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Q & A — Littermate Antics

Our dogs are two littermate males, 10 weeks old. We haven’t heard of littermate syndrome until we already adopted them. We will not re-home one or both of them. Instead, we need a solution.

(I know they are puppies and I know that they are just playing, albeit rough in my opinion. I also know it’s part of puppyhood to train.)

Last night they tore up their pee pads, sparred until one or the other of them got nipped and hurt, ran around like mad dogs, barking, yipping, biting, but more than anything, they were peeing and pooping wherever they wanted to, like they had never been trained at all. The pads are in the same place they always are, and they would go to them, circle, and then poop just off the pads.

Is this normal puppy play and do we just need to get through it? Or are we doing something wrong that’s causing this behavior?

We are also consistent. They sleep in the same bed, the same place, the same time. They eat from the same bowls (having each their own bowl), at the same place, and at the same time. We give them ample time to just “be”, but they chose every time to play very roughly until one of them yelps in pain. We play with them catch, fetch, let them play with a knotted rope between them, and don’t encourage to bite us or anything else other than the toys.

Okay, so first: the littermate syndrome thing is way overblown, in my honest opinion. I don’t think you need to worry much about that, it sounds like they are adjusting and loving you just fine, and that bond will continue to grow as you spend time with them. To further strengthen the bond and instill a sense of pack hierarchy, I strongly suggest basic training, things like sit, stay, give paw / shake, don’t touch that delicious treat I put on the floor until I say you can, etc.

The rough play is a transitional puppy thing. Since they were taken from their mom so young, they have missed out on some lessons in doggy behavior, but you can still train them and instill good habits. Also, the yelping in pain is normal and unless one of them winds up bleeding, they aren’t seriously hurt despite how it might sound to us. 

Yelping when things get a little too rough is normal behavior for dogs, it’s how they signal each other to tone it down, and you should notice that when one of them yelps / withdraws, the other lays off a bit—if the other pup doesn’t take the cue and lay off, just intervene to break them up and give them a breather for a few minutes. Usually, they’d learn this lesson from mom because she’d yelp / growl at them when they get too rough with her, but in this case they’ll have to learn from each other and from your intervention if needed.

For potty training, try to oversee them at potty time as much as possible. If they are veering off the edge of the mat, give them a nudge to stay in the center. You can even point toward the center of the mat to direct them, dogs have learned after thousands of years to follow our line of sight / the direction we point, so they can take cues from you if needed.

Hope that info helps.