Guest Author - Debra Kelly
When we were looking for a new puppy, we decided that two heads were better than one. They would always have a playmate, they would keep each other company when we weren't around. When we went for walks, we could each have one.
The first time I took our brother and sister cattle dog pups shopping at a local pet store, I was approached by a trainer there. He was horrified at what we had done. They would bond with each other and not with us, he told me. They would become dependent on each other, emotionally stunted, unable to function independently. He informed me that the only real solution was to return one of them.
If we wanted two dogs, get ones that weren't related.
We didn't return them. And while there were growing pains, they are now two happy, well-adjusted, adult dogs with their own distinct personalities.
Everyone has their own opinions on how puppies should be raised, but there's no reason that siblings shouldn't be allowed to live together in a happy, healthy home. The key is to let them develop independently, while still having both their sibling and their pack leader to depend on.
Don't be afraid to treat them differently. Like human children, they're two different dogs even if they do share the same DNA. One may decide she prefers to play fetch, while the other is perfectly happy to hang out next to you in the shade and watch his sister do all the work. One might like rawhides, one might like stuffed animals. One might like car rides while the other doesn't -- so take her with you when you hit the drive-thru for dinner, but take him for a walk down the street when you get back.
One might learn basic commands faster -- so teach her more quickly while still reinforcing the basics with him. And let them learn from each other. If she's housebroken sooner, use her behavior patterns to show him what to do. If she jumps while he doesn't, let her see him getting praised for sitting nicely.
And let them sort out their ranking among themselves. Like any pack, one will be stronger and more dominant. Feed this one first, give this one a treat first, let this one out of her crate first. If you reinforce what they already know, you'll confirm the pack hierarchy and let them know that it's ok. Feeling bad for the lower-ranking sibling and giving this one special benefits will only cause problems, and make the dominant dog feel as though she needs to reinforce her position.
And spend time with them both. Give them each attention from the pack leader, and as they begin to develop their own personalities let them do so at their own pace. Encourage their quirks and their interests, and if one takes to the water while the other prefers paws on dry land, give them what they each need as an individual.
It's a juggling act, but raising siblings from 8-week-old bundles of fur and cluelessness into well-rounded dogs is a challenge worth the rewards.