Although a litter is borne from one mother, it is possible there are multiple fathers involved. This means that the genetic predisposition of each puppy in terms of behavior, illness, colorings and all things biological may be difficult, if not impossible, to determine. The good news is that no matter who the father is, the puppy’s minds will develop in the same way.
Significant behavior changes take place as the mother begins weaning her pups, from one of caregiver and dependent, to one of leader and subordinate. This is the relationship the dog will continue to encounter and learn from during its life with a human pack.
As weaning begins, the mother may get up and walk away from her pups as they try to nurse, or she may growl and snap at them. Puppies will encounter vocal threats, nipping and pawing from the mother when she wants to be left alone or if they are misbehaving. This is the puppies’ first exposure to learning communication with other dogs.
Interestingly, the severity of the mother’s behavior has been found to play a direct role on the puppy’s behavior when interacting with humans. Although the dog’s mind can be quite malleable, critical periods such as this can affect long-term behavior.
Playing with littermates provides another arena of learning. As with human children, play teaches a puppy certain social skills they will need as adults: communication, improved coordination and problem solving. Getting along with others, dominance, submission, and bite inhibition are other important lessons learned from play. Bite inhibition is learned when a puppy discovers that if it bites too hard a strange response is elicited from its playmate, a loud high-pitched yelp, “Ouch! You hurt me!” The biter is so startled it immediately lets go. This gives the bitten dog a chance to either walk away or continue playing. The biter learns that if the game is to continue, his bites must be softer. An inkling of social structure also becomes apparent to the puppy during play. Some dogs will naturally be more dominant, others more submissive. Puppies learn how to read and respond to these traits during play and use those lessons when unfamiliar dogs or humans are encountered in the future.
By the time the puppy is taken from the litter to live with its human pack, responses and behaviors, innate and or learned, are becoming hard wired into their brains.