Influence of morning maternal care on the behavioural responses of 8-week-old Beagle puppies to new environmental and social stimuli

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Giovanna Guardini, Chiara Mariti, Jon Bowen, Jaume Fatjó, Silvia Ruzzante, Adrià Martorell, Claudio Sighieri, Angelo Gazzano
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
, , , , ,

In mammals, maternal care represents a major constituent of the early-life environment and its influence on individual development has been documented in rodents, non-human primates, humans and recently in adult dogs. The quality and quantity of mother-offspring interactions exerts a multilevel regulation upon the physiological, cognitive, and behavioural development of the offspring. For example, in rats variations in maternal behaviour, such as mother-pup body contact and the amount of licking towards pups in the nest during the early days after parturition, influences the endocrine, emotional, and behavioural responses to stress in the offspring. This produces long-term consequences, which may remain into adulthood and can be transmitted to subsequent generations. Literature about maternal care in dogs and its effect on puppy behaviour is still scarce, although the topic is receiving a growing interest. The aim of the present study was to determine the effects of morning maternal care on behavioural responses of puppies to new environmental and social stimuli. In order to achieve this, maternal care (licking, ano-genital licking, nursing and mother-puppy contact) was assessed in eight litters of domestic dogs living in standard rearing conditions during the first three weeks post-partum. Puppies were subjected to two behavioural tests (arena and isolation tests) at 58–60 days of age, and their behavioural responses were video recorded and analysed. Data was analysed using multivariate analyses (PCA, PLS). During the isolation test, a higher level of maternal care was associated with more exploration and a higher latency to emit the first yelp; on the contrary, a lower level of maternal care was associated with increased locomotion, distress vocalisations and destructive behaviours directed at the enclosure. These results, comparable to those reported in laboratory rat models and to some extent to those recently reported in dog literature, highlight the importance of maternal care on the behavioural development of domestic dog puppies.


Back to Resources