When I meet a new dog, I immediately get a read on her personality. It is something I sense, an energy I feel. It takes less than five seconds. The puppy’s disposition is as clear to me as the color of her coat. If I’m called in for a puppy consultation (between 8 and 12 weeks of age), the focus is on encouraging good behavior, shaping certain breed-specific tendencies, and developing a teaching program custom-fit for both the puppy and the people. If it’s a training or behavior improvement session, I focus on what has frustrated this puppy to react in ways unmanageable. For example, a Sporty puppy with a spirited disposition who is not given outlets for her impulses or taught how to contain them may develop problems like grab-n-go and keep away. These sporty means of attention-getting are reactions to isolation and/or unjust regulations. Empathy is the first step in resolving these difficulties; when I give the puppy a voice and describe life from her paws, people enthusiastically modify their behavior, too. The next step is determining appropriate displacement activities: appropriate outlets for energy—in this case, retrieving or playing with a toy. Then and only then can the corrections be issued and understood. And the corrections are dependent on the personality, the age, and the attention span of each individual puppy (see chapter 7, “Enjoying the First Year,” for more on teaching techniques and corrective measures).

Personality Profile

Listed in the following sections are five personalities. Not one is ideal. Each holds traits that the others don’t have. Your puppy may have qualities that belong to more than one group. Some qualities may be due to environmental influences, age, time of day, or handling. Or they may just simply be unique to your puppy— a charismatic blend. Once you’ve got an overview of the descriptions, use the personality quiz (see “A Personality Quiz” on page 12) to discover where your puppy fits in.


These puppies are serious, smart, and intense, even as youngsters. Lofty, taskoriented, and proud, they learn quickly and enjoy structure. In truth, many need to be encouraged to have fun. During early development, you may notice blocking behavior on stairs and walks, possessiveness during playing or eating, and stiffness when sleeping or being lifted off the ground. These puppies need a structured environment and strong, clear direction. If taught to respect everyone in the house, the puppies can develop into devoted, interactive family members. Left alone, these dogs can become bossy, defiant, or aggressive and dangerous to have around children or uninformed adults.


Active, clever, and often funny, these puppies want to be in on everything. Bursting into situations with a cheerfully energetic presence, they are hard to contain without serious protest, usually in the form of barking, pulling, or chewing. Eager to learn, especially if the lessons are entertaining, they need consistent structure and a team effort, or they’ll learn to play each family member for his or her weaknesses. Ideal in busy households that encourage involvement or with single owners for whom they can be constant companions, these puppies are happiest when socializing. Their high energy level and constant demand for attention make them ideal for confident children over age 7. Untrained, these dogs are often viewed as hyper and can be destructive to home and yard.


Although eagerness sounds like the perfect personality, eager puppies are vigilantly focused on your activities and will repeat a behavior that gets attention—any attention, even negative. If you’re aware of this and you focus on good behavior, you’ll have your puppy civilized in no time. If you’re oblivious, your puppy may end up repeating behaviors that get you frustrated—not in an attempt to aggravate, but simply to stay connected. These puppies thrive in a home where directions are consistent; chaotic situations easily confuse them. In fact, many of these puppies are given up for adoption because the very quality that makes them endearing creates tension for the uninformed.


If these dogs could talk, their favorite word would be “chill”! Mellow and sweet, they are just as happy watching life go by as they are jumping into the mix. With an “Is this absolutely necessary?” attitude toward lessons, they often view this time as best for napping. Undirected, however, they can’t be trusted off-leash, and they’re hard to socialize. Although extensive training is not necessary, the basics are a must and, when introduced with spirit, can actually be viewed as fun. This is an ideal personality type for a chaotic household.


These puppies love to snuggle and check in with you. Sudden changes or too much energy (either in a situation or with another person or dog) can easily overwhelm them. Seemingly remorseful when heavily disciplined, these puppies are showing fear, not understanding. Training must come with patience and clarity. When these puppies are fearful of situations, their people must stand calmly as an example of strength; coddling is viewed as mutual concern. When fearful, these puppies should be directed with familiar word cues (like HEEL and STAY) to help them feel directed and safe. Best suited for homes where predictability reigns, these puppies often meld well with grown-up households or families where calmness is the norm. Socialization is necessary but must be done gradually.


These puppies give the impression that they were abused. Skittish and nervous with anyone outside their immediate families, they need a lot of consistent direction to help them overcome their innate phobias. Their retention is short; they may not remember a person or a situation from day to day. As they age, many of these dogs develop fear aggression: an aggressive response to a perceived threat. Predictable households where one person gives constant direction is best; training is necessary to help them externalize their focus and to bring them out of their internalized world where danger lurks around every bend.