Levels of maternal care in dogs affect adult offspring temperament

Short Synopsis: Researchers observed how mother dogs interacted with their puppies for 3 weeks after the puppies were born. The researchers categorized the interactions based on how much time the mother dogs attended to their puppies and spent close to them.

Mother dogs were consistent with how they interacted with the litters. Each mother dog was also different from the others.

The puppies were also temperament tested at the age of 15-18 months. They used the SAF T-Test, the test the Swedish military uses to test prospective military working dogs.

The researchers found a link between MPI score (mother-pup interactions) and physical engagement (reaction to novel surfaces like stairs and high tables), social engagement (handling, leash, etc), and aggression. They didn’t find a link between MPI and confidence (recovery after a startle, flight distance, etc).

Social engagement was also correlated with litter size and season of birth. Small litters scored higher. Litters born in scored higher than litters born in winter. The same winter-summer effect was found for aggression and physical engagement.

Authors: Pernilla Foyer, Erik Wilsson & Per Jensen

Publication: Nature, Scientific Reports

Publication Date: January 2016

Applies To: assistance, guide, working dogs; puppy raising; breeders

Sample Size: 22 litters of puppies and their mothers; 94 puppies total

Limitations/Drawbacks: The researchers couldn’t distinguish between each puppy during the 3-week period, so the study looks at mother-litter interactions, not mother-puppy interactions. Smallish sample size.


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