Adopting Sibling Puppies

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I have the privilege (and responsibility) of dog-sitting two of the pups from my most recent foster litter – for a whole week! – while their family is on vacation.

How many of you caught the “two pups, one family” thing? If you noticed it (and winced), you’re probably a dog trainer.

Originally, the family was interested in adopting two pups, and I talked them out of this (they are my former in-laws, so we have more of a rapport than in most cases!). Most training professionals try to dissuade people from adopting sibling pups – and insist on a singleton adoption in cases like this, when the family lacks a lot of dog experience. There are numerous reasons for this, but to name a few:

•  Sibling pups often bond more firmly and pay more attention to each other than to the human family members.

•  House-training (and every other kind of training) often requires twice (or more) of the time that it takes to train one pup.

•  Many families lack the time and resources to separate the pups frequently enough that they learn to be confident and social when they are not in the company of their sibling.

Adopting Sibling Puppies

There are more reasons to not adopt siblings (and some workarounds, too) in this article by WDJ Training Editor Pat Miller, and I listed all of them to this family. They listened, heard me, and ended up adopting one of the two females in the litter that strongly resembled a purebred Rhodesian Ridgeback. They named her Xena.

But a couple weeks later, the husband’s mom, who lives in the same town as Xena’s family, met Xena and fell in love with her, and then contacted me to inquire about adopting one of the two remaining pups. I ended up driving to the town where both families live, to give the mom a “meet and greet” with the two last puppies, so she and her husband could choose which one suited them best. They ended up falling for the boy pup, and I left him with her and her husband.

I then visited the family who adopted Xena – who was overjoyed to have a chance to play with her last unadopted sibling, whom she hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks.

Over the course of the afternoon that I visited with my former in-laws, they fell in love with the last unadopted puppy, and made a strong and renewed case to be allowed to adopt her, too. I could have just said no – even though the shelter that I was fostering the pups for would have said yes; they don’t have a policy against multiple-pup adoptions. We discussed the pros and cons again, and I reminded them once again about the many accommodations they would need to make to ensure that both pups would end up as well-trained, socially secure pups who could be separated without trauma. They were willing to do the work, they said.

Two things clinched my decision to permit the adoption to go forward:

1. They were doing a great job already with Xena. After just two weeks in their home, she was clearly bonded to the whole family, responding appropriately to her name, nailing a “default sit” whenever anyone made eye contact with her, and still at a healthy weight. I saw lots of dog toys laying around, and a crate in the parents’ bedroom. (I like to see this; it’s the only way to hear the pup who might be fussing in the night because she needs to go potty. People who put their puppy’s crate in some distant room or worse, the garage, end up with dogs who hate their crates and/or learn to just go potty in the crates, since no one could hear or would respond to their cries of distress.)

2. They are in the process of building a new house on a rural property. Frequently, the dad stays in the not-quite-finished house and the mom stays at their old house in a nearby town. This gives them an easy way to easily and frequently separate the pups for a night or day during this critical socialization period.

Adopting Sibling Puppies
It’s hard to believe that these pups came from the same litter; if it weren’t for the fact that they both have ridged backs, you might say it’s very unlikely. They may have had different fathers, since the mother was on the streets when she was impregnated. What’s interesting is that she was said to be part Australian Shepherd and part Rhodesian Ridgeback – and though she didn’t resemble either breed, each of these puppies look like one of those!

But, some weeks later, ironically, I feel like I’m the one who has been most inconvenienced by this sibling adoption. While I’m truly happy to be able to spend a week with the pups (I hardly ever get to get my hands on foster puppies of this age; once they get adopted at about 10-week-old mark, I rarely see them again!), now I have to take my own advice and separate them for training and socializing! Especially since, just as I worried, the family is finding it difficult to find the time to take them on separate outings and hold separate training sessions – so I feel I have to do it! And BOY does it take a lot of time!

One thing I should be doing but just don’t have the time to do is to take them on separate walks. I’m already taking my own two dogs on separate walks on certain days! These days, with 14-year-old Otto losing the physical ability to take long walks, I often take just 6-year-old Woody for a drive to our favorite off-leash trails, and then come home and take Otto for his own walk in our rural neighborhood. At this point, he’s content to walk on leash and leave his mark on trees and shrubs along the roadside; we go about a half-mile up the road and then mosey back to our house. In order to get any work done with the puppies here for the week, I need to exercise them to the extent of their energy and fitness level, so I have been taking them out to the off-leash trails with Woody. This is terrific for tiring them out, but it would be better for their social development if they were taking individual outings, not just relying on each other for confidence in new situations.

Did you or someone you know adopt sibling pups? How did it work out? What were the most challenging aspects of the adoption?

27 COMMENTS

  1. Years ago, we adopted sibling 5 month old pups, and brought the two of them into what was already a multi-dog household. We have a large, wooded yard, where they all played, and we didn’t walk them on our narrow, winding street with no sidewalks and lots of traffic. I loved watching the two of them each hold the end of a bone, just like in the picture in this article. One became a therapy dog. One didn’t. I did some training with all of the dogs, but didn’t go overboard. I would do it all again, although I do wonder if the reason it worked out so well is that they were part of a group of dogs that had lots of stimulation without going on walks.

  2. I adopted two German Shepherd puppies from the same litter. They were wonderful. The down side to doing this is that the end of their lives comes at about the same time. These dogs lived to 13 1/2 and 13 3/4 respective. But to lose two beloved dogs so close together was horrible.

  3. We adopted 2 sheltie pups at 8 months of age through the south land sheltie rescue organization. The pups had been living in isolation in a shed for an unknown portion of their first 6 months before being turned over to rescue. We were delighted to have 2 dogs who played well together and were well bonded. When we got these two very fearful totally untrained boys we engaged an animal trainer for help. Separating the dogs for training was very difficult and training progressed slowly. Both dogs are now well bonded to only 1 human in the family and is somewhat aggressive to the other person. Both dogs are still very fearful of others. They still play well together mostly but that can change when food is present. So, some of the issues are breed specific (Shelties can be fearful, talkative, and shy). We’ve had Shelties before but never litter mates. We would never adopt litter mates again

  4. My husband found 2 german shepherd, who we assume to be brother and sister. They are bonded and love each other, they do however also play with the other dogs in the house. We have had to separate them for outside potty and play breaks because when they are together they jump/climb our fence and run away…
    We are done with the worry and the scariness of that, so they get training time separate, but still go on walks together.
    I find it fun and endearing to see them play and interact.
    Training didn’t/doesn’t seem any more difficult than the rest of my motley crew….
    But they were already 1.5 years old when we found them

  5. Yes, I adopted brother and sister pups. No matter how I tried over the (so far) 6 years I’ve had them it became very difficult to keep them from becoming overly bonded. The problem I initially ran into is that in my county parvo is so prevalent that it was suggested we not allow them out with other dogs the first 4 months of puppyhood or until they were fully vaccinated against it, so they were stunted in socializing. (I imagine Covid created a similar problem recently for new pups) I took them independently on walks, keeping one crated or kenneled at home. The female is very independent but the male is completely dependent on the female being nearby. If I need to leave him home and take her anywhere, the veterinarian or walks etc., he freaks out howling and crying until she returns. He looks to her for direction over my commands, and is overly protective of her with strangers away from home. I have taken them to a trainer to work with me on ways to help them out including leaving one of them with her to work with while I take the other. They are wonderful, smart, sweet doggies and are the loves of my life. But if I had it to do over again, I would have only taken one pup home in the beginning. It would have been easier on both of them.

  6. We adopted 2 male, 5-mo English Shepherd puppies that were running pretty wild on a dairy farm. The runt of the litter was very friendly and the other one was stand offish at first. We couldn’t decide which one to take, so we took both. We brought them into our family that had cats and an older, female [12yrs] Border Collie. We took them to training right away and they did well. Our female did very well with them and trained them, too. She died a year later.
    I took the one dog [Cash] horseback riding with me and he did very well. However, the 2 pups would play very rough some times. Cash had separation anxiety, so we did lose a lot of pillows and remotes. The first 2 years were rough, I will admit. Sadly, Cash died suddenly of a heart attack at age 9 yrs. We still have his brother, who is now 11 yrs and we did add another English Shepherd puppy about a year ago. We did not know about there was a “thing” about siblings until long after we had them. I would probably think twice about it, especially with females. However, we have always had 2-4 dogs at a time, so they did have their “pack”. I will say all of our dogs bonded with my husband and I and we never had an issues with bonding.

  7. My husband and I are experienced dog owners. After losing two dogs in less than 2 months we decided to adopt a brother and sister Rottweiler We did not hear of the caution of adopting siblings until after we did it.

    Everything you said is true. Three times harder and longer to teach them anything. They also got into more mischief then other dogs we had. They seemed to egg each other on.

    With all that said over time they have become very good dogs and have brought my husband and I a lot of joy and laughter. However, I am not looking forward to their passing as I know the one who’s left will be devastated.

    • I’ve have two sets of mini schnauzer female littermates. Both times going for one and couldn’t bare to separate the sisters. It has been the best experience of my life. I love them all so much and I live for my dogs. I currently have a total of 5. All girls. Everyone gets along great, and they are all bonded with me and the family. I would definitely do it again.

  8. Our female boxer had a litter of 10 and we kept 2; largest male fawn and smallest (runt) female brindle. No issues whatsoever in training (they learned and responded in synchronicity, or “off of each other”). But then again, they were boxers! When the male passed around age 7, the female seemed lonely but took to a foster 2 years later. These two respond independently of each other.

  9. My husband and I have a different situation but are struggling with similar issues. We purchased a pure bred standard poodle in February of 2017. A female. I devoted myself to bonding and training with her for 6 months before returning to work part time. She learned quickly and is great pet. two years later the breeder we purchased her from had another female she offered to us and we accepted. It took a few weeks but the dogs bonded. The problem? The younger dog,now almost 2 is so dependent on the older dog and vice versa. Training the younger dog is very time consuming and I haven’t been successful beyond the very basic commands. And, they can’t be out of each other’s sight. Any suggestions?

  10. As someone who makes adoption decisions for a shelter our rule is not to adopt siblings together. A trainer taught me this many years ago and this rule became stricter several years ago when we did cave to the adopter and explained everything and they called when the pups were age 2 and they were fine with other dogs they met, but were fighting to kill each other. To make the matter worse the adopter remembered our warnings and were absolutely furious with us that we allowed the adoption to happen….alrighty then. Since, we’ve rarely done this and when we do we take into consideration the breed mix (if there is likely dominance/aggression when adult), a strong indication that they likely had different fathers, and the knowledge and experience of the adopters. These adoptions went well and all are happy.

  11. We adopted two German Shepard puppies, they not only bonded, but both being male, they fought over being alpha for 12 years, sometimes drawing blood on each other, and me.
    Then losing them both within about 6 months was devastating.

  12. Many years ago my rough collie had a litter of twelve! Due to unavoidable circumstances I wound up keeping FIVE of those puppies. Perhaps because of the breed or just dumb luck, I never had any of the issues discussed. They were all happy, well adjusted and trained. They related well to each other but were definitely bonded to me. Did not display any separation anxiety. The only really difficult part was loosing them all in a two year period at ages twelve and thirteen.

  13. I am a dog trainer who has worked with 2 sets of siblings adopted or purchased by 2 different clients. The first pair were two 1.5YO Golden Retriever sisters from same litter, with the foster telling the adopter that “the girls must go together.” I agreed to train both dogs at the same time provided there was a handler for each dog and that the handlers would work with the dogs separately. During training sessions the two dogs were such a distraction for each other that they wouldn’t pay attention to their handlers until we put them in separate areas with baby gates in doorways. The couple did the best they could but the needier of the two dogs panicked whenever the dogs were separated. The dogs were very destructive when left home alone, to the point that the couple ended up rehoming one of the dogs. The second pair are new clients with two 6MO Bulldog sisters from same litter, bought from a breeder on the same day, and the breeder was happy to do it (and didn’t say anything about potential problems). There is a resident 10YO bulldog female, who is not interested in sharing her territory with the puppies, so the puppies are currently housed in a 3-stall climate-controlled garage, that is equipped with 2 large kennels. The puppies share toys and play well together – and I’m pretty sure they sleep together – but leash walking is difficult, and housetraining (because of the older dog) is at a standstill. The dogs will do skills for me during sessions, but owners haven’t done much one-on-one work – walking, training, playing – with the puppies. Too early to tell how this will end up so I remain hopeful and helpful.

  14. We have 7 year old golden doodle siblings that are amazing! I admit that it did take close to a year before they really bonded with anyone in the family – for a long time, they cared more for each other. We did our research ahead of time and knew what we were getting into. We were committed to separate training times and time alone with each puppy and stuck with this for a good two years. It was a lot of work but worth it in the end. They trained easily (but when together they would ignore commands and lead each other astray). They still play together nicely and are now bonded to everyone in the household. Surprisingly, I would say at this stage, they are more bonded to people than to each other. I have never regretted getting siblings but again it was a lot of work. Would I do it again? Maybe….

  15. hi we adopted a brother and sister at 10 weeks old. They never fought with each other but one problem we ran into was that the male acted like his sister was “his woman” and so he was very protective whenever we met other dogs. In general, as an observation in our neighborhood, when a family has two dogs it mostly seems that one of the pair becomes snarly when approached by a lone dog. I also found it hard because my male was a big softie but because he was overprotective of his sibling some people were a bit hesitant when we were out and about which made me really sad. He would not have hurt/bitten a dog/or anyone but he would use his nose to snuffle/get between my female and other dogs so it could have led to issues. Because of this i was nervous at times walking the two dogs and the other dogs picked up on it.

  16. Another issue that we ran into was that the two dogs were very dependent on each other, had severe separation anxiety issues, chewed everything in sight for almost a year so it was difficult. We did not realize that they should have been trained separately to build up their confidence.

  17. We have been a dog household for 50 years. Our first dog was the hardest to train as we were inexperienced. We then had 2 cocker spaniels from separate litters (1 yr apart in age). When the first one died unexpectedly at age 10, we got a rescue cocker spaniel (1.5 yr). Shortly after the older dog died from cancer. We then got litter mates cocker spaniels (M, F, 8 weeks) so 3 dogs. We had no problem with separation or training. My husband would take 1 or 2 on a walk, fishing or camping. The older rescue dog was more of a loner due to the way she was raised (penned outdoors during the day, in the garage at night and I suspect not allowed in the house much or at all). Our daughter was still living at home and worked a later shift so at home in the AM. Our dogs have always sleep in our bedroom. I probably would not recommend getting littermates if a first pet, but it worked out great for us as follow on pets. After our current pets cross the rainbow bridge, I think we will foster or adopt senior dogs limiting to 1 or 2 at most.

  18. I work at my veterinarian’s office and many years ago an older couple adopted 2 “husky” rescues, 1-M, 1-F. I tried to warn them about the pitfalls of having 2 which might or might not been siblings. By the time the dogs were 2 years of age it was impossible to separate them unless husband or wife each had one. They could not be brought in together because the male would attack anyone (human or canine) who came near them. Left at home the female would scream and try to eat her way out of the house even with an owner present. This state of affairs continued for over 10 years. The male has now passed and we have not heard the outcome of the female’s reaction.

  19. Pups losing their mom seems bad enough. I wouldn’t want to be extra cruel and separate siblings unnecessarily. What a heartless “rule” to follow. And no, I don’t store my dogs in cages either. They are part of the family, and I want their lives to be as happy and carefree as possible. People are so selfish. The priority seems to be what is easiest for them, not what will make the dogs happiest.

    • The recommendation that canine siblings not be kept together has nothing to do with people wanting to take the easy route or being selfish. There is a great deal of research and documentation behind this recommendation. Littermates raised together can often develop unhealthy codependence and experience developmental issues resulting in dogs that are fearful, lack confidence, and often do not fully develop appropriate social skills. The time commitment, effort, and amount of behavioral awareness and education required to ensure that each dog develops appropriately goes far beyond the typical commitment of being a good dog guardian. Please do your research, or speak to a qualified canine behavior professional, before making rash judgements based only on your own emotions.

    • I’ve never heard of anyone storing dogs in cages. That’s ridiculous. They’ll spoil in cages.

      If you want to properly store a dog please use temperature controlled hermetically sealed compartments. Or keep them in a vacuum sealed bag and they’ll take up less space if you don’t have a lot of storage area.

  20. I have a male and a female siblings, but slightly different — Pippa was born on Oct 23, 2013 and I got her as a maybe 1 pound baby Chihuahua mix on Dec 24, 2013 – I got her half brother Brownie In Oct 2014 (born June 6, 2012) as a 28-month-old 6 lb Chihuahua mix – (i got him because he was an escape artist – (he still needs close watching but as long a I see and call him he comes back to me) they are both bonded very well to me and to each other. Both are neutered and I have worked on the yapping and they do bark if they hear someone at the door or a car door outside, but will quiet when I tell them to shush or hold my hand palm facing them,

  21. Four years ago we were looking to adopt and we spotted a happy yellow hound mix online. I reached out and learned she was at a shelter out of state. She was rescued three months earlier as part of a litter of four that had spent their first 9 months in a 10 x 10 chain link kennel with no shelter. After about a week of coordinating online, we were told she’d been lodging with one of her brothers and since separating them, both had stopped eating. The shelter concluded they were a bonded pair and said they’d have to be adopted out together. After a couple days of thought, we agreed to take both.

    I took them, separately, to group training and they each did well. A little difficult to practice separately at home but we managed. We were going to walk them separately but my husband hurt his knee 2 weeks after we brought them home. We were naive but we did our best.

    The first year was rough, mostly because they were two young, energetic dogs who didn’t know “house rules.” But they are both very sweet and eager to please. The brother is more hesitant with strangers and looks to his sister for reassurance. The sister paces when her brother goes to the vet without her, and there’s a grand reunion when he comes home, but they don’t seem to be too distressed by separation. The brother is more of an outside dog and sometimes he sums himself while his sister stays inside. They choose to sleep in separate rooms most nights.

    We have two great dogs and I can’t imagine not having both of them. That being said, I feel like doing this again would be tempting fate.

  22. I had 2 Japanese Chins when I wanted one more as my male was aging. The breeder I contacted had a male but also his sister.
    She did not sell having an all black head, missing the signature white blaze. I thought 2 new pups too much work but my husband insisted on the pair. They were scared at first but watched the older dogs and caught on quick. They are total opposites in size, temperment and likes – except for dog treats. Now, 9 years later my husband and two older dogs have passed and I know these two will also. I could not imagine my life without Stella, first to greet me, ever watchful and with the biggest heart and to think I almost missrd out on knowing her.

  23. So, this is all so interesting to me. I adopted two Chinese Crested males from our shelter 12 years ago. The shelter told me I had to adopt them together because they were bonded and littermates. I did not know about the issues with having siblings. These are dogs six and seven for me and prior to them I had two unrelated males (a springer spaniel and a mixed bred hound shepherd) that would have blood fights and we had to live with baby gates for six years to keep those males separated. It was a total nightmare and at the time I did not know how to handle it. I developed PTSD from it and to this day I cannot watch two unrelated dogs greet each other without wincing. Seeing my two littermates get along for me was such a freedom and so relaxing. They are both bonded to me and I have been able to train them well. I have noticed that while the shelter told me they were bonded, I have since realized that one would have been so fine to be adopted without the other. My independent boy would have made a great therapy dog. Could this be a breed thing? I had a unrelated male hound and a female beagle where the male hound bullied the female beagle and when the male hound passed the beagle’s personality changed for the better. Maybe this is all based on personality and genetics and not on just being littermates? Based on my experience I have had a successful run with siblings. I have noted the challenge with the siblings crossing the rainbow bridge together or near to together. That will be a challenge for me.

  24. I am working on my third set of siblings now. Just adopted two male border collie puppies. They are 9 months old. I’ve never adopted just a single puppy and raised and trained it. So I don’t know how easy it might be to train a solitary dog. I’ve always gotten dogs in pairs. I’ve been warned by everyone — shelters, trainers, dog experts — that it’s a bad idea to adopt siblings. No one explained the issues, they just told me not to do it. I was glad to read this article to learn of others’ experiences. I have to say, however, I have not experienced most of the issues. I have not found that the siblings are more bonded to each other than to me or my family. And I haven’t seen the fearfulness or other behaviors described by others. Yes, I’ve engaged trainers to help me with the siblings, so I haven’t done all the training by myself. And maybe I’ve just been lucky. Training dogs in pairs is probably not the best approach, but training two siblings together can be done. Yes, I see sometimes that one sibling will lead the other dog astray in training, and just in general. They do learn from each other. But I have adopted non-sibling shelter dogs, and these dogs do the same thing. I think the extra work of siblings is worth it. Seeing the bond between the siblings, watching them grow together, play together, sleep together, almost as if they were one dog in two bodies is the most amazing thing to experience. They seem so happy and well adjusted, unlike some of the shelter dogs I’ve adopted or the solitary dogs I’ve seen with my friends. The joy of the two dogs just running in a field of tall grass is a wonder to behold. It makes my day every time. Yes, the dogs often play very rough, and occasional fights break out, but I’ve never seen any blood or real bites. They are pals, like nothing you can imagine. 10 minutes after a fierce battle over some toy, they are curled up next to each other on their dog beds. They are just like my kids (human) used to be. I spend a great deal of time with the dogs, so perhaps that is explains the difference I’ve experienced with dog siblings compared to others. But I love the sibling way of life. After several non-sibling shelter dogs, I’ve now gone back to siblings, because it’s just a better dog experience for me.

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