Size isn't everything, but for many, it has historically been a means of telling which puppy is dominant. While the largest puppy in the litter can often be the dominant one, sometimes an unexpected choice becomes king of the castle. Learn signs of dominance to select a pup with the right temperament.
Puppy personalities come out by the age of eight weeks, when puppies play fight, compete for placement next to Mom's warm skin and compete for food. The largest male puppy has the natural advantage and may win these fights, assuming the dominant role. This leaves the other pups to work out dominance and submissive rankings. If the litter remains together for 16 weeks, these dominance roles will imprint in the puppies' minds.
While the largest male pup can become the dominant, he is not always dominant. Sometimes the smallest pup in the litter is actually the dominant one. The tiny puppy may be picked on by litter mates and need to fight harder for food and warmth. As small puppies learn to defend themselves against litter mates, they might take on the dominant role.
Whether you want a dominant or submissive pup, knowing the signs of dominance can help you decide. A puppy jumps on you or places a paw on your lap to test dominance, not demonstrate affection. A puppy that appears reluctant to assume sit or down positions is probably dominant, assuming she's familiar with these commands. If you select a dominant puppy, be prepared to train her to assert your dominance.
Size should not be a major consideration in selecting; with proper care, puppies in a litter usually catch up size-wise within two years. Physical characteristics play a role in choice. You may decide to pick a pup based on her eye color or markings. Watch the puppies play to tell which are quiet and shy, which are curious and which want your attention. Ask the breeder or shelter employee about puppy personalities. Choose the right pup for you based on characteristics, chemistry and appearance, because size doesn't always reflect personality.
- Drexel University: A Dog Owner's Guide -- Selecting a Puppy
- Blue Knight Labradors: Picking Your Puppy
- "The Good Life: Your Dog's First Year"; Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis
- Foothills Animal Hospital: Dominance Behaviors in Dogs
- Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images