Occasionally a mother dog gives birth to just one puppy – often called a “singleton” pup. Fortunately it’s a relatively rare occurrence, although more likely to occur in small breeds, as they tend to have smaller litters anyway. Sometimes called “single puppy syndrome,” this can result in lifelong behavior challenges for the unfortunate baby dog who has no siblings to teach her important social skills. The good news is that while your singleton pup may offer you some behavioral challenges, she is not likely to suffer from significant health issues as a result of her singleton status.
Why Does Single Puppy Syndrome Happen?
A puppy’s critical socialization period occurs from 3 weeks of age to 12 to14 weeks. During this time puppies crawl over each other, play together, and squabble over access to mom’s milk bar.
Puppies bite each other in play, and if one bites too hard the other pup may yelp and stop playing. This is how puppies learn bite inhibition. Without littermates to teach this behavior, a puppy doesn’t learn to control her mouth pressure – much to the dismay of her future human family.
Other problems commonly found in singleton pups include being unable to problem-solve calmly, low tolerance for frustration, poor social skills, poor impulse control, and sensitivity to touch and handling.
What if I Have a Singleton Puppy?
Ideally the breeder of a singleton pup will find another similar-age litter with which to spend those first weeks so she has more normal experiences as a young puppy. If this didn’t happen, you’ll need to teach bite inhibition and handle your puppy a lot to avoid touch sensitivity issues. Have her spend time with other similar age and size puppies as much and as early and as often as possible during the first 12 weeks so she learns social skills.
If it’s too late for that, plan on doing extra behavior modification work to help your pup overcome her early social deprivation – lots of interaction with socially appropriate dogs, conditioning to handling, redirecting her hard mouth to toys, and teaching her to bite only gently. (See: “Teaching Your Puppy Bite Inhibition” and “How to Train Your Dog to Accept Husbandry Chores“).