Category: CARE

The Littermate Syndrome

  • Puppies with littermate syndrome become highly dependent on one another.
  • This can affect dogs of any breed and also unrelated puppies who are adopted and raised together.
  • Signs can include excessive crying, whining, and destructive behavior when siblings are separated.
  • Littermate syndrome can be difficult, due to the numerous behavioral issues that are involved.
  • While raising sibling puppies successfully can be difficult, the key is to treat them as individuals.

Many factors influence behavior, and not all siblings raised together will exhibit this problem, which is called “littermate syndrome.” In other words, it’s a risk, not a foregone conclusion.

That said, many dog behaviorists, trainers, breeders, and shelters actually discourage adopting siblings. Anecdotal evidence suggests that behavioral issues may arise during key development periods because the two puppies’ deep bond impedes their individual ability to absorb and grasp the nuances of human and canine communication. Since fear is the dog’s default reaction to odd or unfamiliar stimuli, this muddled understanding of the world around them can lead to impaired coping mechanisms later on.

What is Littermate Syndrome?

“Littermate syndrome in dogs occurs when two puppies from the same litter living together develop such a strong attachment to each other that it interferes with their ability to interact in a normal manner with other people, other dogs, or any situation where they are not together,” says Collier.

This happens because littermates bond so intensely to each other that they fail to develop connections with their human family. Puppies with littermate syndrome only interact with each other and become highly dependent on one another for a sense of safety and normalcy.

Littermate syndrome can affect dogs of any breed, and it may also affect unrelated puppies who are adopted at the same time and raised together.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen for the littermates because they don’t get socialized to other dogs or people, let alone to their owners,” says veterinarian and dog behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar. Many pet parents assume that the dogs’ interactions with one another are adequate, “but when the puppies are five or six months old and meet an unfamiliar dog in a novel setting, they absolutely freak out.”
Dunbar points out that raising littermates requires training two puppies, which is particularly challenging when they’re essentially wearing blinders to all but each other. “It’s more than twice the work; it’s exponential. The two combine to produce levels of energy that we can barely measure," he says. "Tension develops in training and compliance as they squeeze the human out of the relationship. They’re always living with an enormous distraction: each other.”
Dr Ian Dumbar
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia B. McConnell, PhD is also against taking in littermates: "They are so busy playing with each other (or squabbling), that you become the odd man out... It seems harder to get their attention, harder to teach them emotional control, and harder to teach them boundaries," she says. "I have seen some nasty cases of bullying or outright aggression between dogs of the same litter, and it feels as though it is more common than between dogs who come into the family from different litters."
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia B.
Signs of Littermate Syndrome in Dogs

At first, puppies with littermate syndrome may seem like they’re acting out or in need of obedience training. However, when dogs experience littermate syndrome, these behaviors are linked to their relationship to their littermate.

Signs of littermate syndrome in dogs can include excessive crying, whining, and destructive behavior when siblings are separated from one another, as well as a lack of interest in playing or interacting with other people or pets in your household, says Collier.

Here are a few signs of littermate syndrome in puppies and dogs to look out for:

Fear of unfamiliar people, things, places, or noises. Puppies may avoid interactions with new people, dogs, or things; become very still and quiet when you approach them; or bark, growl, and snap when presented with new things or situations.

High anxiety when separated from the other pup. Puppies may whine, bark, pace, pant, or exhibit destructive behavior when they’re separated from their littermate.

Unwillingness to eat alone. Dogs experiencing littermate syndrome may only want to eat if their sibling is present.

Unwillingness to engage with people or toys when alone. As previously mentioned, littermate syndrome sometimes causes puppies to focus on the other puppy rather than the humans in the home. Puppies who are only willing to play in pairs may be exhibiting signs.

Difficulty with basic training. Training two puppies from the same litter may take longer than expected because puppies are so distracted by one another.

If you’re considering adopting two puppies at the same time, it’s important to consider the challenges that may come along with this decision, so that you can devote the time and energy to positive-reinforcement training.



How to Prevent Littermate Syndrome in Dogs

The easiest way to prevent littermate syndrome in puppies is to not adopt two pups at the same time, says Graddy.

However, preventing littermate syndrome can also be as simple as treating siblings as individuals from the moment they enter your home, says Collier. Make sure that your pups are getting plenty of exercise and interaction with you, your family, and others—not just alone time with each other, she says.

Another solution if you must have two puppies? Consider adopting unrelated puppies a few weeks or months apart.

Funny note : littermate syndrome doesn’t seem to afflict kittens. In fact, many veterinarians recommend adopting kittens in pairs. They can be much easier to raise with a playmate and two is not much more work than one.

Challenges of Littermate Syndrome in Dogs

Littermate syndrome can be difficult for pet parents to deal with, due to the numerous behavioral issues that are involved. Pet parents may notice these problems early on, though they may not arise until pups reach adolescence, notes Graddy.

Most commonly, puppies develop separation anxiety due to hyper-attachment. Because puppies with littermate syndrome dominate each other’s attention, they may fail to learn how to communicate, play, and socialize with other dogs. Over time, this can result in fear and aggression when they’re exposed to other dogs.

Because dogs with littermate syndrome are so focused on each other, they may also bond less with their pet parents. In turn, they could fail to learn and develop appropriate social interactions with humans, too.

Littermate syndrome makes training two puppies from the same litter especially difficult. Because littermates are so focused on each other, it’s difficult for pet parents to get their attention. As a result, teaching puppies even basic skills becomes a greater challenge than it would be if you were training them one at a time.

In the worst-case scenario, littermates may attack each other. Aggression between housemates is more common between littermates adopted together than unrelated dogs adopted at different times.

For these reasons, adopting two puppies at a time may mean more work, not less, for most pet parents.

Simple Ways to Help Your Finnish Spitz Lose Some Weight

Obesity can be a real problem for Finnish Spitzes. An overweight dog has an elevated risk of injury, illness and disease, including Patellar Luxation and Hip Dysplasia. So, it’s important to monitor your dog weight and if needed, to take action to help him become healthier by losing those extra pounds.

The good news is, the process of helping your dog is not really complicated or difficult.

Part of the solution is to learn to Body Condition Score your dog

Here is a chart based on Dr. Sophia Yin’s work and the Nestle Purina’s Body Condition Score system developed in 1997. Thanks to it, you will be able to Body Condition Score (BCS) your Finnish Spitz and learn if he has some weight to lose.

Dogs who are a body condition score of 1 are way too thin—generally truly starving due to illness or poverty. They look like walking skeletons because their poor nutrition has lead to muscle wasting in addition to the loss of fat.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the body condition score of 5. This is the dog that looks like a giant, overstuffed sausage. He has huge fat deposits over the chest, spine and base of the tail such that his back resembles a table top rather than a living animal. He also has obvious abdominal distension due to fat in the abdomen.

The ideal dog is 3. Dogs with a body condition score of 3 have ribs and vertebrae that you can easily feel. You can see a waist right behind the ribs when viewing from the top, and from the side you can see the abdomen tucks up.

It’s pretty straightforward if your Finkie is out of coat and you go based on the chart included above. But if in doubt, your veterinarian should be able to help you.

Is Your Finnish Spitz Overweight? Here are simple ways to help your dog lose some weight
  1. Feed a high-quality dog food :
    We are not going to get into the debate about whether kibble, canned, home-cooked or raw-food diets are best, but you should avoid cheap dog food brands that are high in corn or other grains and choose brands that have a high meat content (with no by-products). The Dog Food Advisor website is a good resource for checking and comparing different brands of dog food or you can also refer to your veterinarian for suggestions.
  2. Understand feeding recommendations :
    Don’t assume the feeding instructions on the packaging of your dog’s food apply to every dog. Finnish Spitzes are called ”easy keepers” since they can maintain a high energy level with a small amount of food. Usually, an adult Finnish Spitz will be satisfied with as little as 1 cup of kibbles per day. So, if your Finnish Spitz is gaining weight and you’re not overfeeding with treats or other food, gradually cut back on the amount of food you are giving him each day.
  3. Measure your dog’s food :
    Use a measuring cup to carefully measure each feeding. It’s an easy way to know exactly how much food your dog is eating at each meal and to make gradual adjustments if needed.
  4. Weigh your dog regularly :
    According to his standard, an adult Finnish Spitz weight should range between 31 to 35lbs for a male and 22 to 29 lbs for a female. So keep those weights in mind and if you need to adjust his food ratio, monitor your Finnish Spitz weight loss at least once a week. The goal when losing weight should be for your dog to lose about 1% of his body weight per week until he reaches his ideal body weight.
  5. Manage your dog’s hunger :
    Your Finnish Spitz might be a little hungry while he’s losing weight. If you normally feed once a day, try breaking the meal into two or three feedings throughout the day. You can also set aside a little of your dog’s daily food portion to use in a treat dispensing toy for later in the evening. You can also add some canned pumpkin or green beans, which are low-calorie fillers, to help your dog feel full during his new diet.
  6. Increase his daly exercise :
    Small increases in exercise can make a big difference. Make your daily walk just a bit longer or incorporate more play time into each day. Just like with your dog’s diet, you’ll want to make gradual changes so you don’t overwork your dog, especially if he’s very overweight or out of shape.
  7. Reduce, or eliminate, unhealthy treats :
    Have you ever given your Finnish Spitz  a large treat or piece of food that he swallowed instantly? Dogs don’t really notice how big a treat is, they’re just happy to get one.
    Small, low-calorie training treats are perfect for rewards or simply break bigger treats into small pieces. Your dog will be just as satisfied and you’ll be feeding him fewer calories each time.

    Try some healthier treats. Many dog treats found in pet stores are high in calories and carbohydrates. You can almost eliminate your dog’s treat calories by replacing them with much healthier snacks. Skip the hot dogs, cheese and peanut butter and see if your dog likes fresh fruits or vegetables. Celery, baby carrots, green beans, broccoli, cucumber slices and apple slices (take out any seeds first)  are all great options. You can also put some of your dog’s daily kibble allowance in a container and use this as a treat throughout the day.
    Just make sure you’re familiar with foods you shouldn’t feed your dog before feeding any human foods and remember that treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s total daily diet.

    Use different rewards. Using food to motivate or reward a dog works pretty well but we tend to forget that many dogs would be just as happy with a good belly rub or a play session for a reward. Try mixing it up to see if your dog will respond to other things rather than always relying on a food-based reward.

  8. Have your dog work for food :
    Food dispensing balls and puzzles are a good way for your dog to burn off excess energy and calories by working for his food or treats. Most dogs learn quickly how the puzzles or balls work and they enjoy the challenge.
  9. Watch for exta food :
    Make sure all family members are cooperating with your goal to make your pup healthier. If some members of the family are sneaking bites of food to the dog (like leftovers during diner time, or some extra treats), all those little bites can add up to a lot of calories. Also, make sure your dog’s not sabotaging his own diet by sneaking food from other sources, like the cat’s food bowl.

If your Finnish Spitz looking a little chubby these days, I hope you will find those tips helpful. Please note that there are some medical reasons your dog could be gaining weight, so it’s important to talk to your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or nutritional needs.

The Elizabethan collar

An Elizabethan collar, E collar for short or pet cone (sometimes humorously called a pet lamp-shade, pet radar dish, or cone of shame) is a protective medical device placed around the head to prevent an animal from licking or biting at a surgery site, wound, or bandage.

It is a very useful tool after surgery, such as spaying or neutering. It is natural for a dog to lick his wounds, but this can seriously delay healing and result in infection or injury. So it is important that a protective collar is used, especially when the dog is unattended and could inadvertently injure himself.

Rocket and is gorgeous E collar / Picture courtesy of G. Gareau <3

To help your best friend get used to the E collar, we found you a great article from Sandra Robbins, Teaching your dog to love the cone, that I personally illustrated with pictures of my own finkies to make it more interesting and humorous for us Finkie Fanciers!

I did photograph the experience with Kaori who never had to wear an Elizabethan collar before. Most Finnish Spitzes are food motivated like mine. It makes things far easier for us and for them!

Teaching your dog to love the cone

Elizabethan collars (sometimes referred to as “cones
of shame”) are necessary tools to keep pets from
licking a surgical site, wound, or hot spot; chewing off
bandages or splints; or scratching their ears or face.
By desensitizing your dog to wearing a cone, it will
be less stressful for your pet if and when they need
to use one. Several types of cones are available, some
of which are more comfortable for the animal.
The method detailed below is illustrated with a clear
plastic cone and a dog but it works for all types of
cones and applies to both dogs and cats.
Getting your pet used to the cone:
Desensitization is only effective if your pet remains
calm. If your pet becomes distressed, you will need to
find a way to make the training easier.

• Leave the cone assembled in a corner of a familiar
• Place it wide part down so that it is least likely to
• Put treats around the outer rim of the collar
• Once a day, check on the cone and put out new
treats, if your dog ate the previous treats
• If your pet is comfortable approaching the cone for
treats, proceed to the next step

• Lay the cone on its side
• Put treats in and around the cone
• Encourage your dog to approach and get treats from
the cone
• Your dog should see this as a game and want to
move the cone for the treats
• Repeat as necessary to increase your dog’s comfort
with the cone

• Encourage your dog to approach you while you hold
the cone
• Choose to feed with either the hand holding the
cone or the free hand based on your dog’s comfort
• Gradually work on getting your dog to approach the
narrow opening and eat treats held in a hand in the
• Start with a hand in the cone, eventually moving the
hand away from the narrow opening so your dog has
to place its head through the narrow opening of the
cone to eat the treats
• For dogs who are afraid of the cone while it is in
your hand, back up to step two or try leaving it on the
floor and steadying it with your hand so they can
approach it and eat the treats. You could also try
using a higher value treat.
• Repeat this step, only if your dog is eagerly

• Hold the cone as in step 3
• Have your treat hand inside the cone far enough
away from the narrow opening that your dog has to
put its head all the way through the narrow opening
to get the treats
• Hold the cone so your dog can back out comfortably
without the collar getting stuck on its head
• Repeat this step encouraging your dog to slip its
head in and out of the cone with ease

• Repeat the process from step 4, but this time allow
the cone to rest on your dog’s neck and feed treats
– If your dog is comfortable, feed treats
– If not, help them out of the cone and then back up
to an easier step
• If they can keep the cone on, encourage your dog to
walk to get a treat
• Repeat this process so that your dog can feel
comfortable wearing the cone and walking around the

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