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Interesting Canine Behaviors That Start in the Litter

When puppies are in the litter, along with their siblings and mom, they are learning the essence of what it means to be a dog and there are several interesting canine behaviors occurring at this time. From when they are born to the day they are fully weaned and sent to their new homes, puppies grow both physically and mentally at a steady and fast rate. Most of us will miss out on witnessing these developmental marvels, but here's a brief introduction of several interesting canine behaviors occurring during this time. These canine behaviors derived from the interactions of siblings and siblings and mom can be categorized as epimeletic, etepimeletic and allolomimetic.


Epimeletic Behaviors

When we talk about epimeletic behaviors, we are basically discussing the natural tendency of providing care to others. Nurturing, care giving behaviors therefore fall under this category.

Born blind, unable to hear and unable to regulate their temperature or eliminate on their own, puppies, belonging to an altricial species, are pretty much in a helpless state and rely heavily on mother dog for survival. Fortunately, most mother dogs are drawn to their puppies and provide them with constant nurturing care during their first days of life.

These care-giving behaviors from mother dogs are largely influenced by the effect of hormones, especially prolactin, responsible for fostering protective behaviors and playing a role in stimulating the milk let-down process, explains veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman.

Want some examples of epimeletic behaviors carried out by mother dog? Here are some of them. Licking the pups vigorously after being born, cleaning them up from remnants of afterbirth and severing the pup's umbilical cord. Attending to distress calls of pups who are hungry or cold.

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Grooming the puppies and licking the puppies' rears to stimulate urination and defecation. Lying down besides the pups and nudging them to encourage them to nurse. Protecting the pups from harm and carrying them around. Regurgitating food for the pups when they're being weaned ( a process sometimes still observed in some mother dogs).

Did you know? Mother dogs tend to pick up puppies and carry them around keeping their whole body in their mouth with feet dangling down, versus cats who carry their kittens by the skin, explain John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller in the book "Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog."

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Etepimeletic Behavior in Puppies

mother dog

When we talk about etepimeletic behaviors, we are discussing about the natural tendency of soliciting attention from others. Care seeking behaviors therefore fall under this category.

Born in a pretty much helpless state, it's important for puppies to get mother dog's attention quickly when the need arises. These care soliciting behaviors are important for the pup's survival considering that puppies are very vulnerable, especially when out of a domestic setting.

Fortunately though, in a domesticated setting, with the help of the breeder, puppies have a higher chance of surviving when dealing with problems and even many runts of the litter survive.

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Want some examples of etepimeletic behaviors carried out by puppies? Here are some of them. Emitting distressed calls when cold or hungry or when being separated from mom and siblings. Tail-wagging with tail low, pawing, jumping and licking mother dog's face and lips to greet and solicit her to regurgitate food for them (some mother dogs still do this, during weaning!). Following mother dog closely for protection.

Did you know? Etepimeletic behaviors aren't limited to young puppies! Some of these infantile behaviors are often retained past early infancy in a dog's interactions with humans and other dogs and become part of a dog's behavior repertoire often because they have a history of reinforcement or they have been inadvertently reinforced by owners. Examples of etepimeletic behaviors retained into adulthood include attention-seeking whining and barking, emitting distress calls when separated from owners, as often seen in separation anxiety, begging at the table to be fed and facial licking.

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Allelomimetic Behaviors


When we talk about allelomimetic behaviors, we are discussing about behaviors that puppies exhibit as they go through social stages of development. Once their ear and eyes open and puppies becomes more mobile, they will start discovering more about the world around them.

According to John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller, allelomimetic behaviors include doing things that other animals in the group do "with some degree of mutual stimulation." The onset of these behaviors tends to occur when puppies are around 5 weeks of age.

Synchronizing behaviors may have provided adaptive advantages as working in unison may have been helpful in the past in hunting down large prey or relying on each other's alertness to flee away from a predator.

Want some examples of allelomimetic behaviors carried out by young puppies? Here are some. Running together, eating together, investigating things together. Lying down together and waking up together, grooming each other as well as barking or howling in unison. Interestingly, this tendency seems to also cross species and it may persist into adulthood. Its not unusual to witness dogs engaging in behaviors they see humans do. A classic example is when owners are alerted by something and dogs are quick to catch their alertness. How many times after all, have you noticed your dog react to verbal cues that denote a state of alertness such as when you say 'What's that? Who's there?'"

Did you know? Running after a child is more likely to be allelomimetic behavior more than hunting or herding as many dog owners assume, suggests Roger Abrantes, ethologist and PhD in Evolutionary Biology

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  • Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, By John Paul Scott, John L. Fuller, University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Ethology Institute of Cambridge, Does Your Dog Show Allelomimetic Behavior?, retrieved from the web on Dec 4th, 2016

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