Littermate Syndrome: What It Means and Is It a Concern

Updated: Jun 22

This confident pair of four month old pups are also quite willing to work alone - and do! - all on their own.

Questions about this issue come up frequently when I talk with prospective buyers that are new to LGDs. I have never experienced anything like it with my many, many pairs of dogs & pups placed but it seemed like a good idea to really understand this term from a scientific point of view. Kathy generously took this project on; her findings are in the blog below.

In my opinion decisions about ownership or management of animals should be based on science, not fads or popular current jargon. As the secretary of the MSCA I can tell you that there is an unacceptable rate of failure for LGDs. Maybe my memory is selective but I cannot remember a time when the dog the owner wanted to give our rescue had been part of a pair.

Training is among the minimum management requirements owed to an animal. Two dogs, left to make decisions on their own without the benefit of training, are likely to get in trouble, littermates or not.

Littermate Syndrome: What it means and is it a concern by Kathy Flynn

One of the questions that comes up when placing puppies is “what about littermate syndrome”?

First, what is littermate syndrome? The most common definition is that it is when two puppies from the same litter are raised together and develop a bond with each other that prevents the puppies from bonding with the owner. Other issues cited are escalating aggression between the puppies or panic when they are separated.

What is the science behind Littermate Syndrome? There are a lot of anecdotes but I couldn’t find any actual studies. And there are a LOT of anecdotes. But dig deeper into the anecdotes and are they true of siblings only or is something else going on? Many of the examples I’ve seen or heard are easily explained as the result of something else.

Here is an excellent article about the term on the website for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants:

There are others as well if you google “littermate syndrome myth”. Here are two:

But these articles are talking about companion animals. What about livestock guardian dog puppies?

By definition, LGDs have a very different purpose and thus a different relationship with their humans. They are not looking at the human to be the center of their world and direct their moves. They are partners who, by the definition of their job, must think and act independently. They are responsible for protecting livestock from predators and they bond with their livestock.

Benson Maremmas puppies aren’t placed before the age of four months. During that time, the litter has been exposed to differing livestock and differing environments. Their personalities and interactions with their littermates and the livestock are carefully observed and puppies who are similar in disposition are matched. They are only placed in pairs unless the buyer already has a suitable LGD partner.

By the time the puppies are placed, they will have had training that involved them leaving the other puppies. They will have learned about being groomed, having their nails trimmed, walking on a leash, walking up a ramp, and riding in a car. Some of this training is done individually and some with a small number of puppies.

For LGDs, it is advantageous to have two puppies. These are adolescent dogs who know one another and have similar working styles. Because they are of similar age the pups are ready for the degree of responsibility that should be asked of them as they mature. They are more likely to keep each other occupied and less likely to try to play with the livestock. Not to say the puppies won’t go through a stage of play chasing livestock, but that is dealt with as it would be for a single puppy. And, as always, two dogs are safer than one in dealing with predators and also for their mental and emotional health.

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