By Dr. Sophia Yin
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
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.