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And the Oscar Goes To ……

5 Puppy ‘Red Flag’ Personality Types That Deserve a Nomination (and an Intervention)

A few months ago, I began an experiment. I wanted to get a Miniature Cattle Dog puppy but the breeder from whom I got my two adult Miniature Cattle Dogs from, Willow and Deputy, lives on a rural ranch in Oregon. Because she is in a remote area, her puppies do not get socialized during their key development period of 3 weeks to 12 weeks old. Miniature Cattle Dogs are very hard to find so my options were limited. After agonizing consideration, I decided to take a very pretty male pup that I had my eye on. I pulled it from the Oregon breeder’s litter right before he was 6 weeks and dropped it in with my 9-week old litter of Montana Puppy Academy puppies.

And my experiment was born.

Could my training and socialization program improve my puppy’s chances for being well-adjusted despite his departure from his mother and littermates at such an early age?  I always warn my clients against taking puppies home before 8 weeks old because fundamental communication skills are still being learned from the mother and through biofeedback from littermates.

My Miniature Cattle Dog, Harlan, is 5 months old now. He has met hundreds of dogs, puppies and people, traveled long distance to Seattle twice, and has been training daily since 8 weeks old. Considering all of the time I have put into him, he is (to me anyway) a nearly perfect puppy. But he does have one minor issue which I have worked to resolve. He (ferociously) resource guards his food and bones from my other dogs. I observed for a while and waited for my older bitches to correct this behavior. But they never did. So I stepped in and taught him how to share, and that being a big, bad wolf was not an option. After a couple of interventions, he now eats peacefully with my 4 older dogs nearby and has stopped bullying my old Chihuahua and stealing her food.

Harlan’s ‘red flag’ behavior, like most other red flag behaviors if left unacknowledged, will likely follow a predictable course. He will not grow out of it, he will grow into it.

So let’s identify some red flag puppies. If you have spent a lot of time with me, you know that when I say (quite dramatically) “That’s hideous!” I am probably referring to one of the following characters:

1. Paranormal Activity Puppy. This spooky puppy is barking, growling, darting and/or hiding from dogs, people or his shadow and other real world stimuli, more often than not.

Fearful behavior is often a result of limited socializing and exposure during the window of 3 to 12 weeks old. It can also be genetic according to breed and or being raised by a fearful mother dog. The best way I have ever found to build up a fearful or under-socialized puppy’s confidence, is to surround him with familiar, happy, well-socialized puppies and adult dogs. Fearful puppies take cues from other dogs and if they see them enjoy meeting new people, exploring new places and taking treats from the coffee lady, then spooky puppy learns that these things are safe and fun. It’s important to coach people in public to ignore spooky puppy (not even eye contact!) and give lots of praise and attention to the other dogs. Fearful puppies will crumble under social pressure, so let them decide for themselves when they want to greet people or unknown dogs. Always invite strangers to drop treats near spooky puppy too!

2. Rebel Without a Cause Puppy. This socially challenged puppy does not show any softness (appeasement behavior) toward adult dogs, often landing themselves in awkward social situations or more seriously, getting beaten up by their elders.

For puppies to be successful in a social group, they should display certain appeasement behaviors towards their elders. This includes a c-shaped body greeting, exposing their belly, licking the elder’s face (but not being pushy about it), blinking eyes and allowing elders to examine their bodies. When a puppy does not offer these behaviors, they may find themselves getting physically corrected by their elders. I immediately put these puppies with older female bitches who are firm and fair. I don’t want my puppy to get attacked for his behavior, but he needs to ‘wake up’ and pay attention to the rules of social engagement. If their rude behavior goes unbroken, these puppies grow up to be socially awkward, only able to socialize with very savvy dogs to avoid fights. photo(85)

3. Into The Wild Puppy. This independent puppy does not need you! This puppy does not show any softness or appeasement behavior towards people. This may include a general lack of interest in people, training and or extreme reactions to being handled or restrained. 

These characteristics are most commonly seen in primitive breeds, i.e. the Chow Chow, Shiba Inu, Malamute, Husky, Akita and Livestock Guardian Dogs. As these dogs often attract our interest because their independence gives them a human quality, these puppies are not for novice dog owners and should be adopted with intention and knowledge. These puppies are notorious for doing what they want, when they want, and are not concerned with appeasing humans to make for peaceful co-habitation. These dogs are typically not sensitive, and could possibly survive in the woods without human interaction.

4. The Fast and Furious Puppy. This super intense puppy arouses quickly during play. He goes from 0 to 100 when playing, whether it be with other puppies, his toys or his owner.

This puppy vocalizes and speeds up play within seconds of encountering another puppy, frequently stirs up fights, and causes less confident puppies to scream and try to escape the scene. When engaging with people, this puppy often has poor bite inhibition and takes off your fingers when you give him a treat. When restrained or cradled, he becomes quickly agitated, wanting to bite and vocalizes to be released. Everything is intense for him and tantrums are frequent. This puppy is usually a high-drive puppy that has poor ability to self-regulate. They require a savvy owner who can build impulse control and channel their high-drive appropriately.

5. There Will Be Blood Puppy. This puppy is packing a shiny set of shark teeth, ready to take you out Jaws-style if you have an interest in borrowing his food or bones. This puppy often goes straight from a freeze to a growl to a bite, in under a couple seconds.

Puppies often resource guard (growl when they are guarding a valuable resource like a bone or a treat,) after they leave their litter. I am rarely concerned about this behavior, as it usually fades with a couple of trading exercises. Puppies have to fight for resources in a litter so when they arrive in their new homes, they are feeling pretty tough! I see puppies who will not guard food or toys, but lose their minds over a raw meaty bone. This behavior does not much concern me either, because it too can be  addressed.

When I am concerned, is when low to medium value items are guarded, and the puppy moves from a growl to a bite without hesitation. If the puppy discovers this keeps humans away from his everyday items, he will default to biting and become a danger in your household.

If you don’t manage this immediately, you will have an adult dog with a bite history that must be micro-managed around children and resources. If this describes your puppy, please get him into the hands of a qualified trainer right away.



If your puppy is taking on a main role in any of the aforementioned movies or even a cameo appearance, reach out for help right away. Time is of the essence with puppies!

I am happy to report that Harlan has continued to eat and share bones with minimal drama in our household and has thus far not shown any poor behavior related to his early exit from his litter. He is confident, well-adjusted and loves all dogs and people. Success!




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