5 Kinds of Puppy Behavior

Litter Language

By seven weeks of age, puppies have begun to develop a worldview. Each has a special way of relating to littermates, mom, and the world beyond. There’s a pecking order in litterland, the beginnings of a dog pack hierarchy.

Every puppy has a place and behaves accordingly. Bright, energetic, and bossy types are highest. Those puppies with a more laissez-faire attitude occupy the middle ground, preferring leisure over leading. More timid types rank lower. These puppies like peace and quiet; sitting on the sidelines is just fine with them.

There’s a place in the world for all of these puppies, but which is right for you? You’ll need the persistence to convince a high-ranking puppy of your authority, patience to train the relaxed middle-grounders, and time to build up a shy puppy’s self-esteem. The payback is always worth double the effort, but only you know what you’re capable of doing.

Let’s look at the range of personalities in a hypothetical litter of five puppies. You may see litters of more or less than five, but generally, each pup’s personality will fall into one of these categories.

Sarah Says:

Remember, this is a hypothetical litter. In a litter of 9, there may be two #1s, three #2s, three #3s, and one #4. Any mix is possible.


Litter Line-up:

Our hypothetical litter is composed of three males and two females. I’ll list each one’s rank, approach to play, exploratory behavior, and greeting behavior. Then I’ll describe who the right owner would be.

Puppy 1: The Leader of the Pack

The Leader of the Pack
The Leader of the Pack
  • With Littermates: “Challenge and Win” is this puppy’s motto. She loves to play and wrestle, mainly because she always wins. She thinks she’s hot stuff and her behavior shows it. This is the puppy who is mock-fighting with the squeak toys and relentlessly attempting to break down the barricade.
  • With You: You’ll probably meet her first. She’ll charge forward, leap in the air, and wag her tail furiously. Don’t get a swelled head—she’s like that with everyone! This gal will mouth excessively, jump, and maybe even climb on top of you to show off her confident flare.
  • The Right Owner: Many people fall for this girl’s fancy greeting act. It’s so flattering! But she’s not trying to flatter you—she just wants to be first. Very intelligent and funny, she needs an owner with the time and perseverance to train her. Without a serious commitment to training, she’ll become a tyrant and will make a difficult family pet.

Puppy 2: The Next in Line

The Next in Line
The Next in Line
  • With Littermates: This puppy loves a good wrestle, too, and spends a lot of time fending off the Top Dog. When he’s not under assault, he spends his time mock-fighting with lower-ranking pups and exploring his surroundings.
  • With You: Confident and happy, he’s just not as pushy as the leader. He may mouth you and jump just to show you that he’s a pretty outgoing puppy, too!
  • The Right Owner: Although not as cocky as #1, this puppy is energetic and boisterous and needs an owner with similar qualities. He’ll keep a close eye on you and may take advantage when your back is turned. He’s great with older children and a family dedicated to an assertive training regimen.

Puppy 3: The Middleman

The Middleman
The Middleman
  • With Littermates: I call this puppy the explorer. She’ll defend herself in a wrestling match, but competition is not really her cup of tea. She’d rather explore her surroundings and pursue more peaceful activities with littermates.
  • With You: What a relaxing change from the other two! She’ll sit calmly, maybe getting up to follow you as you walk around the room. She might mouth or climb on your chest, but it will be moderate compared to you-know-who and her cohort.
  • The Right Owner: This dog is often ideal for laid-back families. She’ll have a high tolerance for noise and confusion. Though she’ll need training, occasional lapses won’t result in a battle for control.

Puppy 4: The Passive Pup

The Passive Pup
The Passive Pup
  • With Littermates: This puppy is shy with his littermates. He submits passively to the other puppies who always know a softie when they see one. He interacts with lower-ranking siblings and enjoys quiet exploration and play.
  • With You: The passive puppy is calm and quiet. He might mouth you, but it will be pretty tentative. When you walk around the room, he may be more content to watch.
  • The Right Owner: This calm, considerate temperament needs an owner with the same qualities. Older children may enjoy this dog, but everyone must be aware of his sensitivity and use the gentlest handling techniques. This puppy needs training to enhance his self image, but it must done with much patience, very little discipline, and a lot of positive reinforcement.

Puppy 5: The Shy Pup

The Shy Pup
The Shy Pup
  • With Littermates: Your heart will go out to this little creature. She’ll show fear when approached by her dominant littermates. She may play with puppy #4, but will usually play by herself. This pup will be the one playing with a chew toy in the corner or exploring by herself while the other puppies are wrestling.
  • With You: You’ll feel sorry for this puppy. She’ll be happiest curled in your lap and may show fear if you make sudden movements or walk across the room. She won’t like loud noises at all.
  • The Right Owner: The shy puppy is not good with children because loud noises and chaos send her into a state of shock. She’ll need a very special owner who is patient and supportive. Gentle training methods will help to develop her self-esteem.

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