“They Were So Cute, We Had To Bring Home Two Dogs!” …Raising Littermates

Every year I become good friends and personal coach to families who have taken on the huge responsibility of adopting two dogs at the same time. Some memorable pairs have been Rhodesian Ridgeback sisters Saffie and Robbie, South African Boerboel sisters Khara and Lexi, Chow siblings Kuma and Sophie, Great Dane sisters Maggie and Zoe, and these adorable “Beagle Brothers,” Goose and Maverick.


two dogs raising litter mates

The initial issues to be dealt with are that the two dogs have been together since birth, are extremely bonded to each other and they are not as dependent on human approval as the single dog. Most of their interactions have been with each other. One will usually be more dominant and they have long since worked out that social arrangement.


Because they are both the same species and have cohabitated from the beginning, they naturally gravitate to each other first. They check in with each other first, need each other first, and feed off of each other’s excitement, anxiety, playfulness, and so forth. If the owner doesn’t really work at injecting themselves into the equation, he or she may serve only as the slave who drags in the dog food!


With each set of dogs my first challenge was separating them for short periods of time so that they could adapt to being alone with only me! Rest assured that separating the ”Beagle Brothers” who were joined at the hip was a noisy endeavor! As well, separating two full grown Great Danes resembled a stampede!


In some cases, two dogs are actually used to sleeping in the same crate. I always worry about safety in a case like this, recalling sharing a room with my sister as a kid. The situation could go from tolerant to volatile in two seconds or less. If you are the recipient of the other dog’s attitude and you are trapped in a crate with him or her, it could be bad.


As I am working on the ability of each dog to discover their own persona, I begin training each one individually to pay attention to me. To accomplish this I may have to get them out of ear shot of one another. I’ve gone so far as to put one dog in the van, crated, and go park out in the pasture.  Now having a good shot at gaining the one dog’s attention, I work on eye contact. It is important to make your training sessions fun, rewarding, and brief. Tell your dog, “watch!!” in an excited tone and then click/treat or praise/treat. Work a short while on this exercise and then play. Each dog needs to think that you are the best thing on the planet!


You may gradually be able to keep the two dogs apart for longer periods of time as you train them separately or give them some personal one-on-one with you. If you work and only have evenings, a good plan might be to let the dogs have some time together playing (outside if possible), then each gets some special time alone with you. Eventually you can add some together time in the house.


From the point where you begin to get eye contact with each dog, you are ready to move forward with all of the rest of the training. The ultimate is when you are able to take them out walking as a team with them both behaving and listening to you.


I realize that this is taking a holistic approach to the situation and is time consuming, but it IS worth it. It is always time well spent when you are building your relationship with your dog(s). This is the only way to truly “fix” any problems you may experience because of having any single dog, let alone two dogs!

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