Is having two puppies a good idea

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Is having two puppies of the same age twice as nice — or a potential disaster? Julie Hill investigates.

There are advantages to having two puppies in that they will play together and keep each other company, but there can be big downsides as well.
While every puppy demands serious commitment from his or her owner, the truth is that having two pups together — especially littermates — is a huge undertaking that poses multiple challenges.
Fiona Whelan, a behaviour consultant at the Company of Animals, has seen the potential pitfalls of having two puppies at the same time, and she recommends an age gap. “Personally, I think four years is a good gap between dogs, but certainly an absolute minimum of a year,” she said.
There is a phenomenon referred to as littermate syndrome, where puppies from the same litter who remain together do not progress as well as they should. The presence of a sibling can negatively impact a dog in many ways.
According to Fiona, same sex littermates is the worst-case scenario. “Two puppies from the same litter will tend to bond with each other far more than they will ever bond with you,” she explained.
Not only is this an emotional disadvantage from the owner’s perspective, but training will tend to be harder, especially recall. “When you take one puppy out and about, they might run off from you a little bit, and then think: ‘That’s a bit scary, I’d better run back to Mum!’” said Fiona. “When you take two of them, one thinks: ‘That’s a bit scary!’ and the other one thinks: ‘Let’s do it anyway!’ and they look to each other for support, rather than back to you.”
It can be a challenge training any puppy, but with two it becomes increasingly difficult to get either dog to focus on you rather than each other. The answer is to ensure each puppy has individual training, but of course that entails at least double the time. When you factor in that the pups also need to learn to concentrate in each other’s presence, you begin to understand how time-consuming two pups can be.
Being so bonded to each other can also negatively impact each dog’s social skills. While they may amuse each other, littermates’ play will tend to be rougher, with more and harder biting. Fiona explained: “The dog’s littermate will tend to be more tolerant of a higher level of rough play than other dogs, and will be less likely to tell them off. They get in the habit of thinking it’s acceptable to jump on other dogs to play, which, of course, it’s not.”
This can result in incidents with other dogs, where the pup behaves inappropriately and the unfamiliar dog tells them off.

Play may be rougher between siblings.

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A STRONG BOND

The close relationship between littermates can result in an inability in one or both dogs to cope without the other’s presence. “You might get one who’s overly confident, or one who’s wimpy because he’s always hiding behind the other one, but either way they tend to be reliant on each other for their social skills, or they may get to an age where they will become competitive and fight,” said Fiona.
Different gender littermates are slightly less problematic, but early neutering — or some foolproof alternative arrangement— becomes vital. “As ridiculous as it sounds, I’ve actually known owners who thought that their puppies wouldn’t have sex because they’re brother and sister,” said Fiona.
Even having two unrelated puppies carries many of the same risks as having littermates, and requires the same huge commitment and time input from the owner. Fiona is keen for people to be aware that irrespective of the ages of other dogs in the household, every dog needs a careful, considered upbringing. 
 “You need to take a puppy out on their own as much as possible when they’re younger. They need to develop their social skills individually, not as part of a group, and not always have a brother or sister to hide behind or be protected by,” said Fiona. “They need to go out and meet other dogs. They need to socialise on their own, not once a week but four or five times
a week minimum. A lot of people who get two dogs together do it because they think it will mean a reduced workload. But it will be literally more than double because those puppies will be so much harder work.”
With two puppies of the same age being so demanding, many breeders and rescues don’t allow double adoptions/purchases because the risk is that one or both dogs may end up very unhappy.
Fiona’s professional and personal experiences have led her to strongly discourage getting two puppies at the same time.
“I know people — even people who are into dog sports — who’ve taken two puppies and said: ‘Never, ever again!’ I even have friends — a couple who both do agility — and they each took a puppy from the same litter. They were very much their own puppies and they did loads of stuff individually, but even they said: ‘They’re the hardest dogs we’ve ever had to train.’”
Not every case ends in disaster, but potential puppy buyers need to be aware of the task they’re taking on.

Read the rest of the feature in the July issue, available to read instantly on our digital edition HERE or purchase the print edition HERE.

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