This blog is motivated by a consideration of emotion and rationale. I am in the privileged position of having first hand access to our puppy’s earliest developments as a result of choosing a dedicated and passionate breeder who is keeping me regularly updated on events!
Considering the Approach in Choosing a Puppy
I currently have the first choice of both black boys, however despite my knowledge about the breed and puppy character development this is a task that feels utterly daunting. What if I get it wrong? Does it matter? After all, I have covered all bases with ensuring the best possible genetic material and excellent socialisation during the early critical learning period.
I guess there are litter dynamics to consider, the puppy’s birth weights ranged from 1lb 5oz to 11.5oz so I’m sure there will be some ‘argy bargy’ around mealtimes and play. As the pups develop they will begin to assert themselves within the litter and character traits will develop, these will all be visible so I have given ‘Derrie’ my breeder the task of spotting my preferred personality. I think you could call this ‘shying at the final hurdle’!
So what am I looking for? Well when choosing your puppy you should always consider your lifestyle and home environment. Most dogs, with the right management will adapt to pretty much every scenario and most of the suitability factors have been dealt with when choosing the breed. There would be no point in choosing to own a Labrador if you have limited time to walk or train him because of long working hours or other commitments.
I have recognised that despite my current animal focused lifestyle, puppy ownership will take my commitment to a whole new level. My current 6.45am alarm call will be pushed forward to 6am, making time for the early toilet training and stimulation prior to the mad dash on the school run.
I thought it might be useful to give a few bullet point considerations for your first month of owning a puppy from 8- 12 weeks:
- Toilet training: taken outside every 2 hours, and/ or after food, play and when he wakes up.
- Social exposure to everything the pup may experience in normal life.
- Learning to sleep alone overnight.
- Veterinary visit for general health assessment, vaccination, worming.
- Introducing the crate and teaching self-control.
- Learning manners around meal times.
- Recognising limitations of the home environment, where boundaries apply.
- Teaching him his name.
- Early recognition of basic training commands (sit/stay/wait/come).
- Introduction of a collar and lead in an appropriate fashion.
- Basic understanding of what is and what isn’t acceptable dog behaviour.
- Learning manners and respect during human social encounters.
The above requires time and immense amounts of patience and factoring this around a young family, other animals and a business requires planning, planning and more planning!
So what sort of character would work well in my family? I can only make a character preference so any requests are with a realistic understanding that we are talking about the very early stages of development! “I would prefer a middle of the road temperament, self-assured, but not overly boisterous or demanding!” That said I am prepared for whatever little character arrives with us, I recognise Derrie’s (the breeder) role is to cover the early social stuff in day to day life and I will take the batten over to shape and moderate normal dog behaviour traits.
I am under no illusion that I am about to experience all the fun, high energy, heart-warming and sometimes exasperating events a new puppy brings to a home and I plan on a few sleepless nights to add to the excitement!
Why NOT To Buy Litter Mates
Watching the litter via videos and looking at pictures has made potentially having to make a choice even more difficult. One thing I won’t be doing is taking home more than one dog from the same litter, regardless of how tempted I might be! Nor will I succumb to taking a puppy from my other breeder. Good breeders should refused to sell two pups to one new owner and Derrie confirms this is the case for her. From a dog behaviourist perspective I have enough experience to know that allowing siblings to leave the litter together is the worst decision to make.
I am regularly called out to homes of families who have purchased siblings or decided to get two young dogs at the same time. If I have learnt anything from my years working with dogs, it would be that litter mates are hard work, and not for the faint hearted. Inevitable and consistent behaviour issues with both dogs will be present for them to have called me.
Sadly these are challenging cases to manage due to the level of owner commitment required. In many cases I am called in too late, this may result in a recommendation for the re-homing of one of the dogs. This is usually unacceptable to the owner and so I strive to set a behaviour modification program that is effective and allows the owner the opportunity to work sensibly with both dogs on an individual level.
Every case is different and an assessment allows an opportunity to see what is feasible for the owner. In most cases advising the separate management of both dogs creates panic for an owner and isn’t conducive to a positive result. My priority for a successful outcome is to empower confident owners so I am very careful of the way I deliver advice and the demands I place on a family.
So why do problems develop?
The puppies have an embedded early learning that focuses on them relying on each other for support. This interferes with their social development and makes it difficult for a new human owner to have enough authority to develop a relevant relationship. For the most part, training and managing both dogs separately through their early learning is just not feasible in most households so this canine bond develops further making the dogs more insular.
So here is a bullet point guide as to why respectable canine professionals will advise against taking litter mates or two young dogs at the same time.
- The strength of the puppies bond means they rely on each other in all social scenarios and when left alone. Neither one of them develops a genuine strength of character. Despite one acting bolder than the other, this is a false confidence driven by insecurity and is usually defensive. The other puppy may remain withdrawn but commonly develops similar negative behaviour patterns to its sibling.
- An owner trying too hard to intercept the bond between the dogs via the delivery of toys, food and petting risks interfering with the natural dynamics of the relationship. Empowering the more submissive dog will result in unbalance in the dog’s relationship and add to their insecurities.
- It is usually impossible to separate the siblings even for a short while, without creating a level of stress which is likely to have a lasting effect. Separating them needs work as I have seen many cases that have attended our Vet Practice on their own and both siblings have displayed serious detrimental behaviour patterns due to separation. This will have a dramatic effect on any healing or recovery if injury of illness is a concern. Likewise is one of the dogs die their sibling may never recover.
- If a negative behaviour pattern develops in one of the dogs it is likely the other will follow.
- The dogs often resort to vocalisation in response to visiting house guests and on walks towards other dogs. This is driven by fear and insecurity so any low level noises will act as triggers.
- As the dogs become more established in the home environment and develop, the instances of stressful situations they encounter become more frequent, ‘sibling-rivalry’ is a common response as both dogs look for an outlet for their frustrations. In many cases bitches may be more volatile and aggressive than male dogs but it is a potential outcome for both genders. As the progress through adolescence into adulthood this may develop into lasting animosity and serious aggression making them unsafe in most family homes.
- Cost is a huge consideration and something that is underestimated by most new owners, remember everything will be double here so it is worth having a rough guide on how much, food, insurance and vet care could entail. As a rough guide food alone should be estimated at £10-15 per week (£40-60 per month), £80-120 per month for 2 dogs!
- Reflect upon the time required to walk, train and care for 2 dogs whose needs are the same daily. Often quality one on one time with the family dog is difficult even with one dog so two dogs may be an impossible task.
Have you got two puppies and want advice?
So despite all this info I am realistic and people do end up in this situation and do not want to hear lots of negative comments. While they may be true, there are also lots of things you can do to turn a dire situation around if you are prepared to focus on what needs to be done and put the work in.
Well here are my top tips – but keep in mind both dogs need the same amount of work, so this is very much ‘double trouble’…
- Crate them separately, with a clear conditioning protocol so both dogs recognise their own ‘down time’ space and are comfortable with it.
- Deliver play and attention separately on your terms.
- Groom them separately.
- Train and walk them separately.
- Socialise them with other dogs and people separately.
- Attend puppy classes two nights a week, one night with each puppy.
- Take your time when separating, find the dogs coping ability by observing how far away you can remove one dog before the other shows an interest. I advise my clients to find this point and then (ensuring they have trained the dogs to a bed area) interact with just one dog with a lead in place, engaging in some heel work practice back and fore the front door, a game of tug or hide and seek. The stationary dog can be given a bone or stuffed Kong to entertain them. (NB: You will probably have to take this process slowly). Gradually progress to leaving the house and returning quickly and then build on the time away slowly.
- Make sure whatever the dogs do ‘together’ is matched with the same amount of time spent apart.
- Engage in a solid leadership program, this will involve ensuring the dogs work for their basic needs and respect personal and household boundaries. They should understand a clear structure and routine and engage with family members only when asked to do so. This may seem harsh to some but dogs live by dog values and rules. Human perception and emotional perspectives cause conflict and confusion and are a trigger for many anxiety related dog behaviour problems I see.
This article has been designed as guidance for those new owners looking to make tough decisions and do the right thing. I am fully aware that there will be many people who successfully integrate, train and manage litter mates, however I am sure this success will be driven by experienced handling, depth of knowledge, time and dedication. It will never be a task for the average domestic dog owner and it certainly isn’t something I would even choose to do.
If you are intent on getting two dogs my advice would be to get one and put the work in and then look to integrating a second once the original is around 14 months old. This would be best practice