Monday 29 April 2019

Siblings, Yay or Nay?

Double trouble?

This article was written for The Shepherds Magazine
© Louise Liebenberg, 2019

Aah, if only life was so simple that a simple black and white answer would suffice for some very complex questions. On various social media pages, the great sibling debate rolls around every few weeks and the poor person asking, gets bombarded with answers from both sides. Some professing it is the worst decision ever and others concluding it was the best decision they made regarding livestock guardian dogs (LGD).  So, clearly the opinions are divided, and the person asking still has no idea what they should do. In this article I intend to look a little closer at this issue, one pup or two?

I will most like use the term “siblings” a fair amount, please understand that I also mean pups of a similar age, even if they are unrelated.  Kinship is generally not so much of an issue, instead it is the closeness in age of pups, is what matters.
In the “regular” dog world, it is well known that taking two pups’ home at the same time, often results in behavioral problems, so much so, that it has its very own name: “Litter-mate Syndrome”.  A syndrome is often used in the context of the medical world but can also refer to a cluster of behavioral patterns, that are both complex and difficult to deal with. With pups, these behavioral patterns disrupt the normal development of social interactions.  
Another term that comes to mind when looking at getting litter mates is the term “sibling rivalry”, suggesting the possibility of conflicts that can, and do regularly occur among siblings or similar age pups. It is a term that reflects behaviors such as jealousy, bullying, aggression and full-blown fighting. Neither term hints at a positive outcome.

A broad definition of litter mate syndrome is that two pups, (who are not necessarily from the same litter, but are close in age) are hyper-bonded to one another, to the point that they become emotionally dependent on one another, to the exclusion of humans, other dogs (or, in the case of livestock guardian dogs, to the livestock). They have no need to learn social behaviors as they rely on each other to fulfill their needs for companionship.
Some signs of litter mate syndrome with LGD include:
  • Fearfulness around people and interacting with people.
  • Lack of attention while working with them.
  • Lack of attention to other animals, such as the sheep, other dogs or even to predators.
  • They have trouble focusing on some basic commands.
  • They show a high level of anxiety when separated from one another, in LGD this could translate in not being able to place them in separate pastures or constantly trying to escape.
  • They are often very fearful of new things, sounds or experiences as they have only ever focused on each other and have not actually learnt to adapt individually to new stimuli.
  • The pups constantly distract each other.
  • Pups who constantly play with each other do not learn how to interact and behave around other dogs, their canine social skills are often poor, which can lead to issues with other dogs.
  • Fighting and bullying can occur, sibling rivalry. Some fighting can become so aggressive it can result in serious injury or even death.
  • Constantly playing together also keeps the pups from maturing, they stay in this juvenile mindset where playing is the most important activity. With our LGD, we would like them to mature and settle into their role as a serious guardian as soon as possible. Long extended play periods with each other can also result in long and extend play periods or “teenage phase” with the livestock extending well into their 3 or 4th year.
  • Lack of independence.

Sometimes siblings do go well together, not every pup will develop litter mate syndrome.  The degree of attachment will vary and so will the severity of symptoms. In some cases, the relationship between siblings is clearly defined between a more dominant and bolder sibling and a softer more submissive one. However, time and maturity can change this, nothing is permanent.  Some pups can get along great for 3 or 4 years and then one day you go outside, and the pups have got into a serious fight. A very alert owner might see the small changes in how the pups interact with each other and can recognize that the relationship is changing. An alert owner will separate these litter mates before any serious escalation occurs.
Sibling rivalry usually starts off with typical brother/sister disagreements, two pups will be playing and this soon escalates into a fight. They could become reactive of resources (food, toys, attention and space). The intensity of disagreements will often escalate, going from puppy fights to the point where either can get seriously hurt or even killed in a fight. The older they get, the more intense the fights become.

To compound issues further, sex matters. Things become ever more complicated, when you chose to take home same sex siblings. Same sex siblings tend to highlight problems more so, than opposite sex litter mates. Issues such as aggression, jealousy, incompatibility (bitch fights), resource guarding and problems within the pack are common problems with siblings, but with same sex siblings, these become magnified. It is very common to hear from people who have two pups that end up fighting and must be permanently separated to avoid major damage. Many people ask how to stop these fights once they begin and the truth of the matter is, that once the fighting starts, it rarely stops. It is impossible to predict what triggers them, it could be a look, food, being in heat, attention, an area, a toy or just because they happen to walk past each other. Siblings or same age pups who start fighting rarely ever “sort it out”, one either gets seriously hurt, or constantly bullied and, sometimes one gets evicted from the pack. In a fenced pasture system, this dog has no where to go. These dogs often end up roaming or heading back home and avoid being out in the pasture with the other LGD and stock.

The highest chance of reducing sibling rivalry would be to place opposite sex partners together, this will result in the least friction between the dogs. If you are going with same sex siblings, a neutered pair of males are likely to get along better than sibling sisters. An alliance may form between 2 brothers when there are no other females around, and plenty of work to do. Sibling sisters tend to the highest incidence for very aggressive bitch fights, particularly when one comes into heat. Spaying and neutering of same sex siblings may help keep the conflicts somewhat contained by removing the hormonal fluctuations with intact animals, but it certainly is not the “cure-all” once fighting starts
Pups raised with adult LGD tend to mature quicker and become more independent than pups who are constantly playing and roughhousing together.

Not all siblings “hyper-bond” to each other and this makes the decision to acquire 2 pups together a crap-shoot, as you simply cannot predict the outcome of who will develop litter mate syndrome or sibling rivalry and who will not. The individual temperament of each puppy is absolutely a determining factor if problems will arise or not.
In some cases, an alliance forms between siblings where the co-dependence is less, and a working team is formed.  Alliances often form for several reasons, it can be for companionship, protection, controlling territory, safety, breeding and resources. With LGD, this can translate into siblings forming an alliance, working well together to protect their territory or livestock. This alliance can become disrupted within the pack when females come into heat, or pressure from other pack members force a dog out of the pack. Alliances between siblings work well when there is a lot of predator pressure and a large area to work in. However, this ideal situation of siblings working together peacefully is less common than many realize.

To summarize, it is well known that litter mates or same age pups, can have an array of negative behavioral patterns that is detrimental to their ability to form bonds with livestock, humans and other dogs. The relationships are complex, and it is very hard to predict if litter mates will form an alliance together or become mortal enemies.  Choosing litter mates can be highly successful or a total failure and this is dependent on factors such as time, space, the degree of bonded-ness they have to each other, predator pressure, the amount of land they need to cover, individual temperaments and a multitude of other factors. For the average rancher, litter mates can be a disaster together if they start to roughhouse with the livestock, are not bonded to the stock or start roaming together. It is then certainly the case of double trouble.
Five-month-old sibling pair that have been raised together with the livestock, each have spent time away from the other in separate groups of livestock to ensure they are not bonded only to each other.
 Two pups together can also be very successful in redirecting play behavior to each other and away from the livestock, in guarding their territory and forming a front against predators. They can form an “instant pack”, providing both companionship and back up for one another. The decision to work with same age pups is a big one, and our human nature tends to get in the way of clear thinking, we generally like the idea of sibling companionship and often feel having two at the same time is easier as they will “keep each other company” and learn and grow together. We conveniently forget that it can also lead to highly aggressive fighting, disruption of the pack and problems with the livestock. 

Every owner has a different level of involvement with their dogs, when giving out advice, I try to give advice that would work best for most people and their dogs.  My advice for a person new to LGD, is to start with one pup and add a second once the first has reached maturity. Take the time to build up a working pack and in this way avoid as many problems as possible.
If the decision is made  to work with littermates or same age pups, then I would strongly advise the following; start with a (de-sexed) male/female pair, the next option would be (neutered) males, finally, the one I would least advise would be a female/female pair.

As for the raising process, try and give them separate groups of livestock to bond to, raise them independently of each other so that they can form an attachment to the livestock first. Be prepared to separate siblings if they become (hyper)bonded to each other, start fighting or being disruptive at the livestock.

A table of some pros’ and cons of raising same age pups:
Pro’s for having siblings LGD
Cons of having Siblings
The provide companionship for one another
Can develop fierce sibling rivalry with some fights ending in major injuries or even death.
Play behavior often gets redirected from livestock to one another.
However, sometimes the play behavior together, can be redirected to the livestock, with both pups forming a pack mentality. Double trouble.
Siblings can form very deep and strong bonds to each other
Do not bond to the livestock or their humans, as they have each other to bond to. Litter mate Syndrome.
It may be cheaper to buy a package deal
“Cheap” might not be the best way to select a good LGD.
Pups benefit from playing together, learning bite control and fair play.
Pups tend to stay in a more juvenile mindset for longer. Longer immature stage.
Siblings embolden each other, appearing often more confident.
One pup is often an instigator and another a follower. Hard to correct bad behavior of one.
It is a quick manner to rapidly increase the number of LGD you have.
Results in having all your LGD the same age when older, with less spread of ages and maturity throughout the pack.
Less facilitating with pups as you can do two at the same time.
Harder to supervise, interact and guide two than one. Often, they will need to be separated, requiring two pastures with livestock.

Two pups require more supervision and guidance, it is harder to separate one from the other if needed. Requiring potentially more fields, more groups of livestock etc.

Costs for feeding, vaccinations, spaying or neutering and other vet care are double, all at the same time.

If one pup escapes, it will often lead the other one to escape to. Harder to contain them.

It is hard to get a reprimand to be effective, one pup is getting punished for nothing and the other pup soon forgets what the reprimand was about, as he is focused on the other sibling and playing together.

As most  things in life are never black and white, and there are no absolutes, I will say that in some cases siblings can work very well, I can say with the same confidence, that in some cases, they do not. A lot is dependent on the owner, size of operation, experience, breeder  assistance and of course the personality of each dog involved. If I had to make a blanket statement, then I would probably recommend staggering the ages of the pups.

Saturday 20 April 2019

Puppies Kushi x Mali

The pups are doing very well. Here are some individual pictures of each pup.

The dark male and the gray male:
The darker male is a little bigger than the gray boy. the gray is perhaps a touch more outgoing. Both are calm and easy to get along with.

Females Green and Yellow:
Green is a very sweet pup,  a middle of the road type of pup, not the first to be out exploring but also not the shyest pup either.

Yellow, is a bit more independent and likes to go on small adventures, and is not concerned about exploring her world around her.

Pink and Blue:

Pink is most similar to the yellow girl. She is happy to play and explore a new environment. A very attractive dark pup.

She is a real sweety. She seems a little more gentle in nature. A bigger pup, but definitely more cautious with new experiences. She waits to see if the coast is clear before heading off to explore. A more reserved pup in nature.

Next up are Black and Two white socks:

Black, is another middle of the road pup, she is the smallest of the bunch. She looks like she will be a black coloured pup with just very little sable-ling on her legs. She is has an interesting character, as she is not the boldest but does seem rather independent.

Two socks and white/ dot on chin:
She is a family favorite simply because she is a cuddle bug. She is easily recognizable among all the super dark pups. She will just come and hang out with you when you sit with the pups. She would be a middle of the road pup. Nothing about her stands out as regards independence, boldness or shyness.

One of the bigger gray girls. She likes to motor along and get to see things. She is fairly calm and confident in the things she does. She is on the move!

The differences between all these pups are really small. None stand out in super bold or super shy.
The differences are more subtle. All are super confident in the barn with the lambs.

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