Only 70 percent of dogs that enter guide dog training successfully complete the program. Now, findings of a new study have revealed which puppies are likely to fail or successfully complete training programs to become guide dogs.
Maternal Style Influences Puppies' Odds Of Succeeding In Guide Dog Training
Researchers of the study published in the journal PNAS on Aug. 7 found that dogs that had the most care and attention from their mothers as puppies have reduced likelihood of succeeding in guide dog training.
Study researcher Emily Bray, from the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues involved 23 mother dogs and 89 puppies at a New Jersey guide dog school that breeds, raises and trains dogs to guide blind people.
Bray's team observed how the mother dogs and their puppies interacted during the first five weeks of the pups' life. The researchers noted the mothers' nursing position, the amount of time they spent licking and grooming their puppies, and how frequently they looked away from their puppies.
The researchers found that puppies with doting mothers were less likely to graduate from the training program and become guide dogs compared with their counterparts with less attentive mothers.
The researchers in particular found that dogs whose mothers often nurse them lying down instead of standing up or sitting down have reduced odds of succeeding in the training program.
"Mothers whose nursing style required greater effort by puppies were more likely to produce successful offspring, whereas mothers whose nursing style required less effort were more likely to produce offspring that failed," Bray and colleagues wrote in their study.
Minor Obstacles Up Chances Of Success Later In Life
Mother dogs that lie on their stomach give their puppies easy access to milk. The puppies, however, need to exert more effort when their mother nurses them standing up.
The researchers think that puppies need to be provided with minor obstacles that they can overcome so they can succeed later in life. The study highlights the profound effect of the mother's nursing style on the puppies.
"It's remarkable," Bray said. "These puppies were with their mom for only five weeks and it's having an effect on their success two years later. It seems that puppies need to learn how to deal with small challenges at this early age and, if they don't, it hurts them later."
The researchers said that the study reaffirms the lasting effects of maternal style on the child's adult behavior.