Adopting Out Two Dogs: Littermates Too Bonded to Separate?

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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.


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35 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. .

    1. Hi how are you I have a question. I agreed to rescue 2 German Shepard Rottweiler thinking they were as small as the pictures and when I got there, they were so big but I was sadden to leave them because they were chained and in a cage. So I took them to save them yet not knowing what I was doing exacting. I’m unsure of the separation part. But I do know they are attached to each other. They cry is one is away & They are siblings, age 3 … can you help me find them a beautiful loving home.. I already have 4 dogs but my dogs won’t get along with them.. please help me help them

  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!

  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.

        1. I have to say that I would disagree based on my own experience. I have two sisters that are litter mates and then when they were about 2 years old kept a puppy from the one siblings litter. I believe they do well and have even taken them to do things separately. They can be boisterous when separated, but will get over it. You just need to spend time with them separately early on and we kenneled them from the beginning. It may also have to to with the breed of dog you are dealing with also. I can see where it is not always good, but I don’t believe it is always bad either. We also were not able to be home with our animals all the time and I believe have the two was a better choice than having just one.

          1. The fact that you have experienced an exception to the rule does not mean that the rule is wrong.

  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!!!!

    1. I agree, I adopted two lab female pups, they are 8 months now and love each other! I realize they can be hard to separate sometimes but they need to to have one on one time with you! They will get use to it! I don’t think they should be separated to long though! They really do keep each other entertained!! Iv learned though, you have to separate them them each day for about an hour or two and get them used to it plus helps in training! You cannot train both at one time!! The both do what I saw inside but they are different out!! I’m still glad I have both!!

  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.

  13. I have 8 year old boxer pitbull mix female littermates who have fought since we rescued them at 12 weeks. Now they are super aggressive with each ither and one has bitten me twice when trying to get to other dogs. Should one dog be put down

  14. hi there so last Saturday we adopted to puppies 6 weeks old from a shelter in Pa. They are Swiss mountain / husky mix they were taken from the mommy because they were left outside in very cold temperatures. so that being said our vet said he believes they are going to be very big dogs and I have decided because I already have a 98lb lab 6 yrs. old that I should adopt out one of these pups to a nice big home I have a very nice local police officer that is interested the puppies are now going into 8 weeks old my question is are they ok to be separated? They each have there own crates and have had there first set of shots.

  15. We are thinking of taking on a 12 mth old shih tzu who has never been separated from his mother and want to know if this is likely to be a problem and how to get over it.

  16. We have two five year old female Australian shepherd litter mates , they are very loving toward family and my six children but can not be trusted with other children or anyone that steps in the yard. They can be very aggressive and attack together , I tried protecting my neighbor boy from them and they bit me. Not sure what to do hate to have them put down.

  17. Hello, We have to sep 2 yorkie poo brothers, we did not know any of this info.. they are 2 years old.. when one goes out, (to the vet) the other one gets aggressive upon his return.. they are not fixed. What causes this? I also see the friendlier one pulling at the more agressive ones hair on his head and it seems the aggressive one likes it… have you heard of that behavior? Thankyou so much for listening.

  18. Hi,

    I have two Yorkiepoo male litter mates that are two years old, they are best friends but also the one tries to be a little more domanite which leads to him bullying his brother who is smaller then him, besides that they are attached at the him and the bully actually gets extrem anxiety when he’s not with his brother. The smaller one is very attached to me as well. My question is, there may be a separation in the house with my bf and I, would it be better for me to leave the one that’s attached to me so I don’t take him from his brother, his home, and his human dad or is it okay to give him lots of love in a new place (where there will be another pup) my concern is also for the dog I’d be leaving since he has bad anxiety.. i don’t want to break their hearts and cause them harm if I split them up but I also don’t want to lose both of my dogs.

    1. Hi,

      I am in the exact same situation and absolutely don’t know what to do. I see there is no answer to this, but since you wrote this, what did you do finally?

      Thank you in advance for your help!

  19. No. Adopt them together. When my Grandma passed, she left behind an older pair of dogs, Mom/Daughter. My Mom kept the younger one, and rehomed her mom. A little over a week later, they called and told my Mom Suzie… the mom.. was depressed. She refused to eat. Laid in a dog bed abd wouldn’t move. They took her to the vet. Twice. There was nothing wrong with her. They vet suggested she be reuinted with her daughter, if possible. And when they brought her.. omg.. tears.. she jumped out of her arms and ran to her puppy, crying, instantly so happy. So was her daughter. So was I. They literally could not be seperated. The mother would have rather laid down and just died without her. Please keep them together.

  20. My hubby and I purchased 2 black labs when they were 6 weeks old. Male n female. They kept each other company, a lot of playing and did everything together. Had they own crate but shared the same room. We could not separate them not even for a min. A lot of fighting too. After 8 months, my husband admitted he should have taken my advice. It was toooo much. One would bark while walking the other n run thru the house crazy. It became too much. We rehoused the girl (sheeba) and kept the boy. Sheeba was rehomed within 24 hrs. Both are good loving smart dogs , but litter mates are hard to handle in my opinion. I’m sad n miss her as it’s only been 2 days. The new owners gave her a new name too. Nagini. (Eyes roll). We did what was best. They are still young so hopefully they adjust. My house is now quiet and tamed. I’m able to enjoy the one I have instead of being stressed out.

  21. I have a pair of Labrador retriever Staffordshire terrier mixes. They are a year and 8 months old and genetically identical twins. We had their father for 16 years before he died from complications with his age, but about a week before he died he impregnated their mother, our neighbor’s staffy that they had rescued. The neighbors didn’t know she was in heat when they rescued her, so when she escaped their yard and came into ours the two did their thing. We found out a month after our lab passed away that she was expecting.
    When the pups came there were complications and the vet wasn’t able to save the mother or the second half of the litter after the first four were born. Our neighbors sold two pups and we kept the twins because nobody wanted to separate them. It has taken a lot of work, but the pair are wonderful dogs. They are deeply bonded with each other, but because I’ve been handling them since they were three weeks old (helping my neighbors look after them while they worked) they can be separated for hours at a time. My mother often socializes them with dogs she fosters and they do show an interest in other dogs, seeing them as just another new playmate. They also love trips to the local dog park.
    It isn’t easy having littermates or other bonded dogs, but with consistent training and socialization they can thrive. That said, this is not for inexperienced pet owners and you really have to devote a lot of time to training them. My first four months were spent training them separately, though they were still in view of one another so as to lessen any anxiety, there was a gate between them while we trained. After those first four months I was able to train them together with no setbacks.

  22. What a great site!
    I wanted to pop in a positive story to consciously having two sisters.
    I am a very experienced dog owner and made a very conscious decision to take two labs from the same litter. They are now just over two and I feel that we are largely out of the danger zone! We have two well trained and well mannered (very different things) dogs who are at ease in their own company as well as loving their sister completely. (We have 2 other very well behaved dogs and I work from home where we have lots of space).

    However, this took a huge amount of work and effort!!!! From day one we ensured we sperated them for short periods, trained them together and seperately and responded to their emerging personality differences. For example one needs much more exercise and firmer training but is incredibly secure, the other is more intelligent, lasier and slightly less confident so needs more separation opportunities not less!
    We created them seperately at night and twice a day for naps from 4 months and now they happily sleep in separate rooms, out buildings or in the garden. I think this was a very important move.
    Please do not underestimate the work, time and stress two siblings will be if you want two well adjusted dogs . Even now they sometimes dont remember their own name. Recall training is 10 times harder as they will drive each other on and give each other confidence. And ultimately if it doesn’t work you will have to get rid of one as they will fight and fight. This is a very real possibility.
    I love my girls and am super proud of what I have achieved with them and yes I would do it again but please be aware of the work this involves. Good luck!

  23. I have found brother and sister catahoula pups that are extremely bonded to each other. I have a 6 and 2 yr old boys and am being torn on keeping these dogs. I’ve read that they take a lot of work, abs time I don’t have right now. My question is do I try to find someone to take both, or will they be ok if separated?


  24. I have two sisters who are 10-year-old mixed terriers. One sister looks like a Jack Russell the other more like a terrier mix. The Jack Russell mix dog chews on her leg very severely and I’ve tried medications phones thunder vests seems to make it better. She seems to look at her sister and me when we’re on the sofa lately and seems to say she can’t come up there because of her sister. When I grab her forcibly and have her sit with me she does love it. I’m wondering if these two really would do better separated?

  25. The above should say nothing seems to make it better and she can get around the cone even and still irritate her leg

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