Our guide dog flunkie Angus.
Have you read about a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania about how doggos parent their puppers? The ones who are most paws off raise the best guide dog grads. The mom dogs who coddle their young have pups who fail guide dog school. We can learn about parenting styles and the success our kids may have in school from man’s best friend. As the former owner of a guide dog flunkie, who was a wonderful companion dog for 15 years, I was interested in finding out exactly how the research was done.
From ABC News: “Parenting techniques even apply to guide dogs, study says:”
“Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied the early development, parenting and subsequent performance of 98 puppies who underwent guide dog training. Dogs who received more independence and less support from their mothers were more likely to be successful in becoming a guide dog, and they also demonstrated improved problem-solving skills.
“In other words, successful guide dogs were more likely to have been brought up by ‘tough love’ moms. The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
NPR had their story called “Coddled Puppies Make Poor Guide Dogs, Study Suggests:”
“Basically the puppies are kept in a kiddie pool lined with towels. So the hands-off mothers are the ones that are spending less time [in the pool] with their puppies and not interacting with them as much,” explains Bray. “Whereas a hands-on mother is going to be constantly in the pool, licking them, grooming them, interacting with them.”
They found that among the 98 puppies they studied, the actively-mothered ones were more likely to fail a guide dog training program later.
How mothers nurse their puppies also affected how puppies performed. The mothers will either lie down to nurse, or sit or stand up. If the mother dog is sitting or standing, “she’s further from the puppy. The puppy has to work for it,” explains Bray. “Those puppies are more successful [later] as guide dogs.”
My kids with Angus.
Here’s a link to the actual study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America:
A successful guide dog must navigate a complex world, avoid distractions, and respond adaptively to unpredictable events. What leads to success? We followed 98 puppies from birth to adulthood. Puppies were enrolled in a training program where only ∼70% achieved success as guide dogs. More intense mothering early in life was associated with program failure. In addition, mothers whose nursing style required greater effort by puppies produced more successful offspring. Among young adult dogs, poor problem-solving abilities, perseveration, and apparently greater anxiety when confronted with a novel object were also associated with program failure. Results mirror the results from rodents and humans, reaffirming the enduring effects on adult behavior of maternal style and individual differences in temperament and cognition.
A continuing debate in studies of social development in both humans and other animals is the extent to which early life experiences affect adult behavior. Also unclear are the relative contributions of cognitive skills (“intelligence”) and temperament for successful outcomes. Guide dogs are particularly suited to research on these questions. To succeed as a guide dog, individuals must accomplish complex navigation and decision making without succumbing to distractions and unforeseen obstacles. Faced with these rigorous demands, only ∼70% of dogs that enter training ultimately achieve success. What predicts success as a guide dog? To address these questions, we followed 98 puppies from birth to adulthood. We found that high levels of overall maternal behavior were linked with a higher likelihood of program failure. Furthermore, 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. In young adults, an inability to solve a multistep task quickly, compounded with high levels of perseveration during the task, was associated with failure. Young adults that were released from the program also appeared more anxious, as indicated by a short latency to vocalize when faced with a novel object task. Our results suggest that both maternal nursing behavior and individual traits of cognition and temperament are associated with guide dog success.
We can learn from dogs to let our kids fall down once in awhile. We can let them forage through our fridges to make their own snacks. H*ck, we could let them prepare dinner for the family, on occasion, too. If they forget their homework or swim bag, let them face the consequences. They’ll be better prepared for life if we don’t save them from it on a daily basis.
What do you think we can learn about parenting from our animal friends?
P.S. Cutesy dog language (like h*ck or puppers) I discovered on the “WeRateDogs” Twitter account. If you’re a dog person, the tweets will make you smile and brighten your day (see photo of my daughter’s pug Waffles below.)
A screenshot of my daughter’s dog on WeRateDogs.
Waffles the pug without his doggles.