Sibling Rivalry

October 4, 2014

Canine Coaching Services Articles

What is better than a sweet, precious, adorable, little puppy?  Well, how about two!  Double the cuteness, cuddles, and puppy-breath.  Sometimes people add two puppies at the same time to their family.  Most of the time the thought process behind this is, the puppies will have a built friend and playmate.  On the surface it seems like a great idea, but in actuality it may lead to serious problems in the future.

 

Leaving the litter and mom can be very stressful for a young puppy.  Going to the new home with a littermate along does help with the stress during the initial adjustment period.  But within weeks there will likely be issues that arise.

 

The two puppies will grow to be tightly bonded to each other.  People will always be secondary to them.  They will look to each other for play, affection, and comforting before they look to humans.  In most cases one puppy will rise to be the leader of the two.  Typically, the other puppy will prove to be insecure and always looking to the lead puppy for direction, especially in new or uncomfortable situations. 

 

When separated from one another both puppies will be uneasy, but the follower puppy will be frantic, to the point of being inconsolable.  The puppy may either thrash around trying to get away and find its sibling, or lay still completely shut down.  This puppy is overwhelmed without the sibling.  The leader puppy may not get quite as upset and the follower, but will still be visibly stressed.

 

Given the chance, as they get older, sibling puppies are more likely to run off with each other.  You can call them all you want, but they will blow you off and keep running.  In some cases, as the sibling puppies mature they attempt to control the humans and take over the household.

 

In a group of dogs a female is usually at the top of the hierarchy.  In cases when the sibling puppies are females, as they approach adulthood they can begin to display dominance aggression.  If there is already a dominant female dog in the home, the siblings will gang up on her. These attacks are brutal.  The siblings are trying to dethrone the dominant dog.  If they accomplish this, or there is not a dominant female dog in the home, the siblings will turn on each other. The worst conflicts I’ve seen have occurred between females fighting for that top spot.  Usually, the females are about the same size.  If one of the two dogs is substantially larger and more powerful then these battles for dominance don’t usually occur.

 

These female dominance fights are not the norm, but they do happen.  And when they do, even after only had a few seconds of contact, one or both dogs need medical attention. The dogs are trying to kill each other.  Once these female fights for dominance begin it is difficult to keep them from continuing. The tension is always there and it doesn’t take much to set off another fight.  The dogs will have to be kept apart. Often, the best course of action is to re-home one of the dogs.  In a different home where the dog is the only dog or coupled with a male dog they will not need to fight for position.

 

(I must take a moment to mention when I am talking about dog behavior in this column, I am almost always referring to dogs who are spayed or neutered.  In situations when the dogs are “not fixed” we are talking about an entirely different and much higher level and likelihood of aggression problems.)

 

As long as you provide plenty of attention, exercise, basic training, and socialization opportunities, a single puppy should thrive in your home.  In most cases you don’t have to get a second puppy.  However, make a point of arranging regular puppy play dates that encourage positive interactions with other dogs. This will ensure your puppy grows up to like other dogs and develop good greeting and playing skills.

 

If you still want to get two puppies from the same litter, the best plan is to take one puppy home for a few weeks before bringing the second puppy on board.   Develop the relationship by visiting the second puppy regularly (without bringing the first puppy) until it comes to live with you.  When the second pup reunites with the first pup, they will likely remember each other, but that super strong bond has been broken.  This method of obtaining the puppies will help a great deal in preventing them from becoming so dependent on each other.

 

Throughout the life of your dogs you should routinely set aside time to spend with them individually.  From their puppyhood, dogs should learn that you are fun to be with, but that you are ultimately the one in charge. 

 

Even if they are not from the same litter, be wary of getting two females of similar size, in order to reduce the risk of female dominance aggression.  When in doubt, it is best to have a male and female combination.  Be sure you are making responsible decisions when bringing a new dog into your world.  Dogs should add joy to your life; not stress and heartache.

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