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Playful or Fearful Pups: Evaluating Behavior

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


February 2015

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Routine puppy vaccination visits can allow veterinarians to identify dogs with potential future behavior problems for early intervention. Twenty-one veterinarians evaluated puppy behavior during their initial vaccination visits using an 11-point questionnaire.

Puppies were assessed for activity, sociability, and stress signals (eg, lip licking, panting, avoiding contact, low body posture). Behavior scores were then analyzed for concordance: by trait and by individual. The first analysis divided puppies into 2 clusters, based on score similarities. One group consisted of almost all dogs labeled playful (n = 36) and a few neutral dogs (n = 7) with high activity and sociability scores and few stress signals. The second group consisted of all dogs labeled fearful (n = 5) and most dogs labeled neutral (n = 31), with low activity and sociability scores and high stress signals. Veterinarians were able to identify different “types” of puppies, which may correlate with temperament differences. Future studies should compare findings with evaluations outside the clinic and over time.


The ability to distinguish normal and potentially concerning behavior patterns in puppies could allow the veterinarian to educate the owner of a fearful puppy about proactive measures and intervention. As two different methods of analysis reached nearly identical conclusions, there may be some overlap in how the behavior scores were recorded. Providing objective parameters for identifying potentially problematic puppy behavior would be helpful. Further studies should evaluate how or if these early behaviors have a predictive value for the puppy’s temperament in different environments and as it ages.—J.C. Burcham, DVM


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