Editorial June 2016 Issue

Adopting Two Dogs at Once: Twice as Nice?

Dog trainers almost universally agree that adopting siblings is a terrible idea. Then why do so many people do it?

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

As you may know, because for months I’ve talked about almost nothing else, I’ve been on a puppy-fostering jag since November. My shelter has a hard time with keeping large litters of puppies clean, warm, dry, and healthy, particularly in the winter; I guess that’s true for many if not most shelters. So I’ve been taking on one litter after another, starting with my first-ever foster-fail pup Woody, who was one of nine puppies; then a litter of six Chihuahua/terrier-mixes, all boys; another litter of nine cattle dog/pit-mixes, all adorably freckled; and I’m at the tail end (no pun intended) of a litter of seven German Shepherd/hound/who-knows-what-mixes. Playing with and caring for the pups has been fun, challenging, messy, expensive, and interesting! But here is the latest thing I’ve been fascinated with: the people who come to adopt a puppy – and end up walking out, or at least trying to walk out, with two.

It’s happened every single time that I brought the pups to the shelter. As soon as the pups in a given litter were judged to be big enough, healthy enough, and socialized enough to be put up for adoption, and I brought them (tearfully) to the shelter, a parade of potential adopters came to meet and greet them. Not a single person walked in saying “I want to adopt two puppies!” – but almost everyone said, at some puppy-covered point, “Oh honey, should we get two?”

For some people it’s a joke – someone teasing his or her partner. For some, it’s a fleeting impulse, one that’s quickly banished by the reality of the size (and cost!) of the commitment. But some people jump in with both feet! They hadn’t considered it before, but by gosh, they have every reason to do so now.

My shelter doesn’t have a policy against such a thing, as much as I wish they did. Perhaps shelters in less economically challenged parts of the country are more selective about sending puppies out the door; here, they are happy to place two at once . . . even if I’m standing on the sidelines, wringing my hands.

My hand-wringing and dire predictions worked to dissuade adopters every time, until this last litter. I wasn’t there to cheerily let the owners know everything that could go wrong when adopting two, and guess what? The shelter put me in touch with the young couple with the five year old son who did adopt two pups. It seems they are having trouble managing both puppies. I’m giving them lots of advice and encouragement – and begging them to stay open to the idea of returning one while they are still young enough to be relatively undamaged by time getting away with the sort of behaviors that lead many people to return pups as adolescents: a lack of housetraining, barking at novel things, and chasing, jumping up on, and biting the baby.

Why am I and so many trainers against this practice? The biggest reason is that puppies tend to bond more to each other than to their new human family members, making training and management much more difficult. Many dogs raised full-time with a sibling also develop crushing separation distress when they have to be separated. So when people say, “Oh, I just can’t separate them, they are so cute together!”, I always say, “Here, let me! You are all going to be a lot better off!”

What’s your opinion? Do you have problem-free sibling dogs? Or have you experienced all the bad things that, later, trainers told you would happen?

Comments (5)

Our Siberian Husky littermates (brother and sister) are almost 5 yrs old. When we met them at 3 months, our intention was to choose one and we immediately knew the big, outgoing male was meant for us. The issue was his small, very timid sister was very attached to him - her protector- but she wanted nothing to do with us. Nonetheless, we knew she'd be coming along as well.
How successful you are with littermates correlates directly with how committed you are to your dogs. I would hold Sugar in my lap and hand feed her, I slept with them for about the first 6 weeks. They both grew to be outgoing, social, fun loving dogs. OK, they're not the best behaved dogs in the world but I don't recommend Huskies anyway if you're looking for angels. Sugar still looks to her brother in stressful (like vet visits) situations but not excessively. We wouldn't trade our pups for anything.
We were denied the opportunity to adopt sisters (similar scenario - one dominant, one very timid) before we met the two were meant to have by a rescue group that told us the timid sister would never bond with us. Because this group refused to take into account our years of experience and our level of commitment, those pups lost out on a very good home and the opportunity to be together. But it meant we got our babies!! Ryder is as gregarious as ever and Sugar basically rules the world.

Posted by: mom2huskies | July 29, 2016 7:07 PM    Report this comment

This is my second time raising littermates. We are a childless couple and wouldn't settle for anything less than two dogs. My first set of standard poodles were closely bonded to one another but for us part of the joy was seeing the dogs develop in tandem, chase each other through the backyard, keep each other entertained and explore everything together.

Our dogs may not have been perfect at obedience and were never 100% reliable off leash, but they were socialized from meeting 100s of poeple, trained enough to participate in beginner rally and agility classes and well mannered enough to vacation all over the country with us. They had space to run in a fenced backyard, went on frequent walks and hikes and were generally fun to be around. They were always confident, never suffering from storm or separation or stranger anxiety, and never destructive (except for being unrepentant food thieves).

My new standard poodle pups are 14 weeks old and housebroken, eating from separate bowls with no food guarding issues, exploring the community and learning basic commands with the added joy of doing it all with a sibling and best friend.

If you can afford the expense of two puppies and can allow extra time in the first few months for housebreaking and basic training, I see no reason not to raise two dogs together. I believe any deficiencies in my dogs' behavior will reflect on my inconsistencies as a trainer, rather than the fact they were raised with a sibling.

From a health perspective, it's certainly easier to see when something is wrong when you have two identical dogs eating the same food, exposed to the same environment, etc. When one of my dogs had cancer, the other one was definitely concerned and unsure what to do to comfort his sibling, but those issues had nothing to do with them being littermates. The concern and uncertainty would have occurred in any multi-dog household.

I think dogs raised together are far happier and less prone to the devastating boredom many dogs fight through destructive behaviors, separation anxiety and mindless licking and other forms of self-harm. It might not work for everyone to cope with two puppies at once, but I think many folks would judge it well worth the effort.

Posted by: Msfox | May 31, 2016 7:41 PM    Report this comment

Love this article and ironic timing! And you are not kidding about the crushing separation distress!

Yesterday we brought home a 14-week old male puppy who had been living with his littermates until that very morning. Although he had been eating his meals and resting in a crate quite happily, all the puppies spent all the rest of their time each day being together until yesterday (which was a circumstance we could not control.) Note, however, he had already spent a lot of time in our home very happily over the previous two weeks, so he was familiar with the home, people and our adult dog.

Last night, we put his own crate in our bedroom, and followed all the recommended bedtime rituals. However, he proceeded to cry, howl, yip, bark, whine, and basically make the most heartbroken sounds for 4 hours and 10 minutes, with the only breaks when I took him out for bathroom breaks. Desperate to get *some* sleep before my workday, I finally brought him into bed with us and he settled down immediately. So now *I'm* heartbroken that I'll have to put him (and all of us) through the sleep-in-your-crate process all over again.

I do suspect that the extra 4-6 weeks with his littermates probably made for a more severe level of distress at the separation. If anyone has tips on how to make the process easier with this older puppy, please share! Otherwise we'll keep muddling through.

Posted by: AnnInMinneapolis | May 25, 2016 11:40 AM    Report this comment

I was fostering a brother and sister, I fell in love with the male and my husband loved the female so we decided to keep both. I have had no problems with either one of them in seven years. I walk both of them together (and they are each 100+ lb dogs). They are both very intelligent dogs and were quick to train. This may have worked out well for us because we were, and have been, consistent and persistent with their training.

Posted by: Anniei12 | May 22, 2016 9:03 PM    Report this comment

My Golden died of cancer and I wanted another dog. I had my heart set on a female black lab. A local breeder only had a chocolate female available so I decided that it was okay. Since I still wanted a black female I took one from another litter. I ended up with two females only three weeks apart in age. Everyone told me including the breeder that I was nuts. I was determined to make it work. I didn't sign up for easy! It was a challenge for sure. They had a hard time deciding the dynamics of who was going to be the alpha besides me! They solved it on their own and one is the alpha outside and the other is the boss inside. Ultimately I am the boss over both of them. We walk each dog separately twice a day and together once. We live in the country so they are free to run. To make sure they don't form their own pack outside and wander off, I use a whistle and do a recall and they both come running for a yummy treat. I do this several times on the walk. Also I change direction so they are always watching to see where I am going. They love to play fight and since they can't talk I know this is their form of communication. I love them both so much I couldn't give one up but I am not too sure if I would do it again.

Posted by: Phant0000m | May 19, 2016 11:26 PM    Report this comment

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