Guide dogs need to be able to develop certain skills and personality traits.
A study has found that puppies who received a lot of care from their mothers are more likely to fail guide dog training.
The easier their early lives are, the harder it is for dogs to successfully complete their training. As of now, only 70% of pups who undergo training actually do become guide dogs. What does it take for a pup to succeed at its training anyway?
A guide dog needs to be intelligent, confident, and adaptable. Guide dogs, after all, work under strict instructions from the visually impaired. Thus, they need to be calm, obedient, and able to ignore their impulses. Not every dog has the right balance of intelligence and temperament, and not even all the dogs bred specifically to become guide dogs are successful.
Researchers expected that more involved and attentive dog moms were the ones that produce successful guide dog candidates. However, it turned out that the exact opposite of this prediction came true.
Dog moms influence how well their pups do at training.
Emily Bray, a researcher in the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona's School of Anthropology, and her colleagues followed 98 different dogs at the Seeing Eye guide dog school. They observed mother dogs and recorded their nursing position, how often they looked away from their pups, and how much time they spent paying attention to their puppies. Some of the mothers were more attentive, while other mothers were less so.
The researchers then returned to see how the puppies were doing about two years later. They found that the puppies who had more attentive mothers were less likely to successfully completely their guide dog training program. Puppies whose mothers nursed lying down instead of sitting or standing also had less of a chance to succeed.
Bray guesses that nursing position has something to do with how puppies develop their personalities later on. Nursing from a mother that's lying down is easy, because the puppies have unobstructed access to their mother's nipples. Thus, these puppies have it easy, compared to those whose mothers nurse in a more difficult position. Puppies whose mothers nurse in a siting or standing position need to develop problem solving skills quite early in their lifetimes.
A nursing position like this is likely to develop problem-solving skills early on in puppies.
Working with puppies may be a great project, but the researchers for this study weren't playing around. They logged in about 115 hours watching footage of 21 puppy litters interacting with their mothers. When the puppies grew into adulthood, the researchers put them through 11 different tests on their self-control and public solving skills. The researchers then checked back in on the puppies when they were two and a half years old.
At the end of the study, 66 out of the 98 puppies in the study were able to be successful at their training.
These findings show that, in the case of dogs at least, mothers have a significant impact on their young's cognitive and social abilities. However, the researchers note that it's difficult to distinguish between genetics and a mother's influence in studies such as theirs. Even so, we can be sure that early experiences as pups have some degree of influence over a dog's success in guide dog training programs.
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