Maternal care has been shown to affect the development of the brain, behaviour, social skills and emotional systems of the young of many mammalian species including dogs. The aim of the present study was to determine the effects of maternal care on the behavioural responses of family dog puppies towards environmental and social stimuli. In order to do this, maternal care (licking puppy’s ano-genital area, licking the puppy, nursing and mother-puppy contact) during the first three weeks after birth was assessed in 12 litters of domestic dog puppies reared in home environments (total = 72 puppies). The behavioural responses of puppies were assessed in an arena and an isolation test, which were performed when the puppies were two-month old. Data were analysed using principal components analysis and projection to latent structures regression. A systematic relationship was found between maternal care and behaviour in both tests. In the arena test, maternal care was found to be positively associated with approach to the stranger, attention oriented to the stranger, time spent near the enclosure, yawning, whining and yelping (R2
Y = 0.613, p = 8.2 × 10−9
). Amount of maternal care was negatively associated with the number of squares crossed and the time spent individually playing with the rope. In the isolation test, the amount of maternal care was positively associated with standing posture, paw lifting, and howling, and it was negatively associated with yawning, lying down and nose licking (R2
Y = 0.507, p = 0.000626). These results suggest that the amount of maternal care received during early life influences the pattern of behavioural responses and coping strategies of puppies at two-months of age. On the basis of these findings it could be speculated that early maternal care contributes to adaption to the environment in which family puppies are developing, with particular regard to social relationships with people.
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