Double Trouble

19th Apr, 2021

Written by Scotty Valadao – Canine Behaviour Consultant (ABC of SA); Founder of Friends of the Dog –

The subject of not getting two puppies at the same time comes up often and can be a contentious one. Scotty Valadao explains why it’s usually not as good an idea as it may seem…

A good idea in theory

Many people get two pups together thinking that they’ll entertain one another, particularly if they’re going to be left home alone – and to an extent they do. However, bear in mind that a 4-month-old pup is estimated to be about the equivalent of a 4- to 8-year-old child, and an adolescent dog is equivalent to a teenager. Would you really want to leave them together all day, especially unsupervised?

A lot of people feel bad leaving one pup behind when there are only two left – please don’t! Apart from possibly ending up with problems yourself, you’re leaving the last pup to find a good home and allowing someone else the joy of adopting it. At the end of the day, the responsibility of the pup is the breeder’s or animal welfare’s. Responsible top breeders won’t even breed until they have a waiting list, and animal welfares will be focused on the well-being of the puppies (knowing that they have strict rehoming procedures, so that last puppy will find a good home, should console you too).  

What could go wrong?

In the beginning, your new puppies will snuggle and play, and look very happy. The problem is that, when they’re very young, you simply may not see the problems developing. Dogs have a language of their own called Body Language; if the owner isn’t educated in subtle signs, they may well miss early warning signs of potential problems. As the pups get older and their personalities start to emerge, the body language will be more obvious and the behaviour between the pups will be easier to spot.

All may seem well until the adolescent period of between 6-9 months arrives, and then the aggression may start. If the dogs are left intact (not sterilised), the situation will be even worse.

The extent of the problems you may experience will depend on the breed or breed makeup of the pups. Some breeds, as you’ll be aware, are bred to work together and be social butterflies, while other breeds, such as the majority of the “Bullie breeds” (Bull Terriers, Boerboels, Staffies, etc.), should usually be only dogs. These dogs were originally bred to protect livestock, guard property and work closely with their owner; therefore, they’re very bonded to their owners. Unfortunately, in later days, many of them were bred for blood sports such as bull-bailing, bear-bating, and, sadly, dog fighting by disreputable breeders. As a result, apart from not being overly social by nature, they often don’t take kindly to another dog, even a brother or sister, trying to get the owner’s attention.

Aside from serious injury occurring from a fight, it’s not unusual for one of the dogs to be rehomed. Can you imagine the heartbreak the family will feel? Or the stress to the animals?

And what about the dogs involved? The dog exhibiting the aggression has learnt that this behaviour works and may well tend to exhibit this behaviour towards other strange dogs when out for walks simply because it worked. What about the stress a dog will undergo if taken away from its home? If one of the dogs ends up in a shelter, the psychological damage can be immense, and each time an unsuccessful adoption occurs, the worse the psychological damage will be. A dog that’s been labelled “problem dog” is also highly unlikely to be adopted, even though the problem wasn’t of its own making. The one left behind may also pine for its sibling that it’s used to having around.

No reputable breeder will ever recommend that you take two pups together. This does occur, unfortunately, when they’re offered by irresponsible breeders, pet stores, or puppy farmers. Perhaps even by shelters that haven’t been educated as to why two pups shouldn’t go to the same home. So be warned: if a breeder offers you two pups, leave!

Here’s why having two pups at the same time is not a good idea

There are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t get two pups together, especially littermates, so that you gain a little more knowledge and can perhaps pass onto friends and family. Note that although the behavioural problems occurring when adopting two puppies together is generally referred to as “littermate syndrome”, the same problems can arise when adopting two puppies of around the same age, even if they’re not from the same litter.

  • Double trouble. Dogs very often mimic one another (known as Allellomimetic behaviour in dog terms). If one dog is doing something, it’s likely the other dog will join in. This is all well and fine if it’s something good, but it’s more likely to be digging in the garden, chewing on illegal objects, tearing through the garden causing havoc to your plants, etc. Basically, if you thought all would be fine, being company for one another, think again – the term “double trouble” is very appropriate!
  • Two dogs to be walked. Just having a big yard is simply not enough. Dogs live by their noses, and you could compare it to us sitting watching TV, chatting on the phone, reading a book, talking to a friend, stimulating ourselves mentally, and even mixing with others and working our brains at work, etc. Dogs need the additional mental stimulation that scenting supplies. They also won’t exercise themselves, no matter how big your yard is. Scenting/daily walks have also been associated with serotonin levels, helping to have a more balanced and happier dog.

    A ten-minute minimum daily walk, where dogs are allowed to sniff and smell to their hearts’ content, will go a long way to avoiding future behaviour problems. If you’re thinking about making this daily walk part of your own exercise regime – think again – this is the dogs’ entertainment not the owners’!

It’s estimated that a dog’s sense of smell is in the region of 10,000 to 100,000 (breed dependent) more acute than that of us humans – for every scent receptor a human has, a dog has about 50, so you understand why they need a lot more than just your garden. Both need to be walked, but in order to ward against littermate syndrome, they should ideally be walked separately.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please bear in mind that your puppy shouldn’t be walking in any areas where other dogs are likely to be found until about two weeks after the third set of vaccinations. Approximately 98% of dogs in South Africa are not vaccinated; you’ll realise how important it is to keep your puppy safe from picking up devastating, potentially fatal diseases such as Canine Parvovirus and Distemper, so avoid areas where other dogs have access too. Also remember to keep puppy walks short, as their joints have not finished developing yet.

  • Overly dependent. Two pups tend to become dependent on one another, and if they’re separated they often don’t cope. For example, the less confident dog, if left behind, will whine, stress and often not eat if its companion isn’t with it. If the more confident pup ends up at the vet for a period of time, it will, as you can imagine, be incredibly stressful for the less confident pup and will often make it even more worried about the other one even being out of its sight, worsening the dependency.
  • Bonding blues. They tend to bond more with one another than with their people and make their own little mini canine pack, often ignoring the owner/s when requests are made of them.
  • Bullying. One pup tends to be more confident and the other more withdrawn as it’s being overshadowed by the more confident one. This, of course, depends on the dog’s temperament and breed and can become extreme, with one pup even becoming fearful and bullied by the other pup. Because the more confident pup gets away with the behaviour and sees that it works, it’ll keep on doing it; more often than not, the bullying will increase and happen in more and more situations. Can you imagine how stressful this must be for the less confident pup? Moreover, as the more confident pup is getting away with this unacceptable behaviour, they’re often more likely to display the same behaviour with strange dogs – a real problem in the making.
  • It’s all mine. Most dogs love to play with their toys with their people or have a good chew on a Kong or something similar. Unfortunately, in the case of two pups together, “sharing is not caring”, as my granddaughter says. These objects will tend to be taken over by the more confident pup, resulting in the less confident one even becoming scared of trying to play with them in case there’s a reaction from the other pup.
  • School. Ideally the pups should be in separate classes to build confidence and their social skills, and guard against bonding and bullying. This means more time, effort, and financial outlay for the owner.
  • Missed potential. Seldom will both pups grow to their full potential, which is really so sad. The work that the owner will have to put in to ensure they do grow to their full potential, and problems don’t develop, takes a lot of work and commitment, although it’s worth it!
  • Fighting is more likely to break out. This is especially likely in the adolescent period (6-9 months), where it becomes important for the pup to determine its own place in the canine hierarchy. It’s more likely to happen if the pups are similar in temperament. If they’re breeds such as any of the Bullie breeds mentioned above, the chances are that the fighting will become severe and may even result in injury or rehoming, especially if the dogs aren’t sterilised. If the pups are females, this can be very severe.
  • Cost implications. Then of course we have the financial aspect. Double equipment which has to be changed as the pups grow (e.g. collars, etc.). Double vet bills for vaccinations, deworming, tick and flea products, sterilisation, and other vet-related expenses. Double puppy school fees and even further training. Double pet medical insurance. And these are just a few of the expenses that could be incurred.

What’s next?

But what if you already have two pups and realise that you might have a potential problem on your hands, or know somebody else with two pups? Don’t panic! In our next article, we’ll be giving you tips on how to grow your two “angels” into well-behaved and balanced pups and help them to grow to their full potential.