If you're a fan of 101 Dalmatians, you could be forgiven for thinking that pregnant dogs are capable of giving birth to a whole lot of pups. The reality of course is that litters are much smaller in size, and that it's even possible for dogs to have a litter of just one puppy.
Though rare, these "singleton" puppies, as they're colloquially known, have unique care needs. Without the chance to interact with littermates during the first couple of months of their life, these puppies can develop a range of behavioral problems.
To combat this, owners of these unique pooches need to take a few extra steps to ensure that their pets grow into well-behaved and well-adjusted pooches.
Signs Your Puppy is an "Only Puppy"
The early experiences your dog has in life play a crucial role in their social development, just as they do for human children. By socializing with their littermates in the first weeks of their life, puppies can learn all manner of important life skills — how to play nice, how to defuse troublesome or worrying situations, how to handle frustration, control impulses and, generally, how to interact with other dogs.
As a result, singletons are at a greater risk of exhibiting a few behavior problems as they grow into adult dogs. As the proud owner of a new pet, you may or may not be aware of your pup's start to life as a singleton. However, by observing their behavior, you may notice some of the common issues that single puppies can encounter.
For example, a singleton may be great at forming strong bonds with other humans, but struggle to interact normally with other dogs. They may not know the difference between friendly play and getting too rough, may not know the basics of bite inhibition, and often are uncomfortable being handled. Many singletons also have problems with frustration when they don't get their own way, which can be the cause of much consternation for their owners.
However, the good news is that there are a few simple things you can do to help your pet overcome these issues and learn the key social skills they need to get by in life.
- Lack of bite inhibition
- Difficulty coping with frustration
- Doesn't know how to play nice
- Doesn't know how to interact with other dogs
The Science of Litter Size
One-puppy litters are far from a common occurrence. For evidence of this, take a look at the pup's mother. Bitches have anywhere from eight to ten nipples, distributed in such a way to allow them to nurse multiple puppies at once. The size of their uterus is also designed to hold several puppies, and bitches can be fertilized several times while on heat. All of these factors mean that giving birth to just one puppy is highly unusual.
But it does happen, so what influences the size of puppy litters? There are several factors that can play a part, including:
- Size. Larger breeds tend to produce larger numbers of puppies due to the fact that, from a biological standpoint, they're more capable of carrying a big number of pups than smaller dogs.
- Age. Older and younger dogs tend to produce smaller litters, while those around three to four years of age generally produce larger litters. The age of the male can also have an effect, as older dogs have reduced sperm counts and poorer quality sperm.
- Inbreeding. The level of inbreeding also has an effect, as the more inbred a litter is, the smaller the puppy count is likely to be.
- Health. If both parents are in optimum health, this maximizes the chances of having a larger litter.
- Diet. A female who is fed a poor-quality diet is more likely to produce a small litter.
Training Your "Only Puppy"
Puppies learn a whole lot from their littermates in the first couple of months of life, and if they don't have any littermates there's only so much their mom can teach them. With this in mind, if your furry friend came from a single-puppy litter, you'll need to put in a little extra work to help them learn some critical social skills. Even though you probably won't get a chance to do so until your pup is more than eight weeks of age, it's still important to do whatever you can to help.
One key step is to sign your pooch up for puppy school. This is a grrr-eat way for your pooch to spend some quality time playing with other dogs, learning the best and safest way to interact with other members of the same species.
In an ideal world, before your pup is even old enough to go to puppy kindergarten you might be able to find a "foster litter" — a dog in your area that has recently had a litter and whose owner is willing to foster your singleton for a while. The breed of the mother doesn't matter any great deal, but it's important to find a litter where your pet can be with pups of the same age.
If there are no foster litters available, you can also do plenty to prepare your pup before they're old enough to enroll in puppy kindergarten. By cleaning your pet regularly, providing a source of warmth, and even introducing stuffed toys to mimic littermates, you can at least give your puppy an important helping hand.
How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Singleton:
Enroll your pooch in puppy kindergarten so they can learn how to interact with other canines.
Pick the puppy up regularly and handle them often to teach them how to respond to tactile stimulation.
To teach your puppy self-control and how to deal with frustration, ensure that they don't always get their own way. For example, don't pick your pup up and shower them with attention every time they whine — wait until they have calmed down.
If you can't find a foster litter, consider using stuffed toys to mimic your pup's littermates.
Continue making every effort to socialize your dog with other canines as they grow older, as this will help them learn all the intricacies of interacting with other members of the same species.