Littermates — think twice

I’ve seen an interesting trend in the last few months, people are acquiring littermates more frequently than in the recent past. The economy must be improving! While there are many reasons why people purchase or adopt multiple dogs (at the same time) in this post I will start to address some of the reasons why you should think twice (or three times) before you make this BIG decision.

Here’s the scenario: At the local shelter you see this adorable litter of puppies, you can’t decide between getting the boy or the girl so you and your partner decide to get both. A great idea, right? Maybe not. When you bring two new puppies (or dogs) into your home, at the same time, you will find that the complexity of raising your new canines can more than double.

Here are just a couple of the things you will need to consider:

Housetraining — in order to effectively housetrain a dog you need to supervise them 100% of the time when they are not confined to their crate. As you can imagine, when watching two puppies/dogs it becomes more difficult to see the subtle behavioral cues a young pup will offer just prior to alleviating themselves. Also, if you take your puppies out on leash (highly recommended for housetraining) it’s common for one pup to distract the other — causing one or both to lose track of why they went outside in the first place.

Bonding & confidence — with littermates in particular, it’s common for them to bond more closely with each other than with their human family members. Note: this is not usually what the humans anticipate. Also, it’s common that littermates will find confidence in each other vs. in you, i.e. if the dominant puppy is a barker or becomes fearful in a situation it’s likely the sibling will follow suit. And just because the pups are good with each other does not improve the likelihood they will be properly social with strange dogs.

You will need to help them grow up as individuals — each dog should have the opportunity to develop to their greatest potential. In order to help multiple dogs do this you will need to encourage their independence by having them:

  • Eat separately‚ individual bowls
  • Sleep separately — each have their own crate
  • Walk them individually
  • Take them on separate as well as group outings
  • Attend separate training and socialization classes

Several years ago I had two gentlemen, in separate classes, that had each taken on a pair of German Shepherd littermates. After significant discussions both agreed they were fully committed to raising the siblings. Well, I’m happy to report that after the 6-week training session both sets of pups were doing very well, as for the gentlemen — each lost 20+ pounds in that period of time! Remember — a tired puppy is a good puppy. When you have two that means a fit owner as well 🙂

If you are serious about wanting more than one dog, I suggest waiting to get the second for at least 6 months after you’ve brought the first one home. That way you will have had a chance to build a solid relationship and training base with your first dog while also realizing the time and financial commitments required to make everything work out.

Good luck 🙂 Please feel free to post comments!


Importance of Early Socialization

Recently I’ve had a couple of 15 or 16 week old pups come to my Puppy Kindergarten classes — the class is open to pups from 10 wks to 16 wks. In both instances the owners had “kept them home” until they received their second round of shots.

Unfortunately puppies have a developmental window that is just about closed at 16 weeks and what I’m finding is that these puppies are scared of EVERYTHING! While there may be a genetic factor, and it’s possible they are going through a fear period, there is no doubt in my mind that the lack of exposure to a variety of stimuli has severely retarded their social and emotional development.

So what do you do when you have a 35 lb. lab or doberman puppy that’s scared of the 6 lb. cockapoo, not to mention the other puppies? Here’s what I’ve done, that has brought some success:

First of all do NOT over face the puppy. Don’t let the owner coddle them either. Instead the owner should be encouraged to engage the puppy with treats or toys while observing the rest of the class from a little bit of a distance. After the class has been in session for about 10 minutes I do a first round of introductions. I have 2 puppies meet at a cone in the middle of the room (handlers using a food lure at the puppy’s nose to get them to walk to the cone). Once at the cone I say “let them meet” at which time the puppies (on leash – which must be kept loose) get to sniff one another for 3 seconds. Then I ask the owners to return to their chairs, again with food at their puppy’s nose. I select the quietest puppy to meet the shy one. Often the first meeting with the shy puppy is a non-meeting, but we try.

Then we continue on with class. All the while all the puppies are scoping out their neighbors. For the next round of puppy play I divide the group by size & play style, if needed. As I do this I gate off the scared puppy and let him be “off leash” in his safe haven, so he can watch the others play. Based on how that scared puppy is acting I will determine whether it’s appropriate to introduce him to one of his classmates. I find limiting the exposure to a single, quiet puppy is helpful. I will have the scared puppy off leash & the classmate on leash, so that I can collect the classmate up quickly if needed.

The socialization process at this point is slow, but once the scared puppy gains confidence with his classmates the changes in class behavior for that puppy can be significant. However, I’m not at all certain that the now more confident puppy will ever have the level of confidence or resilience in new situations that he might have, had he been exposed to more things (in a positive way) earlier in his life.

The lesson to be learned — get young puppies (by 10 weeks) out into puppy safe environments where they can begin to experience the world.

Have fun 🙂


So you want a puppy?

It is unfortunate but every so often a person, or family, comes to class with a very mismatched dog or puppy. Perhaps they saw a cute pup at a weekend event, or they used to own big dogs when they were younger  — but now they’re in their 70s. The reasons vary but the outcome is frequently the same — they need to re-home the new canine.

I encourage people to do a little homework before they take the big step of adding a new family member. A few things to consider include:

• Consider what the dog was bred to do — a dog who was bred to herd cattle all day won’t likely do well waiting in an apartment for you to get home from work.

• How big will the dog get? Do you have the strength and where-with-all to give him proper training and exercise?

• Most puppies like to jump up on people and things. Consider if this could seriously hurt a family member and perhaps consider adopting an older dog who’s had some training.

These are just a few of the things to think about before you let your heart get stolen away 🙂