Raising Sibling Pups Correctly and Meeting Their Needs

NOW YOU’VE DONE IT. Here’s what to do when you realize that getting 2 puppies together was a bad idea.

WAIT! STOP! Before you read this, there may still be time to prevent yourself and 2 puppies a lot of heartache. If you do not already have 2 pups of the same age, DO NOT DO IT. The following article is to be used as a “how-to” guide ONLY if the damage has been done. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, GREAT! Read my article on why you should only get 1 puppy at a time, and HEED IT.

(Oh, you say, “But my uncle/cousin/sister/friend did it, and her dogs are just fine, and she didn’t follow any of your advice, so you must not know what you are talking about!” Know what? He/She got LUCKY. When it works without the work I outline in this article, it’s pure LUCK. It’s not the norm. Believe me.)

Go on, read it now. Then you won’t need this one.

Did you already do it? Get 2 puppies? Go read the other article anyway so you will understand why it’s not a good idea. Then come back here, roll up your sleeves, and read and heed this article.

So, you went to get a dog and ended up with two puppies. Maybe you wanted only one, but the other one looked so sad, you just couldn’t split them up. Maybe you thought two would be best, because you have 2 kids and they could each be in charge of their own pup. Maybe the breeder pushed two on you (for shame—good breeders know better and do not do this; bad breeders do it to sell more pups, or because they really don’t understand dog behavior). Maybe you thought they are better in pairs (you are thinking of kittens, not puppies). Maybe it was an impulsive decision (I hope so, because there is tons of research online that clearly says not to raise two puppies together, and you’d have had it drilled into your head if you researched beforehand).

But whatever the reason, you now have two puppies who need to be cared for and trained. If rehoming one of them is not an option, read on below to get expert advice on what to do now to mitigate some of the damage.

First, some facts. Click to read my article on the myths and problems of raising siblings from puppyhood, then come back here.

Puppies raised in the same household need to spend more time apart than they spend together. They can be together about 2-3 hours a day, and once they mature a bit more, their crates could be moved to the same room, but they still need to always be crated separately.

This is the developmental stage when pups need to be bonding with the humans, and if they have each other to fall back on for their social attachments, they will not bond to people as well. They are definitely harder to housebreak and train, too.

Once you get through the first 9-12 months, it gets easier.

But for now, you crate separately, train separately, take to potty separately, feed separately, and play with them mostly separately. Is it more work for you? You bet. Is it what the puppies need to be their best? It is.

All of this will help them to grow up to be calm, well-adjusted dogs, and calm, well-adjusted dogs are the easiest to raise, bond with, and care for. Calm, well-adjusted dogs should be what every dog owner strives for, because it is best for the dogs. Period.

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of allowing them to spend more than 2-3 hours a day together, because:

  • They wear each other out
  • They are adorable together
  • It seems like it’s better for them than being apart
  • Potential harm is not yet visible to you

Dogs who are too clingy to each other live in a state of stress. That stress manifests in several ways: it makes
them overly upset when they must be apart (e.g. for vet visits and training), it confuses them in regards to where they belong in the social relationship with humans, and it confuses them on how they relate to one another—and this can engender aggression between them as they reach adolescence and adulthood.

If this sounds weird to you, you are not alone. You are human and your perspective is also human. Dogs don’t have the same familial structure or expectations that humans do. The ideal for humans, with few exceptions, is to maintain familial bonds throughout their lives, for companionship, support, and the well-being of all members.

But dogs, besides being social animals who typically enjoy their own kind, don’t care whether their canine companions are their “blood relatives.” Unlike humans, they are not tribal in their affiliations; they bond quickly
with whatever humans and dogs they live with.

The focus should be on them bonding most strongly with the human members of the household, first. This will help them to figure out where they fit in, and will help them learn the ground rules of living with humans. Once these bonds are strong and the rules are understood, adding other dogs to the home should not cause any problems. If they have too much access to each other, this bonding to humans will not occur properly.

FACT: dogs who live together who were not raised simultaneously often settle into a dominant/submissive groove, which is actually a good thing, overall. You don’t want to live with two dominant, challenging-each-other-all-the-time dogs. It’s nice when they can each have a natural role, though this role is often more fluid than people think. For example, see box:

Puppies raised into adulthood without this amount of separation often begin to fight with each other as they reach maturity (anywhere from 9 months to 2 years of age, depending on breed/size). This infighting is worse in same-sex pairs, but can and does occur in opposite sex pairs. As dog-to-dog aggression in the home goes, it’s worse for siblings, often resulting in serious injury, high vet bills, and potential injury to humans who get in the way while trying to break up fights. Add into that the stress from the confused, frustrated, and incredulous humans (“they are brothers! Why would they try to hurt each other?”), the energy in the house becomes untenable.

And nope, none of this happens right away, when they are tumbling adorably on the rug together. The problems will arise later, once it’s too late to start these protocols.

Prevention is always better than the alternative. Pups who spend more time apart than together during the formative first year, following the plan outlined above, still may develop a “dominant/submissive” relationship (one will always be a bit submissive to the other). This imbalance is typically more pronounced in sibling pairs than in unrelated dogs in a home, and definitely worse if they aren’t separated, but in a well-separated pair, it shouldn’t be severe enough to require behavioral intervention beyond basic training.

Socialization to people, the outside world, and general day-to-day life should also occur mostly separately. The more they are exposed to the world in positive ways early on, the more confident they will be as adults. Keep socialization sessions short and fun, and let each pup rest well afterwards.

If you plan to attend any training classes, the dogs should go to separate ones. This is a good way for each to get some special time with the humans and apart from each other. Quick car trips to the store (in safe cool weather) are another way to split them up randomly for a bit.

If you do want to go somewhere with both dogs during the first few months, make sure each pup has a separate handler. This will make things a lot easier for everyone.

In addition, any time each pup can spend with one or two well-trained, mature adult dogs (who like puppies) to learn some manners is great. This would be friends’ or family members’ dogs—not strange dogs. These playtimes should be in safe areas, not dog parks or unfenced yards.

I know this seems like a lot of work. It doesn’t have to be burdensome, and regardless, it’s what will be best for the dogs, so please follow through

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