Littermates


We are considering getting two Border Collies from the same litter. Someone told me the other day that I should never get 2 pups from the same litter as they will be too bonded to one anther and will ignore me. They told me that littermates are impossible to train and difficult to handle. IF we ever decide to breed these dogs, shouldn't they be unrelated? Won't they have identical genes, resulting in what I heard called "line breeding"?


It has never been my experience that raising littermates together has been any sort of problem, either in training or in behavior. In fact, almost all of the things that in relate to littermates raised together are positive:

1) Littermates are the same age - mentally, physically, and psychologically they are at the same stage - this allows them to get along much better, allows you to train them together consistently, and institute the same sort of "precautions" for handling the dogs. (Though this also means housetraining, teething, etc. also go along together)

2) Littermates almost always get along. The odds that any two unrelated dogs growing up together and getting along are probably slightly lower.

3) Littermates learn from one another and compete against one another, making training easier and learning faster. It always helps to have an older trained dog around to learn from but the challenge of having a littermate around can speed up the learning curve. The attention problem can be solved by working them separately, taking them away from one another from time to time and realizing that any young Border Collie has attention problems.

4) Littermates vent their energy on one another, taking some of the pressure off you.

Negatives:

1) Double trouble. Double chaos. Double accidents. Double vet bills. Double hair.

2) Training two dogs separately is time consuming.

Regarding breeding littermates:

First of all, just to clarify, littermates are no more closely related than any other brother/sister pair. They are NOT identical twins. Almost always (though twins can happen - it is rare), littermates are simply siblings. Each pup is produced from a separate egg, and therefore is 50% genetically similar to its littermate, as it is to any other pup produced from the same sire and dam. A 6 year-old dog produced from a mating several litters ago is just as genetically similar to a pup than any of its current littermates.

Linebreeding is different than inbreeding. Line breeding is where the sire and dam have several of the same ancestors as each other. Inbreeding is breeding two closely related dogs (brother/sister, father/daughter, mother/son, etc.). Inbreeding should never be attempted by anyone other than the most expert of genetists and breeders. (in my opinion, no one should ever do it.) Linebreeding is not always bad. It helps set the type for the breed (you wouldn't have Border Collies without linebreeding in all likelihood) but it can also set bad characteristics as well. Double recessive traits are expressed far more often in closely related matchings than in outcrosses or in unrelated crosses.

Personally, I think linebreeding is altogether unnecessary at this stage in the game. The traits of the Border Collie can be maintained and improved through directional selection just as well. The risks associated with linebreeding do not outweigh the needs of type setting. Genetic diversity has always been the highlight of the Border Collie over the other, conformation-bred breeds. Reducing it further at this point is only inviting disaster. (The elimination or reduction of CHD, CPRA, CEA, and others can probably be dealt with through directional selection.)

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Page last updated April 1, 1997. All material Copyright 2004 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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