Puppies with loving mothers make poor guide dogs, study reports

To answer that, the team analyzed 98 puppies that were eventually put into a guide dog program. During the study, the young canines were kept in towel-lined kiddie pools.
By Harry Marcolis | Aug 09, 2017
A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that puppies with caring, hands-on mothers make worse guide dogs than ones whose mothers are more distant, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reports.

Guide dogs come in all shapes and sizes. However, little research has been done on how mothering behavior affects them. While past studies that were focused on rodents and primates have found that active mothering is better than no mothering, the new findings show too much mothering works against potential guides.

"[O]n one hand, we'd think 'Yes, you need your mother. Mothering should be a good thing,'" said lead author Emily Bray, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, according to NPR. "But for guide dogs, the mothers are with their puppies in the pen 24/7. So then the question becomes 'What exactly is beneficial?' "

To answer that, the team analyzed 98 puppies that were eventually put into a guide dog program. During the study, the young canines were kept in towel-lined kiddie pools. Some of the dogs were constantly licked and groomed by their mothers, while others were generally left alone.

This revealed that puppies raised by active mothers were much more likely to fail a guide dog training program than those that were raised by more distant dogs. In addition, nursing also affected the pups. Mother dogs that sat down or stood up during nursing typically bred better guide dogs as well.

Though the team is not sure, they believe that hands-off mothering creates desirable traits because the challenges puppies face early on prepare them for the hardship that comes with guiding humans. There is also a chance that maternal stress could have a significant impact on early development.

One other possibility is that genetics may play a big role. Most high-performing guide dogs are chosen to breed, which could then lead to successful puppies. If this were the case, the type of mothering would have nothing to do with the process. However, the team was not able to test this theory.

Guide dog training is a strict process that looks for a certain set of skills and seeks dogs that are calm under all circumstances. As a result, this new information is important because it could help better predict which puppies are going to make it through the program and enable breeders to choose better candidates.

"At a completely practical level, there's always a problem finding enough guide dogs for people who need guide dogs," said Clive Wynne, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who was involved in the research. "It's always difficult getting dogs through those kinds of programs."

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