In our previous piece, you learned that a single-fetus pregnancy can actually be more treacherous for your dog and her baby than a “standing-room-only” pregnancy would have been. It turns out that single pups still face an uphill battle, even after they’ve safely navigated the birthing process.

Many lasting behavior patterns and habits are formed early on in puppies and kittens. Some of those are firming up already in the first several weeks of life. Specifically, experienced dog breeders have observed that a pup who nurses alone can grow up to display some problematic behaviors, like an aversion to confinement and touch. They’re also said to have a decreased tolerance for frustration and handling because they are largely allowed to have their own way, beginning right at birth. They don’t have to negotiate with their siblings to get what they want or navigate over lumpy bodies to get where they want to go. They don’t have to jockey for position at the milk bar and always have their mother’s undivided attention. Life surrounded by a litter presents many more challenges, and challenges truly do build character. Babies, of the canine variety, bite each other mercilessly. They are monsters who have littleconcernfor anyone. In dealing with each other, they learn how to manage adversity and, eventually, how to be gentle. Buried in a pile of warm, wiggly siblings, they become tolerant of physical contact. Many respected breeders, when presented with a lonely pup by singleton pregnancy or by partial loss of a litter, will take immediate action. Consolidation or mingling of multiple litters on-site is the safest approach, but if necessary they mayarrange to foster or adopt a couple of orphans. Experience has shown them that these relatively extreme measures are actually a worthwhile investment in future behavior.

If you could do something with your single pup to help him or her succeed as an adult, wouldn’t you seize that opportunity? Toys and rolled blankets can be placed in the whelping box at a very early age, to help exercise and challenge your little squirmer. Many breeders recommend rubbing the infant’s skin during nursing, as well as occasionally moving the pup from one nipple to another. You may consider making arrangements to raise your singleton with a pup or two of similar age (or at least conduct frequent play dates). Exercise extreme caution when inviting another dog of any age into your puppy’s inner circle, as this can open the door to disease transmission.

It’s worth noting here that raising a pup with just one other pup presents its own challenges. Dogs that coexist as a pair beyond their weaning run the risk of becoming overly dependent upon one another. Unless they are deliberately schooled on how to spend time apart and relax independently, they tend to become frantic when separated for even a few seconds. Lessons on how to spend time alone are 100% free and easy to execute, but they do need to be performed before these habits become too ingrained.

Dr. M.S. Regan