with something.

Plan separate outings with each puppy.

Make sure that each puppy is taken out on walks and to new places to socialize and exercise them separately.

Sometimes take each totally separately where the other isn’t even aware of his sibling’s adventure. 

Have them greet new people and friendly dogs when alone. You can give the people special, high-value treats that you provide for them to give to the pup. It’s important that each sees people as welcoming beings. 

On some outings, take the puppies together with separate handlers, eventually separating and taking different routes from each other. 

Of course, you can walk them together sometimes and take them places together occasionally. But on most outings, take them separately.

Get them used to a car ride separately. 

Each needs to learn to love to travel alone. If they’re always taken together, they may have car anxiety when they’re apart.

Train them separately. 

Teach each puppy all important training commands during sessions when they’re apart. Each should learn to pay attention, walk on a loose leash, come reliably, sit, down, stay, leave it, and drop it. 

After each has learned these behavior cues separately, you can do some training sessions with the puppies together. But still continue to do some daily training sessions when they’re apart.

Feed them separately. 

You want them to be independent and not try to take each other’s food–or potentially guard their food as they enter social maturity. And have a feeding schedule.

House train each separately. 

Take each out individually when teaching them to potty. Otherwise, they may learn to go to the bathroom only when the other is present.

And that can lead to avoidable accidents because they will need to go to the bathroom even when separated. 

Groom each separately. 

Getting a puppy used to handling and grooming is important. But with two puppies, you want each to have confidence and accept–and even enjoy–being groomed when they’re apart. 

Have a routine schedule. 

Dogs are creatures of habit and do well with a schedule. So plan their feeding, crating, exercise, socialization, and training. This will help each dog have confidence in his world.

Use holistic aids. 

For anything they will ingest, first check with your vet if it’s alright for them to take the aid. There are many holistic aids that you can use to help a dog feel less anxiety.

There are calming tabs, CBD oil, and Rescue Remedy. 

There’s also a product called Adaptil, which mimics a dog mother’s pheromones and comes in a collar, spray (for objects, not on the dog), and a plug-in for the home. You can also try the ThunderShirt, which is like a hug and, when introduced properly, can help alleviate a dog’s anxiety.

Play calming music. 

Calming sound can help lessen a dog’s anxiety. There’s even a product called Through a Dog’s Ear that was developed to help alleviate a dog’s stress.

Remain calm. 

Dogs read our body language, tone, and odor. So if we’re stressed, they’ll feed off of that. I know that it’s easier said than done when you see that your puppy is anxious.

But if your body language isn’t stressed and you use a calm tone of voice, it will help your pup also remain serene.

Get professional help.

Littermate syndrome can lead to some severe behavioral issues. I advise that people get any assistance needed sooner rather than later.

If you’ve tried the above methods and your puppies are still stressed, get help from a qualified positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist who has successfully treated puppies with littermate syndrome.

Rehome one of the puppies. 

If the puppies aren’t making progress being apart, it’s often best to rehome one. I realize how difficult this can be because you’re attached to both.

But, for their own good and so that they don’t develop behavioral issues, it’s best that they grow to their full potential apart.

What NOT To Do: Don’t Try This at Home

There are certain actions that you shouldn’t take when working through the littermate syndrome issue. Doing so won’t help the issue–and may even do a lot of harm.

Don’t move too quickly in separating the puppies. 

Of course, you should make constant progress. But pushing them too far too fast can make them anxious and panicked.

So, for example, when separating their crates to different areas of your house, move each apart slowly.

Don’t just move a crate to another room without first moving the crates apart over days or weeks while in the same room at first.

Don’t correct them for their anxiety. 

If one or both seem stressed, don’t correct them verbally or physically. Doing so will inevitably make the matter worse and can even lead to other behavioral issues–including aggression.

Don’t force them to socialize with new environments, people, or dogs. 

When taking each out separately, don’t force the puppy to interact with new people or dogs. And don’t force them into scary environments. 

One of the puppies may be more outgoing than the other. Socialize each at his own pace. You want them to know that the world away from each other is a positive place that he wants to interact with.

And don’t take them to environments that can overwhelm them or be too stressful, such as a noisy street if that bothers them. You want your pup to see the world as a positive place.


I’m thinking about adopting two young puppies? Should I? 

Generally not. They may develop littermate syndrome in which they bond too closely to each other. If this occurs, they aren’t likely to properly bond with you or other dogs or people.

And they will develop behavioral issues ranging from stress, severe separation anxiety, crating issues, leash reactivity, and issues when encountering new situations.

It’s best to get puppies at least six months apart, where you’ve trained one and then train the other, and then train them together. And get each used to being alone in separate crates and areas of your house.

I’ve adopted two puppies, and they constantly cry when they’re apart. What should I do? 

You should slowly get them used to being apart. This means training, pottying, crating, socializing, feeding, and walking them separately the majority of the time.

Also spend some relaxing and playing with each separately. If the issue is severe, get professional help from a behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer who has experience with littermate syndrome.

I’m getting a lab puppy. The breeder has two puppies left and will give me a discount on each if I take both. Should I get both puppies? 

No! They may develop littermate syndrome in which they over-bond to each other and not bond sufficiently with you and others.

They may also develop many behavioral issues such as: fearfulness of new people, animals, and situations; severe separation anxiety; and leash reactivity.

Also, research any breeder that you may obtain a dog from to ensure that they perform recommended health clearances on the breeding parents and have experience with the breed.

Final Thoughts

It’s best not to get two puppies at the same time. When two puppies of approximately the same age are raised together, they may get littermate syndrome. 

This means that they will become too bonded with each other and may not bond as well with you as they otherwise would if alone. They are also likely to develop behavioral issues that you will have to deal with. 

Have you ever gotten two puppies at the same time?

If so, did they develop littermate syndrome?

What did you do about it and was it successful?Please tell us about it in the comments section below. 

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What Is Littermate Syndrome? - Two Golden Retriever puppies in a box.

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What Is Littermate Syndrome? How To Prevent and Handle It was last modified: March 14th, 2023 by Debbie DeSantis


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