Top 10 Tips – Considerations for Raising Littermates

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Littermates have known each other since the day of conception, the entire time in the womb, and during the neonatal snuggle and pile up nursing stage. They have been each others pillows, first play mates, first partners in crime, and each others first chew toys when cutting teeth. Littermates know each other intimately, every skin flick, eye twitch, nose wiggle, and movement. There is no interpretation necessary, they are fluent with each others everything.

An understanding unparalleled.

I 100% do not recommend getting littermates. The human owner is always to some degree the outsider, the nice person who prepares food, the toy giver, the snuggler, but most definitely, “your nice and all, but not one of us”. And when something more interesting appears in the environment, the human for sure no longer exists, and the siblings will feed on each others actions, words and whistles be damned!

Some littermates get along so well they act as one, but this is not common.

Some littermates, while raised together, can be a bad temperament blend in the same household, and this can become a virtual nightmare for everyone involved.

I have worked with households who casually choose, or the breeder chose for them, to have littermates. Most households have been unsuccessful and unprepared for the two-some puppies, and one is either given back to the breeder, or re-homed.

And there are the few households, I can count them on one hand, who deeply wanted littermates, had an understanding on some level of the challenges, and have been very successful, but through no lack of effort.

Now as the saying goes ‘do as I say not as I do’.

I currently have littermates. I have known them since the day I could hear their hearts beat in-utero, and was there for the moment of their birth, a ‘welcome’ to the world we know. I watched each one grow and develop, and was the first human to give them a kiss, a belly rub, and whisper ‘I love you so much’ into their little tiny ears.

If I could have kept the whole litter I would have, and this article would read quite differently I am sure, but I found the homes I was looking for, perfect homes, and three of them went on their way to live their lives of greatness doing other things. And two remained with me.

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Mama Beetz was #1 in the birth order, and Massimo was #2. While there was a lot of interest in each one, and some awesome homes that were possible, I think deep down we had imprinted on each other, and they just felt like part of the very fiber of my home.

Do I have challenges? Yes for sure.

So here are my Top 10 Tips for raising littermates successfully. psst – there are a gadzillion ways to raise them unsuccessfully, this is about success!

  1. DECIDE that you want a single pup or littermates BEFORE you go to visit the litter or talk to a breeder. Being mentally prepared for one or two is super important before you are emotionally hijacked by the sweetness of cute little fur nuggets. Your choice needs to be made when you are emotionally neutral.
  2. KNOW why you want littermates, what is your reason or purpose. It needs to be more than, “oh I think my puppy would love a playmate”, because you can always find playmates outside the home, and littermates are so far beyond ‘just’ playmates.
  3. ORGANIZE your home, before the puppies come home, to accommodate two puppies. That means two crates, two x-pens, two water bowls, two fenced areas, two harnesses, two leashes, two collars, two name tags, two beds, two everything. While they are littermates, they are also two individuals.
  4. MONETARILY be prepared. It is double the veterinary bill, double the food cost, double the gear cost, double the teething items, double the everything. While the purchase price of littermates might be doable, the yearly upkeep can be overwhelming.
  5. TIME is of the essence. Littermates will suck every ounce of time out of your day. It is important that you have that time. Look at your schedule right now, do you have time for separate walks, combined walks, separate moments for training, combined moments for training, separate socialization opportunities, combined socialization opportunities, separate grooming/bath times, separate play-dates with new friends, combined play-dates with new friends, separate moments with you, combined snuggle times. Two takes twice or ten times the amount of time.
  6. SAME SEX littermates are not something I would recommend. While in the beginning they might seem simpatico with each other, come sexual maturity you can have issues, that might never resolve, and that can become damaging to self, others, and household. Opposite sex littermates, that enjoy each other in the litter environment, are generally the best match.
  7. TEMPERAMENTS are super important to take into account when choosing littermates. Sometimes a puppy is thrilled to leave their brothers and sisters, “adios and glad to be gone!” Whether they felt too much pressure, or just didn’t jive with their siblings, or possibly they were picked on, they are not puppies looking to live with the ones they didn’t get along with from birth. And for sure you don’t want to choose opposite temperaments, as you will put one in the position of caring for the other, and that turns into ‘the protector – protectee’ relationship and that is a difficult combination. For littermates, the best combination is similar to similar, if they really enjoy each other in the litter environment. Watch and observe. HINT – it is always temperament above physical appearance, don’t get stuck on ‘the one with cool markings’ that has nothing to do with how they will get along. NOTE – and while littermates may be a perfect match when young, sexual maturity, adolescents, and young adulthood can shift relationships, both in a positive and negative way, so be prepared for change during development. Not all relationships are made to last forever.
  8. CHOOSE YOUR BREEDER carefully. If you have a breeder who is willing to sell you littermates, no questions asked, walk away. If you go to pick up a puppy and are asked to take a second puppy, half price, walk away. If you find a breeding program you like, and start a conversation with that breeder who is very reluctant to sell littermates to the same household, THAT is the breeder you want to work with. You will be asked to step up to the plate and prove you know what you are asking for, that your household has the management necessary, and that you understand what you are asking for. A good Breeder wants to know that success will be in the puppies future, not heartache or conflict.
  9. SEXUAL MATURITY happens. You need to decide early on what your choices will be for management. Will you spay and neuter at the onset of sexual maturity to prevent an unwanted pregnancy? Will you leave them intact for developmental growth and health and have the management of Fort Leavenworth? Will you just neuter your male? Will you just spay your female? You need to have a plan before orgies start to be a daily occurrence.
  10. TRAINING is essential. Your littermates know each other intimately, you are the funny mammal that speaks a strange language. It is important to learn more and do more, you need to build a fluent vocabulary with each one. This goes way beyond sit, down, stay, and come. Littermates need consistency from you, they need to be able to trust your space, each one needs to understand what you are saying or asking, and not default to each other trying to interpret your desires. Don’t ever think of a minimal list of things you want your littermates to know, rather think of ‘how much’ can they learn. The more you work with your littermates, the more value you take on, and this is very important. Get involved with regular training, invest in learning about different sporting opportunities, trick training, clubs, herding, or field trial events, get involved. Whether you participate in person or take on-line courses, or cruz YouTube for ideas, always be on a path to learning more with your littermates.

As always, enjoy the time you have with your dogs, be honest, be realistic, and learn as much as possible, Nancy

8 comments

  1. Great tips. I had litter mates and I had a bit of a learning cure, but found solutions. They went on all the horseback rides with us which kept them super fit. They were male and female which helped, but still required a watchful eye. They didn’t always like each other.

  2. February 1991 I was looking for a single pup. The owners would not separate the 2 pup litter. I brought them home and the first visit to the VET he looked at me and said “You don’t have to do this”. This two pups became my world and welcomed my son when they were 6 years old. In the early years, much of what you describe was my experience. The male was sedate, an old man of sorts and was happiest laying on my lap and asking me to never move. The female was a firecracker, life of the party, whirlwind of energy and would entice her brother into ‘finding trouble’. He got caught and she was no where to be found, she was smart as a whip. They would gang up on me or both would not listen to me at the same time. He potty trained in 2 days and it took her 8 months and she was arrogant about it too. They were in concert completely until they were not. Probably around the ages of 11-12. Later in life they flipped. They would get into fights and try and tear each other apart. It wasn’t over food or a bone, sometimes it was just because he would walk past her and bump her and she would immediately launch into him. He wasn’t interested in her temper and became more aggressive each year. Shortly after this began, the little girl went to live with my parents and she blossomed. He needed the quiet time as he lost his cognitive skills, sight, hearing and became incontinent. She held her mind, sight, hearing and was never incontinent. They lived to 16 and 18 years of age, she died at 16 within 6 hours of onset of a spinal cord stroke, he shattered his back leg, most likely bone cancer at 18 years ~ My greatest gift to both of them was raising them mostly in the mountains, watching them romp in the snow, plunging into snow drifts was probably their most favorite activity in the world. They were small dogs that required bi-weekly grooming and a few surgeries, I did limited vaccinating and stopped all at 18 months and did Rabies every 5 years and stopped those after ages 14. He was allergic to the baseline material in the syringe and went into anaphylactic shock, he required a steroid push prior to deworming! Crazy and complicated. It was a very expensive experience that I never considered
    the moment I first laid eyes on them. Did I love every moment with them, absolutely. Would I do it again ~ NO!!

  3. There’s a chapter in pretty much every dog book I’ve read titled “Adopting Litter Mates: DON’T,” so I guess that’s for a reason eh? Though not impossible as you have proven. But 100% for sure something I would not do. 😉

    1. it is not for the faint of heart. If I was not the breeder I would never have considered littermates in this lifetime or the next. Oddly enough, my closest friends that are also breeders have kept whole litters or littermates and say that when they are yours it is quite different, and they would also never consider ‘buying’ littermates from someone else, the difficulties and considerations are very real.

  4. I have always wondered if I wanted littermates. I still wonder. But your post is very insightful and I will always keep it in mind. I have thought the two siblings would rather be with each other and not so much me, which has kept me from doing so. 🙂

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