In order to know which puppy to buy at the pet store, you must first be aware of the two factors that contribute to a dog’s temperament long-term. These factors are their breed and the environmental experiences they have during their first 7 weeks.
Puppies begin to socialize from the moment they’re born, and every interaction they have helps to shape the personality and behavioral tendencies that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. How their mother tends to them, how they get along with their siblings, how their breeders handle them, and how they socialize with others will all influence the kind of dog they will become.
You’ve done your research and know which breed you want, but do you know the behavioral and personality traits to look for that will ensure you bring home the right puppy for you?
The good news is that the pet store may have already conducted formal temperament tests on their puppies, so be sure to ask them. They might be able to tell you a lot about the particular puppy you’re hoping to take home!
Whether the pet store can tell you about their puppies’ distinctive personality traits or not, this article will provide you with direction. We will lay out the characteristics and attitudes to look for in a puppy when you’re at the pet store so that you choose the right furry companion.
There are 4 behavioral traits to assess. Let’s get started.
Confidence is an important characteristic for puppies and people alike! Think about someone you might know who lacks confidence. Do you find that they’re a bit tiring to be around? Do you have to exert energy to support them emotionally and reassure them time and again? Do you find it difficult to trust them because their lack of confidence gives you the impression that they’re unsure of themselves and doubt their abilities?
Puppies that lack confidence could grow up to become adult dogs who lack confidence, which could make routine trips to the dog park and walks around the block a major production. Some puppies will grow out of their shyness, though, so we’re not saying you should avoid a puppy just because he’s a little cautious. But you will want to take his confidence factor into consideration.
How can you test a puppy to see how confident he is?
- When he is in a “safe,” familiar area, go and stand in an unfamiliar area and then call the puppy to you by gently clapping your hands. You may even kneel. How does the puppy respond? Does he dart away from his safe zone and leap into your arms? Or is he timid? Does he refuse to come altogether?
- Next, place the puppy in an unfamiliar area. Then from a distance, standing in another unfamiliar area, call him to you in the same manner. How is his behavior now? How readily does he come to you?
A fully confident puppy will barrel right over to you. There is one loophole to watch out for, however. If the puppy follows you around so tightly that you can’t even really conduct these tests, don’t assume that’s a sign he’s confident. Following you without exception moreso indicates he’s higher on the “dependent” scale.
Bear in mind, too, that a timid puppy isn’t necessarily “worse.” In fact, you might enjoy the personality of a shy puppy who tends to proceed with caution. Interestingly, dogs need confident owners and trainers, too. When you’re training your puppy, never second guess yourself. Be confident and consistent. It’s a two-way street!
When it comes to the independent to dependent spectrum, you want the puppy to fall in the middle. Both ends of the extreme will pose greater demands on you when it comes to training and housebreaking, as well as your long-term relationship with your dog. A purely independent puppy might be especially willful and resist obedience training. He might not care whether you come or go. On the other hand, a dependent puppy could have severe anxiety issues every time you leave him alone.
The first little test you can try with the puppy is this:
- After some playful interaction with him, stand up and walk away from him. He must be able to see you walk away. Don’t look back. If he follows you as you go, and if he even tries to get under your feet a bit, then he’s on the dependent side of the spectrum. If he doesn’t follow you at all, but rather involves himself with the other puppies or something else, then he’s independent.
You can further test the puppy’s independent nature by trying the following willfulness tests:
- Cradle the puppy on his back in your arms like a baby and place your hand gently on his chest. Stare into his eyes. Puppies that submit to this kind of handling and hold eye contact with you are said to be “biddable,” which means that they are ready to accept and follow instructions. In other words, these puppies will be submissive and easier to train.
- Next, hold the puppy under his armpits so that his hind legs are dangling in the air. Stare into his eyes. Puppies that do not squirm, wiggle, or resist are submissive, while puppies that struggle and try to get free are independent minded. Being independent minded means that they may try to do things their own way, which could pose challenges during training and housebreaking.
Dogs are pack animals. They not only love hierarchy, they need it. A dog that does not understand his position within the pack, i.e. your household and family, may suffer from behavioral or anxiety issues in the same way that a child who has to parent themself may take on too much responsibility, grow anxious, and destructively act out. The puppies at the pet store have already worked out where each of them fits into the pack, which is good news for you. They know who the alphas and betas are, and we have a simple test to help you determine who’s who.
Before we lay the test out, we would like to stress that being dominant isn’t better than being submissive, nor vice versa. For example, if you’re looking for a guard dog, you’ll want the dog to be a dominant alpha, because he will then quickly make those executive decisions when it comes to protecting the “pack” family. He will know to act in the best interest of the family as opposed to first seeking out your approval.
In other words, an alpha dog will attack the intruder right away. A beta dog might bark, run to your bedroom, and wake you up. Both strategies will serve to protect your family, but as you can see, they are different.
A dominant alpha puppy will actually experience a degree of “stress” when another puppy or person is dominating him. This stress will motivate him to assert his dominance.
Here is how you can conduct a dominance test:
- Crouch down and use your hands to roll the puppy onto his back so that his soft belly is exposed. Stare at him and hold him there for a full 30 seconds. A submissive beta puppy will avoid eye contact with you and will not struggle or try to get free. Whereas a dominant alpha puppy will do just about anything to free himself, including trying to nip at your hands.
You might be surprised to learn that a puppy’s willingness to retrieve directly correlates to his willingness to be trained, “work with you,” and obey your orders. This could be the reason why the most popular family dogs are Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers! These breeds live for retrieving the objects you throw! And on the whole, they aim to please, which makes them the easiest dogs to train.
The trainability test you can conduct is very simple:
- With a ball or toy object in your hand, crouch beside the puppy and get his attention. Then toss the ball or toy so that it lands about 2 meters away. If the puppy eagerly retrieves the ball by fetching it and bringing it right back to you to repeat the fun, the puppy will be easier to train. He also has the kind of temperament and nature to make a great long-term fur companion.
If the puppy does not go after the ball, or worse, goes after the ball but does not bring it to you, then watch out. He could be so independent-minded that he may not heed your instructions during the training and housebreaking process.
In conclusion, just because a puppy isn’t the most confident and independent, for example, doesn’t mean he won’t be perfect for you! As you select your furry friend at the pet store, bear your own personality traits in mind and pick out a puppy that will complement your nature.
The only exception to this rule is to be cautious of puppies that show unprovoked aggression towards you or other puppies. It’s still possible to train puppies who have aggressive inclinations, but it will require firm, persistent work. It’s important to be honest with yourself whether or not you have the energy to put in the effort. These puppies could need professional rehabilitation, which is a tall order for someone who’s just looking for a cuddly friend and exercise buddy.
On the other end of the spectrum, if a puppy exhibits extreme avoidance to the extent that they ignore you and other humans, this signifies that the puppy will need a great deal of coaxing and encouragement. You will need to be patient with them long-term and accept the possibility that their fears may never fully go away.
If you’re interested in learning more about puppy personality types, puppy characteristics, and dog attributes, then check out our article, What Are Your Puppy’s Personality Types? Also, we recommend that you read 8 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Puppy.