Level of Maternal Care in Dogs Affect Adult Offspring Temperament

Scientific Journal Articles

Dog puppies are born in a state of large neural immaturity; therefore, the nervous system is sensitive to environmental influences early in life. In primates and rodents, early experiences, such as maternal care, have been shown to have profound and lasting effects on the later behaviour and physiology of offspring. We hypothesised that this would also be the case for dogs with important implications for the breeding of working dogs. In the present study, variation in the mother-offspring interactions of German Shepherd dogs within the Swedish breeding program for military working dogs was studied by video recording 22 mothers with their litters during the first three weeks postpartum. The aim was to classify mothers with respect to their level of maternal care and to investigate the effect of this care on pup behaviour in a standardised temperament test carried out at approximately 18 months of age. The results show that females differed consistently in their level of maternal care, which significantly affected the adult behaviour of the offspring, mainly with respect to behaviours classified as Physical and Social Engagement, as well as Aggression. Taking maternal quality into account in breeding programs may therefore improve the process of selecting working dogs.

Foyer, P., Wilsson, E. & Jensen, P. (2016). Level of maternal care in dogs affect adult offspring temperament. Scientific Reports, 6(1), 19253.

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Topic(s): Behavior, Breeder Resource, Maternal Care, Puppy Development