How to Tell Puppies Apart: A Quick and Practical Guide

Telling puppies apart can be quite a challenge, especially when they’re part of a litter with similar appearances. Whether you’re a breeder, pet owner, or simply an animal lover, you might want to know how to identify individual puppies for their well-being and proper care.

In this article, we’ll share some helpful tips and techniques for distinguishing puppies from one another.

One effective method to recognize puppies from birth to six weeks (before microchipping) is using color-coded collars. You can crochet daisy chains and tie them around each puppy’s neck.

In addition to the color-coded collars, it’s a good idea to keep a chart for each puppy that includes their color, markings, and sex, as well as weight and milestones like when their eyes open or when they first eat solid food.

Distinguishing Puppies by Physical Appearance

How to tell puppies apart
Yeah, you’re going to need color-coded collars.

Coat and Color Patterns

When trying to differentiate puppies, start by observing their coat and color patterns. Puppies from the same litter may have subtle differences in coat color, shades, or patterns. Take note of these variations as they can be helpful in distinguishing between siblings.

Size and Shape

Another factor to consider is the size and shape of the puppies. Although littermates can be similar, some puppies may be slightly larger or smaller than their siblings. Additionally, males typically have larger heads, while females may have longer backs. Observe these differences in size and shape to help tell them apart.

Unique Markings and Characteristics

Lastly, focus on identifying unique markings and characteristics for each puppy. Some puppies may have distinct birthmarks, patches, or spots that can set them apart from their brothers and sisters. Be mindful of these features and use them as reference points when telling puppies apart.

Remember, the best way to distinguish puppies is through a combination of these factors. Careful observation will allow you to confidently identify each puppy in a litter without confusion.

Using Behavioral Traits

Behavior traits are not as reliable as marking identification or color coded collars, but can be useful.

telling pups in a litter apart

Personality Traits

Observing individual personality traits can help you distinguish between puppies. Every puppy has unique characteristics, and you can notice these by watching their behaviors:

  • Social attraction: Puppies exhibit varying degrees of friendliness towards humans. Some may actively seek out your attention, while others might be more reserved.
  • Independent-mindedness: Some puppies are more biddable, accepting handling and eye contact easily when cradled on their back, while others might resist and show more of an independent streak.
  • Reaction to toys or objects: Puppies may show different levels of interest or engagement with toys, which can aid in identifying them.
  • Energy levels: Pay attention to whether a puppy is more energetic or laid-back during playtime and other activities.

Interactions and Relationships With Siblings

Another way to tell puppies apart is by observing their interactions with their siblings:

  • Dominance or submission: Puppies establish their position in the litter hierarchy through various behaviors. Watch for signs like standing over siblings, resource guarding (e.g., food or toys), or engaging in submissive gestures, such as rolling over.
  • Play style: You may notice that some puppies tend to play more gently, while others are rougher during playtime. Identifying these play preferences can help differentiate between puppies.
  • Sibling preferences: Pay attention to any particular bonding or pairings between puppies. Some may prefer to cuddle or play with specific siblings, which can help you recognize them in a group.

Gender Differences

Puppy Gender Difference ID

When trying to tell puppies apart, identifying their gender can be a helpful factor. There are several key differences between male and female puppies that can assist you in distinguishing them:


  • Male puppies tend to be more muscular, with larger heads than their female counterparts.
  • Females may be slightly smaller in size compared to males of the same breed.


  • The genitals of puppies are shaped differently and come in different positions.
  • In males, the penis is located farther from the anus compared to females.
  • Female puppies have their vulva just below the anus, whereas male puppies have a scrotum beneath their penis.


  • Males and females may exhibit distinct behaviors, especially during mating season.
  • Male puppies are typically more assertive and may display dominance, while female puppies may be more timid or submissive.

It’s essential to handle puppies gently and carefully while checking their gender. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to consult a professional, such as a veterinarian or experienced breeder. Keep in mind that it’s easier to determine a puppy’s sex as they age. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least 3-4 weeks before checking the gender of a newborn puppy.

Professional Advice

How Vets tell puppies apart

Veterinarian Insights

When it comes to telling puppies apart, veterinarians suggest paying attention to their individual physical characteristics and personality traits. Here’s what you can look out for:

  • Physical features: Observe the puppies’ coat color, markings, and patterns. Examine their ears, tail, and paws for any subtle differences.
  • Size: Puppies from the same litter may vary in size, which can be a helpful distinguishing factor.
  • Behavior: Keep an eye on the puppies’ demeanor and attitude. Some might be more playful and energetic, while others could be more laid-back and quiet.
  • Health: Monitor any specific health-related features, like a minor limp or skin tags. Remember to consult your veterinarian if you notice anything worrisome.

Breeder Expertise

Experienced breeders often employ innovative strategies to tell puppies apart, such as:

  • Marking the puppies: Breeders might use non-toxic, pet-safe markers or nail polish to apply unique markings on the puppies’ feet (left foot for males, right foot for females). This method helps keep track of gender and birth order.
  • Collars or bands: Using adjustable, soft, and safe collars or bands of different colors can be a simple and effective way to identify puppies.
  • Record-keeping: Documenting each puppy’s unique characteristics and behaviors right from birth will assist in distinguishing them. Breeders also maintain records of the puppies’ weights and health checks, which can help track their growth and development.

As you learn to tell puppies apart, be attentive to their unique features and temperaments. By consulting professionals like veterinarians and breeders, you can gain valuable insights to ensure proper care and management of your pups.

Implementing Identification Techniques

puppy id methods

This section covers several identification techniques you can use to differentiate puppies in a litter, and you mean business (higher cost, more permanent options). 

ID Bands

ID bands are an effective and practical means to tell puppies apart. They can be purchased specially made for puppies, or you could create your own using a variety of materials such as color-coded ribbons, elastic bands, or even crochet daisy chains. Here’s what you need to know about ID bands:

  • Use different colors or patterns to distinguish each puppy.
  • Ensure the bands are not too tight to avoid restricting growth.
  • Regularly check and adjust the bands for comfort and safety.
  • Remove the bands if the puppies start to chew them off.


Microchipping is a more permanent and secure identification method for puppies. This electronic device is embedded under the skin, between the shoulder blades, ensuring it remains in place throughout their lives. Some key points about microchips include:

  • They provide a unique identification number linked to a global registry.
  • Microchips are typically inserted by a veterinarian when puppies are 6 weeks old or older.
  • Most microchips are compatible with universal scanners, ensuring that lost pets can easily be identified.


Tattoos offer another form of permanent identification. Animal-safe ink is used to mark a unique number, letter, or symbol on the puppy’s skin, typically inside the ear or on the inner thigh. Here are some guidelines when using tattoos:

  • Seek professional services from a licensed tattooist experienced with animals.
  • Use a simple and clean design, avoiding intricate patterns that might be difficult to recognize in the future.
  • Always prioritize the puppy’s safety and well-being, considering anesthesia options for the procedure.
  • Register the tattoo with a national database for lost pet recovery assistance.