“A pair of adorable puppies from the same litter! What could be cuter? And they can keep each other company when we’re not home! We can train them together and they can share toys and food! It’ll be perfect!”
With people busier than ever, adopting two puppies from the same litter or of a similar age is becoming increasingly common, but is it really a good idea? As someone who’s been there, 90% of the time I’d strongly advise against it.
Most often, the problem is motivation. The people who want to adopt two puppies consider the idea because they’re afraid they’re too busy for one puppy, and they’re worried about the little guy being lonely. That creates a perfect recipe for what’s know as “Littermate Syndrome” by trainers and behaviorists. Dogs that are walked together, fed together, crated together, play together, and sleep together without ever being allowed to develop as individuals tend to have some pretty serious behavioral problems. They may become extremely aggressive with each other at adolescence, or become fearful of strangers and other dogs. Often, they won’t be able to function without the other present, so an overnight trip to the vet for one results in a miserable night of howling, destructive behavior, inappropriate elimination, and other signs of severe stress. Training two puppies is a lot of work, so add that they’re unlikely to get adequately trained to the mix, and you’ve got a pair of nightmare dogs. If you’re too busy for one puppy, you either need to adopt an adult dog, or consider another way to get your animal fix. Two puppies are not the answer!
That said, I do have two littermates, and I’m very happy with the arrangement, so how does that work? Well, firstly, I have no kids, I don’t work full-time, and I don’t have other responsibilities that keep me from focusing on the dogs most days. I have more than enough free time to raise one puppy, so I felt confident taking on two. I also live on the edge of my in-law’s family farm, so most of our walks are off leash, and allow the dogs to explore out of sight of each other. I don’t crate train, so they’re not sleeping right next to each other for hours a day, and I’m lucky enough to have a large house and fenced yard, so they spend a lot of time apart without me engineering it. Probably the most important thing is that I like reading dense, scholarly articles and dry books about animal behavior and training for funsies.
There are some advantages to having two at a time—they never cried all night for their litter, and they’ve been able to gradually become two individual, confident dogs. Bramble had some socialization issues, and being able to bring his brothers with us helped him make progress faster. Watching them run off and play with other dogs encouraged him to get out there, and he’s not glued to their sides anymore. They do play with each other when I’m busy, and they’ll actually exercise themselves running around the yard together. In the hottest parts of summer, I would “catch” them out running around the yard in the middle of the night, so they would actually sleep during the heat of the day. When they’re on farm walks they chase each other, swim after each other and otherwise keep everyone in excellent shape.
Then, there are the many drawbacks. Lots of them. Teaching one puppy to walk on a loose leash is obnoxious, teaching two at the same time is exponentially more difficult. I’m sure they would be better if we walked on-leash more often, but I’m still embarrassed by their leash skills. That goes for teaching them everything, really. They would both know more behaviors and be a little less rambunctious if I had been able to focus on them individually. Huckleberry’s socialization was certainly held back by going at Bramble’s pace, and so we’re still working on things with them together that Huckleberry would have mastered by himself. Bad behavior generally looks pretty fun, so chewing on the furniture, making ridiculous amounts of noise, harassing other animals, or the many other things I really wish they’d grow out of tend to become group activities. This is more hound-specific, but the two of them can make ear shattering noises back and forth at each other forever. You actually have to buy more toys, chews, and treats because of thefts, so it’s more expensive than two puppies should be. In general, two puppies are more than twice the trouble and they don’t save you any work.
There are ways to get around these problems without living on a farm, but they’re all time or money intensive. They could go to separate or alternating days at a doggy daycare for individual socialization. Most decent training classes won’t allow littermates in the same class with each other, so you’re committing to two concurrent training classes, or training both dogs individually yourself. If they’re on leash, they really need to go on separate walks several times a week, just to get used to getting out of touch and sight of each other outside the house. For some people, that might mean they go on two walks, for other people, that means hiring a dog walker. Add that to separate crates or sleeping areas, eating areas, and otherwise letting them spend enough time apart and it turns into a big chore, and something I wouldn’t try in a small apartment.
Having two puppies at the same time can be a wonderful thing, but most people and families today don’t have the time it takes to raise one puppy easily. For most people, it’s a horrible idea and it’s likely to end in a dog or dogs that are being rehomed because of behavioral issues. These are mostly people who really wanted what was best for the dogs, and just can’t cope with the problems that result. It’s a sad picture, and I hope it becomes less common.