Littermate Syndrome

I hate giving advice. It implies that I know what I’m talking about. Every time I start to think I’m pretty smart it means I’m about to do something incredibly stupid. Every time. When I start writing “advice columns” I go back and read what I wrote and it sounds just like the kind of stuff I hate to read, written by some “expert” that thinks they know more about what’s good for me and my dogs than I do. I really don’t want to be that guy. When it comes to dogs, I’m always learning new things and changing my opinions and the way I do things. I watch all the videos and read all the advice given by the professionals and I have learned a lot from them, but there are always things I come across that make me wonder if they just sit around making this stuff up. Maybe other dogs are just that much different than beagles? Maybe some of this stuff just gets passed around without any real data to back it up because that’s what you are supposed to say if you are “reputable”? 

I can’t give you any data either. I have had more than a hundred dogs, way more. Mostly beagles. I have raised more than a thousand puppies. Way more. I’ve seen and experienced and done things with dogs few people can imagine, and forgotten much of it. It’s been my full time job since I was old enough to take a dog to the woods. I had a real job also but I have always spent most of my time with dogs. I can’t give you the numbers because I’m really bad at keeping records. I often think that if I had kept detailed records of all the puppies and dogs that have touched my life I could add something useful to the world of dog knowledge. But the truth is, I would much rather clean dog kennels than sit type numbers in a computer. I’m an outside person, -20 or 90, I spend the best part of everyday outside with some dogs, not crunching numbers.

I can’t tell you what will work best for you. I can tell you what I do and what I have done and learned about beagles and what works best for me. I only hope you can get something useful from it.

Littermate Syndrome. It’s one of the latest THINGS with dogs. NEVER get littermates or you will suffer the dreaded LITTERMATE SYNDROME. When I first started seeing this a few years ago I thought what the heck are they talking about? I raise littermates all the time. I keep whole litters. Sometimes I keep one pup from a litter, but more is always better. Always. Been doing it for about 40 years. I can’t give you numbers, but I have raised LOTS of littermates. I figured this was the latest fad and would soon go away. But it hasn’t. All the experts are parroting this advice nowadays. Over and over. I’m not sure where this comes from. Haven’t seen any data. The “symptoms” they list are all over the place. Either they love each other too much or they are fighting all the time. No one says this breed or that breed, it’s ALL dogs. NEVER GET LITTERMATES. No reputable breeder would sell you two puppies from the same litter. All these years I have been disreputable and didn’t even know it.

I can’t tell you what is suddenly happening with all these other littermates from all these other breeds, but I can tell you that beagles have been raised in packs, littermates and all, for hundreds of years. It is standard practice in large beagle packs to keep beagles together. If there are six puppies in a litter, those six dogs live and eat and hunt together unless one or more is “drafted” which in the old days used to mean culled. Nowadays, drafts are often given to other packs in return for drafts from another pack. Regardless, beagles from large packs had to live together peacefully and get along without any fighting or other problems. The quickest way to keep everyone happy was to get rid of the unhappy beagles. Beagles are an old “breed”, they were around hundreds of years before people started separating dogs into breeds about 150 years ago. Any problems with “littermate syndrome” were dealt with long ago.

Not all beagles today come from large packs. Old problems that get neglected have a way of coming back to haunt you. In this country there are a few beagle packs, but by far most beagles live separate from other beagles or possibly with one or two canine companions.

If they develop a problem, like resource guarding or a predisposition to fight with their littermates not many breeders today know or care about it. There are potential problems with raising two or more beagle puppies from the same litter together. Despite falling into the breed called beagles, there’s a lot of difference between individual dogs. Still, on average, there are more advantages than disadvantages to raising a beagle puppy with another from the same litter, despite what the “experts” tell you.

Some of the pros of raising littermate beagles:

Beagles have been bred for a long time to live as a pack. They don’t like to be alone. If you live with a beagle, you are their pack. If you go off to work and leave them home alone, they will not be happy. Having another dog or cat around will make them feel better. A littermate will return the feeling. A cat may not enjoy it so much.

Beagles, especially when they are young, have a lot of energy they need to burn up. Having a littermate to wrestle and play with when you are busy will keep them content and will go a long way towards keeping them from chewing up your house or finding some other destructive way to use that energy.

There are some cons to watch out for with littermate beagles. The same applies to beagles of nearly the same age, even if they are not littermates.

Resource guarding can be a real problem. It can start an all-out fight between any two dogs. All dogs will protect what is theirs. It’s natural, we do it also. The level to which they take this is hard wired into them when they are born. Some will fight anything that comes near what they consider theirs. You and your attention fall into this category of things they will protect from other dogs along with food, bones, toys, even things you can’t imagine any dog wanting to protect. Other beagles will let anyone, or any dog take anything they have without blinking. Most fall somewhere in between these two extremes. You can train this behavior out of them when it is directed at people. You can’t train it out of them when directed at another dog. 

I test all my puppies by feeding them together out of one dish when they are about 7 or 8 weeks old, several times. I watch closely for any sign of aggression. I have seen seven-week-old puppies get into bloody battles. More often, I will see one or two puppies dominate the food dish and one or two puppies stay out of the way until the others leave. All this is important information that I spend a lot of time searching for. Anyone breeding dogs or considering littermates needs to know this. I have never seen anyone else mention this when they are going on about littermate syndrome? Not all dogs are the same. There are no “syndromes” that apply the same to all.

Another issue that needs to be resolved with littermates is dominance. With dogs, somebody has to be the boss. Nobody likes to have somebody telling them what to do. It’s the same with beagles. When the one doing the telling is their mother or another older dog or you, they take it and learn to accept it. When the bossy one is from the same litter it is harder for them to take. Put two bosses together and it can and often does lead to trouble. With most of the littermates I have raised, this usually happens at some point. Sometimes I split them up for a while. This may help or it may just put off the inevitable. Sometimes if it gets bad I step in and remind them of who the real boss is. If it doesn’t get out of hand, I like to just let them work it out for themselves. Sooner or later, they will need to figure this out between them and find a way for everyone to be happy. This almost always happens within a few weeks. After that stage passes, almost all of the littermate beagles I have raised prefer the company of their family more so than beagles that are older or younger than they are.

I have not ever seen two beagles so attached that they can’t get along just fine for a time without each other. If I take one hunting or out for a walk down to the river and leave the other home, the one that gets to go will not spend one second worrying about their littermate back at home. The attachment issues listed under the description for littermate syndrome don’t seem to apply the same to beagles in my experience. It may be different for you. If you have two beagles that live together for 15 years and one of them dies, there is no question that the survivor will miss their companion. Of course they do. It doesn’t take an expert to tell us that beagles can grieve for each other. Doesn’t seem like a very good reason to deny them 15 years of happiness to me.


There was a storm coming and Ella was gone. Missing. Wind blowing hard out of the east all day, never a good sign. Freezing rain falling on the three or four inches of hard snow still on the ground. Getting dark.

We always hunt the same spot over by the rainbow trail. Never kill any rabbits there, not what it’s about. It’s 8.7 miles by road. Up and around and over the bridge by Wahoo Valley and then down and back east on the trail and then back in off the road a half mile to the spot we always park. 

4.9 miles in a straight line. Only one road to cross that way but also a river and lots of woods and swamp and fields. Lots of snowshoe rabbits in that spot to chase. Miles of pine trees and swamp filled with rabbits.

The river between my house and where we go to run the dogs.

Days that I don’t go there to run these dogs I turn some loose at the house to chase cottontails. Pretty tame stuff compared to the big snowshoe hare that never take cover in a brush pile I built for them. Today was one of those days. I let Brienne (otherwise known as Brainy) and Windy, Ginger and Ella out of the kennel. I should put tracking collars on them. Sometimes I do. Most times I get lazy and skip that part around home.

Part of the reason I let them run here is for them to learn the country and how to find their way home.Most of my dogs were born here and spent their puppyhood running loose around the yard. Their internal compass is set with this place as home. Ella was born in Georgia, she missed out on that part.

I was outside most of the day but never heard those dogs. I blamed the wind. How far could they be? After about five hours I saw Brienne and Windy coming home from the east. Ginger followed about a half hour later.

During the night about seven inches of wet heavy snow fell. Ella never made it home. I pushed the snow off the yard and then drove all over by snowmobile, looking. No dog tracks anywhere. Afternoon I loaded up some dogs in the truck and went hunting. The new, soft snow didn’t keep me from driving back off the road to the parking lot. 

Living and running dogs in wolf country, looking at tracks is as automatic as checking for the occasional log truck before pulling out onto the road. There were fresh dog tracks by the place we always park. I turned dogs out (wearing tracking collars) then took a closer look at those tracks. Looked like beagle tracks. Saw some tracks with the dog still in them.

There’s Ella, coming up the trail to the truck. “It’s about time,” she tells me with a look. A little tired, missing some hair around her muzzle from trailing rabbits, but otherwise just fine.

The day before when I let them out, Windy and Brainy and Ginger waited around until they saw I wasn’t going to give them a ride over to the trail. Then they went on their own, traveling cross country with Ella following and then getting left behind when it was time to come home. Ella knows about hunting and trailing rabbits but she couldn’t find her way from the kennel to the house if you left her a trail of dog food. She may be the only one that can prove she was there, but I’m guessing Brainy or Windy were the navigators. I’ve seen things like this before from the dogs listed on their papers, but not on this scale. Not that I knew about anyway.

Traveler used to be that kind of dog. Once maybe ten years ago, he was gone hunting when I had to leave for work for the week. I asked Lisa to watch for him and bring him in when he came home. It was early spring, the snow was just melting. There was still some venison by the shed from the meat scraps I had been feeding the dogs through the winter. Next day when I called Lisa, she had seen no sign of Traveler. He wasn’t around the following day or the next. Still hadn’t come to the house when I returned Friday morning. There were dog tracks in the yard. I called a few times and Traveler soon came in. Found his tracks going back to the potlatch to hunt, mile and a half from the house. Hard telling where all else he went that week.

Come to think of it, Brainy and Ginger were gone most of one day the week before. I used to think I was mainly the designated driver for these dogs but it seems they don’t really need me even for that. Pete summed it up best when I told him my story. “They have a way better GPS than anything we have. Garmin don’t have nothing on them.”