Tips from the Trainer; Littermate Syndrome Explained.

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BY Steve Kotowski

Littermate Syndrome occurs when puppies are raised together, without proper separation. They can become too closely bonded to one another, and count on each other’s strengths rather than building on their own. This can certainly exacerbate issues of anxiety and fearfulness in one, or even both, of the dogs. It may show itself by the two actually fighting each other in stressful situations. Not all puppies and dogs raised together will have this issue, but it is quite common to see.

The best course of action to prevent this syndrome is to give them separate time so they can develop as individuals. I suggest they sleep, train, and even play separately for quite some time. The sleeping separately gives them adequate down time to destress by themselves. Training and playing separately is helpful for both human and dog because every dog has a different personality, coupled with different drives. Whether it is a drive for food, toys, or the desire to play they are usually not the same, even when from the same litter – much like human brothers and sisters are different.

I like to use a crate for both dogs in different rooms when possible. This creates the most space and can build the individual dog’s confidence. We know that confidence replaces anxiety, so building confidence is the key. Likewise, training done independent of each other produces a better response for the individual dogs, speeding development of behaviors. Playing separately affords the dog the ability to really express themselves and allows the human to see what the individual dog truly likes to do – not just what the other dog might prevent them from doing. Don’t worry, there is a time to play together once you have these things sorted out.

Many people with pups from the same litter are self-proclaimed dog lovers. They purchase out of extreme love for a breed or even to save a pup from being left behind. Many will also want the dogs to sleep with them. Since we know this isn’t optimal for every dog, don’t fight it – let them sleep alone for a period of time until they decide what is best for them. Do not force a dog to sleep in your bed that doesn’t want to co-sleep with a human, or its littermate. This can create more problems down the road. One of the problems I see is marking on your bed. One of the dogs is telling you something. Don’t miss the cues they are giving you.

While we are all social distancing to get through this coronavirus issue, take time to give your dogs some space, especially if they are not littermates. Everyone is a bit more stressed, households are busier in some cases; this can make for a bit more anxious dog. Relax with your dog by playing fun games. Toss a portion of a regular meal into the yard a couple of days each week, and have your dog “hunt” for it. It will work for its food, use its nose and be a little more tired than usual if you do. Using the nose is the best way to get a dog to use its brain because the olfactory nerves are directly wired to the brain stem.

Steve Kotowske is the Owner and Senior Trainer for What’s Up Dog?, with locations in Miramar Beach and Santa Rosa Beach. Check out their new online store for safe, convenient shopping for your pets.

Steve Kowtowski is the senior trainer and owner of What’s up Dog in Santa Rosa Beach and Miramar Beach, providing training, boarding and supplies. For more information, please visit

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