Several months ago, I entered this essay to All Things Dogs in the hopes of receiving a $1000 scholarship for school. I didn’t win, but I couldn’t share this until now. Here you go!
I had just moved back in with my mom after ending a relationship. We had gotten a puppy in the first year of the relationship, and we were together for seven years after that. He kept the dog. My heart dog. The best dog I had ever had. So when my mom’s dog was due to have puppies, I was doomed to fall in love. I did not want a puppy for a multitude of reasons but I also had a dog – shaped hole in my heart.
For the record, I love dogs, but puppies are completely different. They’re little balls of chaos, with sharp nails, and needle teeth. I had vowed never to get another puppy, and to adopt an adult dog when the time was right. I had plans to go to the animal shelter and pick out a friendly pit bull with a happy grin, or a smallish terrier mix with an outgoing personality. That wasn’t what happened though. Instead I ended up with two German Shepherds.
When the puppies were born, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with one slightly fluffier little boy. I named him Yuba. He was calm, quiet, didn’t bite very much. My perfect puppy, or so he seemed at that moment in time. Out of the nine surviving puppies, this was the one I couldn’t get enough of. His sweet face, his soft coat, his gentle nibbles on my fingers. I didn’t realize at the time that the way he would hang back from the others and his super laid – back nature would be a sign of future behavioral problems.
As time went on, the other puppies all found homes except for one. He and Yuba were both very shy, anxious puppies and would hide behind me when anyone came to see the remaining puppies in the litter. We called him Tejon and decided no one else deserved such a sweet boy. Tejon was now part of the family too.
Tejony and Yuba were terrors for several months. The wild puppy stage never seemed to end and they seemed to be more destructive than any puppies my family had ever had before. They chewed holes through the drywall. They tore up most of the linoleum on the kitchen floor. Yuba discovered a taste for all things electrical cord, and I had to replace all my chargers at least twice. Tejon destroyed at least 6 remote controls.
I hadn’t heard of littermate syndrome before, but I was about to get a crash course in it now. Yuba and Tejon started getting into tussles that weren’t play around 4 months old. A few weeks of this, and then they’d settle down to being best friends again for several months. Tejon was the more dominant dog, and Yuba wanted to challenge him at every turn.
The next thing I discovered was that because the boys were literally together every moment of their lives, they were strongly bonded to each other, but only minimally bonded to me despite sleeping with me every night and getting lots of daily attention from me. This led to a lot of difficulties ranging from training being nearly impossible because they both have minimal interest in anything other than what the other is doing, and trying to work with them separately results in highly anxious dogs. Small things like “sit” and recall took much longer to teach them than was typical for a single dog.
They work together as a team when they want something. When Tejon had an accident resulting in roughly 20 stitches across his ribs on one side, Yuba would help him remove his t-shirts, and plastic e-collar. When we upgraded Tejon to an inflatable e-collar, Yuba helpfully chewed it off of him and they punctured it together so it could no longer be worn.
At about a year old, I had to buy a crate for Yuba to sleep in at night because he was anxious at night and would either wake me every few hours, or he would destroy anything he could get hold of. The first night he hated his crate. By the end of the week, all I had to say was “it’s bedtime!” and he was happily entering the crate on his own to lay down and sleep. The crate soon became another area of contention, with Tejon occasionally retreating into it for some quiet time, and Yuba challenging his being there.
At around 18 months, they finally started to settle down and become the good dogs I knew they could be. They stopped destroying the house. They stopped chewing things up except for the occasional remote control. They greet me quietly and happily at the door when I come home from class. They’re the best of friends most of the time. They still have periods where they fight over dominance, which can be terrifying because at over 80 pounds each, it takes two people to break them up and put them in “time out.”
Unfortunately, despite being sweet, loving, wonderful dogs to me and my family, they have some behavioral issues. Littermate syndrome will likely be an issue for their entire lives, and they never grew out of their puppyhood anxieties. Tejon isn’t too bad, but he won’t allow strangers to touch him. Yuba, on the other hand, is a bite hazard. He’s terrified of people he doesn’t know, and going to the vet requires a muzzle. I have to be vigilant whenever I take him anywhere because I need to protect him from his own fears.
I wish other people could meet the boys I know, the Yuba that runs zoomies around the house at 8pm and then gives me kisses, and the Tejon who sprawls across my bed in the late hours of the night wanting his belly rubbed for as long as I can do it. It’s the sweet, social side of them I wish I could share with the rest of the world. They aren’t perfect dogs, but they’re my boys. My good, sweet boys. I wouldn’t trade them for another dog despite their behavioral problems. It does make things more difficult, but dogs are family and they have my unconditional love.