Adopting Out Two Dogs: Littermates Too Bonded to Separate?

17 | Posted:

By Dr. Sophia Yin

QUESTION:

Hello, I am currently fostering two littermate chocolate labs. They are sisters, 5 years old. A family purchased them together, but they were not trained or conditioned to be independent of each other. As a result they are bonded so strongly that I consider it unhealthy. They cry and whine when separated, and they are their own “pack” in the sense that they won't play with other dogs and aren't even curious about interacting with other dogs.  My question is, when looking for potential adopters, would it be better for them if they were separated, placed together, or would it really make a difference at this point?

Sharon from Fairfax, VA

ANSWER:

Sharon, you’ve highlighted one of the major reasons littermates shouldn’t be adopted together. Because they have each other as playmates, they are bonded more closely to each other than to their human family and, because two puppies are exponentially difficult to deal with, they don’t get trained.

So, should they be adopted out to the same family or separated? Probably the average person would vote for keeping them together but doing so can actually be detrimental to the dogs and their success in their new homes. Imagine always needing to keep two dogs together and never being able to walk just one at a time because he needs training or take one to the veterinary hospital rather than both, or even being able to separate them into different rooms. That’s enough to cause many owners to pack both up and send them back to the shelter.

On the other hand, what happens if they are separated?

Says Melissa Morris, my dog class co-instructor, who has found homes for over 100 dogs over the last 10 years,

“At our shelter there were two husky mixes that were relinquished from the same household. When the two were in kennels in the same room, they would climb over the top of the kennels to get into the same run. They had to be housed across the aisle from each other so that they could see each other or they would escape. The male husky got adopted out. The adopters didn’t want to take both. The second one went to a friend of mine, and that one adapted nicely to his new home.”

Similarly, Melissa’s also rehomed two 10 year old adult Malteses who were from the same household and were littermates.

“The male was so attached to the female that he’d follow her everywhere,” says Melissa. “If he was away from her, he acted so scared that he wouldn’t move. If he was with her, he’d act friendly to people and dogs.”

The female was also shy and somewhat dependent on him. She’d whine and bark when separated, such as when placed in a different room in the house, taken on a car ride, or left at home when the male dog was taken out.

Melissa’s friend took one and her cousin took the other; the two dogs blossomed apart.  “After about a week, the male came out of his shell and became more outgoing and playful,” says Melissa. “ The female did really well too. Her owner pampers her and babies her by carrying her around a lot and gives in to her whining so she’s not as outgoing and playful as her once-shyer brother, but she’s way more confident than before.”

 Interestingly, the two have reunited a number of times with surprising results. “They greet in a ho-hum manner and then basically ignore each other the entire time they are together.” They are more interested in being with their humans. It appears that the only reason they acted so bonded before is that they were insecure, not because they loved each other or enjoyed each other’s company.

 

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17 responses to “Adopting Out Two Dogs: Littermates Too Bonded to Separate?

  1. I run a dog rescue for retired puppy mill breeding dogs. We frequently get dogs that were breeding pairs who seem very bonded to each other. These dogs have probably spent most of their lives together in a cage. We always split them up to go into foster care because we need the dogs to learn to bond to people, and they often won’t if they are kept together. In the beginning the dogs act even more scared of the world, but after some time of being apart, they are so much more outgoing than when they were together. We try to get the bonded pairs together for short periods of time for confidence boosters, which do seem to help in the beginning. They always seem to recognize each other no matter how long they have been apart, but they do not seem to need each other for comfort after some time apart. I find it is extremely important to separately socialize dogs in the house hold so that they do not become unnaturally attached to each other. .

  2. having worked in rescue & seen this happen all too often where litter mates or sibs have been relinquished &/or abandoned together i had formed this opinion myself & totally agree! as every dog is an individual though you must always look at the big picture & consider all the factors – age, & primarily their individual adaptability & temperment. some will adjust immediately & as stated blossom on their own & others will withdraw & take time, patience & a lot of love. bonded house mates are also a quandry some times but their is a definite difference in the relationships between dogs.
    as humans we often humanize their situation & this is one situation where we do them a great disservice by holding the thought that they are siblings & we must keep them together & a good breeder to start should now this & never allow for the sake of a sale.

  3. Quick question: i am fostering a mother/daughter pair now who are 7 & 11 (i think) at this point – i have been fostering them for 2 years, in part bec the rescue does not seem willing to separate them. A few years ago i had the same issue, with a pair of siblings and as soon as we listed them as adoptable separately they started getting interviews and did wonderfully in their new homes with other dogs.
    With the case of mother/daughter, tho, are there other issues to consider? and how can i convince the rescue (in ways i may not have tried already~) that they can be separated?
    just found your website and am so happy i have!
    Rachel

  4. I have two males, mom dued at two weeks. long story short my Mother came for 5 months with her male dog. They all get along fairly well but he is protective of the baby and a little agressive if the other one. I can be ok with that he us going home soon. My problem us my two are 7 mo old and wine etc when seoerated but when I pick one over the other sometimes they snip at each other. Often when playing they get real agressice with each other for just 15 seconds sounds like they are killing each ither. Five min later they are buds. I want to afopt them out. They never fight ovet food and they even sleep in my lap tog. Everyone says they must stay tog. I kinda think they will be better seperated but it will be hard in yhe beginning. Im worried my babies wont be ok …if I keep them they have to be kenneled for a couple if months due to a surgery and trip. That is not fair to babies. I have so much invested time and money,

  5. QUESTION **

    My mom and I bought litter mates (2 male Yorkies) about 6 years ago, they are friendly with each other as well as with humans. They sleep in the same kennel and have never been apart for longer than a night. I got married and my dad insists that I take my dog with me. Im torn because I want Petey with me but I don’t want him to be depressed without his brother. I’m concerned that it will be too big of a change for him going from a house with a big back yard to play in, his brother and another dog; going to a smaller townhome with no yard, and he will
    Need to be taken on daily walks. Is this too much to put him through? I’m just torn.

    Also curious if getting another dog would help the situation since he would have a friend? Please help!!

  6. Hi, my name is Joel and I have 2 sister pitt bull mixes. After 4 years together I had to separate the 2. What could be a consequence of separating them? Would there be separation anxiety? Could I help them through it?

  7. Hi all, I am a Bichon Frise breeder. I strongly recommend adopting 2 littermates especially if you often go out without your dogs and have no time to socialize them with other dogs. Having one dog for the purpose that they will “focus” on you may create separation anxiety towards *you* and the dog will cry and bark all day and all night when separated from you. Having one unsociaized dog may also create behavioral issues such as fear of dogs and fear of other people. Having two dogs however, will eliminate these 2 problems. I don’t suggest adopting 2 dogs from different litters because they might not be compatible with one another. But in most cases 2 dogs from the same litter tend to go along well.

    1. Diana, if you read the article, it recommends against this practice as it can cause a different and more severe type of anxiety issue. Currently, in behavioral science, the advice is not to have two pups period, let alone littermates due to the possibility of “LitterMate Syndrome”. Anecdotal evidence and even some behavioral research side notes suggests that behavioral issues may arise during key development phases due to the two puppies’ bonding more to each other than to humans and this impedes their ability to learn and master the nuances of human – canine communication. Because the fear reaction is the default reaction in dogs to odd or unfamiliar stimulus, if they don’t have a moderately grasp of the world around them it can lead to having a dog that is maladjusted.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this advise! I was torn between adopting out one of my dogs because I have so many. Now I see that it will benefit the dog most likely.

  9. I bought two German sherpards puppies for my kids. Then been together for 2 months. I’m trying to keep them separated now as much as possible because they don’t do well when u take one without the other. The one dog is fine the other keeps crying what do I do

  10. 12316

    I have 3 yr old male chihuahua Bruno, thought Bruno could use a buddy so I took a brother sister team, adorable very cute named them Molly and Rusty. Rusty has been neutered. Bruno will have nothing to do with them still it’s been 3 months and he has been upset since their arrival. We have fallen in love with all of them!!!

    I’ll keep y’all posted……..

  11. I am also torn so I am thankful I found this forum. I am fostering 2 feral female puppies. I have had them about 2 months now- they were found in a field and were very skittish of people. They are bonded to me (they are about 6 months old now.) I want to keep one and adopt the other one out- I am torn which one. One puppy is a lovebug- kisses and wants to lay with me and be with me; the other is more skittish but you can tell she wants to be loved. She has just recently began putting her paws up when I am on the couch to be picked up. Which one would you keep? I wonder if the friendlier one will do better with someone else because she is friendlier or if she should be the one to stay with me because she is more attached—ughhh I am torn–Any advice would be helpful!!!!

  12. We adopted 2 brothers — littermates — each 5 years old at the time. They had been brought to the animal shelter by a “moving” and indisputably neglectful owner. Had I read forums like this warning against it — we would not have adopted the 2 dogs . We would have been too afraid of problems. So, I write this for some balance and for others who are considering adopting bonded dogs. Yes, they are bonded. Yes, they can be stressed when separated. And….Yes, with some time, they entirely bonded with my family as well — and follow us everywhere. They are fantastic, loving pets. Not everything is a science statistic. For those of you considering adopting bonded pairs, consider it. I know of great success stories (including our own). Best choice ever.

    1. The issue is that your case is the exception. It’s too much of a risk for most people and usually doesn’t turn out as yours has.

    2. Thank you for posting. I am considering adopting 9 1/2 year old bonded brothers whose owner passed away. I am concerned about their separation anxiety as I know each will bark when the other leaves. I don’t know how bad it is yet.

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