How to find out the temperament of a puppy within a litter

How to find out the temperament of a puppy within a litter

Education & Training

Getting a new puppy is hugely exciting, and of course, when you see a litter of adorable, cuddly little puppies, the chances are that you will want to take them all home, and have a hard job choosing between them! However, even when you have narrowed down the breed and type of puppy that you want and selected the breeder that has a litter with potentially suitable puppies, narrowing down your choice further into the ultimate pick of just one puppy can be the hardest part of your decision making process.

Your decision, which will usually be made over the course of just one or two visits and interactions with the litter is a very loaded one, and making the right choice will have implications for the rest of your puppy’s life. As your puppy grows, the traits and behaviours that you first observed in their early stages within the litter will grow and amplify. It can be difficult to judge the basic or formative traits of a very young puppy that is still with their dam, and it is by no means an exact science. However, there are some simple and quick trials and tests that you can run on the puppies that you are considering, in order to find out more about them and help you to make an informed decision.

Read on to learn more about how to find out the basic temperament and potential future traits of a young puppy in a litter.

Watch and learn!

Try to watch the litter and the puppies within it before they become aware of your presence, to see how they interact with each other when they don’t think that anyone else is around to divert their attention. At any given stage of the day, some puppies are likely to be sleeping, so making more than one visit in order to see all of the puppies when they are awake at different stages is wise.

Deduce from this which puppy is quiet or shy, which is boisterous, which is in charge and which ones are more submissive, and if any of the pups appear to be more alert and active than their littermates.

Separate the puppies

When you have a couple of potentials that you are drawn to and want to know more about, you can look at separating them one by one and observing their behaviours with you and in a new situation.

Take your chosen puppy into another room away from the litter and the dam, which will be quiet and not present any distractions while you observe and interact with the pup. Observe how your pup reacts in the first instance to being in the presence of a strange person and without their dam and littermates; are they interested, interacting and want to know what is going on, or are they scared and uncertain about things?

Pet the dog

With the pup on the floor, pet them and stroke them from head to tail, including their belly and legs. The pup should at least be inquisitive about this if nothing else, and should not be afraid or uncomfortable. Pick the puppy up carefully, and see how they react to this; expect some wriggling, but not outright panic or nipping. Hold the pup close to you and see if they relax, and stroke their belly and throat, and see if they permit this without struggling or appearing uncomfortable.

Time to play!

Take a toy with you or improvise with a ball of paper or something else. With the pup on the floor, get their attention and gently throw or roll the toy towards the pup, and see what they do. You should look for a pup that watches the toy, is interested in it and does something with it, rather than ignoring it or running away from it.


Exposing the pup to unusual or sudden sounds will both test out their hearing and also, their responses to new stimulus. Don’t deliberately make a loud or scary noise that is designed to alarm the pup, but do keep an eye out for signs of fear or nervousness.

Make a whistling sound or some other unusual noise, and see if the puppy expresses curiosity and looks at you to try to determine the source of the noise. Try the same thing when the puppy is facing away from you, so that you can ascertain their directional skills and powers of deduction.

Push the boundaries

Play with the puppy on a one to one basis, letting them climb on you and roll around and do the usual puppy things. Gradually, deliberately excite the puppy so that they are bouncing around or start to bark, mouth or baby-growl, and see how your pup responds to progressively vigorous play. When the pup is outside of their comfort zone and has had enough, do they retreat or start to nip, bark and fight?

This test can be very telling in terms of the temperament and traits that the pup will display when socialising in later life, and will indicate to you the type of reactions that you will be dealing with once the pup is bigger.



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