Choosing a Resilient Puppy: Essential Insights for Prospective Dog Owners

If you’re thinking about bringing a new puppy into your home, this is undoubtedly an exciting time for you. There’s a plethora of advice online about how to choose a puppy and what to look for when talking to a breeder and visiting their home. In this blog, I’ll delve into two crucial aspects of choosing a resilient puppy: meeting the puppy with their mum, and observing them with their littermates.

Your puppy’s future mental health, resilience, and confidence start to develop at a very early age. In fact, it started before they were even born. While there’s not much a prospective puppy owner can do about that, once the puppies are born, there’s a wealth of information you can gain just by watching them. Observing the interactions between the mum and her pups, and among the littermates, provides invaluable insights into how your puppy might grow up and how resilient and confident they might be later in life.

The Importance of Resilience

Resilience is possibly the most important trait your puppy can develop. It’s their ability to bounce back from bad experiences. For all living beings, whether they are dogs, rabbits, people, or cats—bad experiences are a part of life. When we have lots of resilience, we shrug off these experiences as just a bad day and get on with our lives. However, when resilience is low, behaviour problems can form. For instance, if your puppy is surprised by a loud noise or is growled at by another dog, a lack of resilience can leave a lasting mark, potentially causing socialisation issues and fear of loud noises later in life. In some cases, this can also lead to trauma, which is much harder to fix.

Find out: What is the best age to start training my puppy?

Observing the Puppy with Their Mum

When you see a puppy interacting with their mum, you get to observe what kind of mother she is. Does she attend to her puppies lovingly? Does she clean them, nurture them, and watch over them?

By the time you visit, your puppy will likely be at least 5 or 6 weeks old. At this stage, some breeders try to separate the mum from the litter, especially since the puppies have been weaned. They might worry she is trying to hurt them, after all they can be quite annoying to their mum. However, this annoying behaviour is essential because it gives mum the opportunity to teach her puppies discipline and boundaries. Without it, they might struggle with things like leads, crates and other kinds of restriction later on in life.

When puppies annoy their mum, she tells them off. This early exposure to discipline is crucial. It teaches them what it feels like to be told off and gives them a chance to practice de-escalation and conflict resolution behaviours. These skills are vital in later life when they might get into trouble with other dogs. They won’t be a puppy forever, and their mistakes won’t always be so forgivable by older dogs. A puppy that knows how to signal apology and calm situations can navigate social conflicts more effectively, and ultimately, stay out of fights.

Check out my 14 day mini course that will get you off to an awesome start while you build resilience

Resilient pups come from caring mums!

Seeing the mum with her puppies also provides insights into the breeder’s practices. Does it look like mum is supposed to be there? This might seem a dumb question, but some puppy farmers bring an unrelated dog for you to see. Remember, mum isn’t supposed to look her best at this time. Raising a litter of puppies is hard work, and it’s normal for her to look a bit underweight or tired. If she looks too good, this could be a sign something is wrong.

Also observe how the mum and pups respond to the breeder, and you, a stranger? This could give you some clues about their mental health, and any possible anxieties.

Above all, what you’re looking for is a loving, caring relationship between the mum, her puppies, and the breeder. A lack of care at this stage can affect the puppy’s brain development, leading to social awkwardness and attachment issues later on.

Observing the Puppy with Their Littermates

You should also see the puppy with their littermates, which is usually easier to do, unless something has gone very wrong. Observing the interactions among the littermates allows you to see how they play and communicate with each other. Young puppies practice hunting and fighting skills with each other, which are crucial for their development. These skills might be needed later in life, and practising them as pups builds tons of confidence.

When puppies are confident in their ability to handle various situations, this confidence shines through in everything they do, and makes them less vulnerable to trauma. Through play, they also learn valuable communication skills, such as how to play without causing harm, and how to de-escalate conflicts. These interactions teach them what it feels like to play too rough and how to signal submission or apology if needed.

Understanding Puppy Play and Communication

Puppies use body language and vocalisations to communicate constantly. When you see them initiate play, it often starts with a little play bounce or play bow—a signal that says, “Let’s play!” They may then engage in various games that simulate hunting and fighting. For example, they might chase, wrestle, stalk, and pounce on each other. Understanding these signals helps you recognise when your puppy is playing rather than fighting. For instance, if a puppy plays too rough, the other might yelp to signal discomfort. This feedback helps them learn appropriate play behaviour.

When they’ve had enough, you’ll notice a change in their body language. They’ll stand still and tall, with heads turned slightly to the side. Recognising these signs helps ensure they can interact safely and you know when to intervene and when they are just playing hard.

Standing tall and looking away is a dogs way of saying “Not Now” anything else is just part of the game!

Adopting a Less Resilient Puppy

If you’ve already taken your pup home and realised they weren’t the most confident or resilient in the litter, don’t worry. Resilience can be improved, even if it wasn’t fully developed early on. If your puppy missed out on important early socialisation and confidence-building experiences, it’s still possible to teach and reinforce these skills. However, it will be an ongoing process requiring plenty of time and expertise.


Choosing a puppy that has already developed resilience and confidence can save you a lot of effort in the long run. Rehabilitation of a dog that missed out on early socialisation and confidence-building is a significant commitment. If you’re up for the challenge, it can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s important to be prepared for the work involved.

I hope this helps you in choosing a resilient puppy!

How can I help you build resilience and solve behaviour problems?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in-person in the Dundee and the surrounding area, and online for everywhere else. If you are looking for advice for your dog then please get in touch!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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