Vol. 1 No. 1 (2015)

Maternal behaviour in domestic dogs: a comparison between primiparous and multiparous dogs

Giovanna Guardini
Dipartimento di Scienze Veterinarie – Pisa University
Angelo Gazzano
Dipartimento di Scienze Veterinarie – Pisa University

Published 2015-04-02


  • puppy,
  • dog,
  • maternal care,


Maternal care was assessed in 10 litters from different breeds of domestic dog living in a home environment. Subjects were divided into two groups; a primiparous group (5 mothers, 32.4±22.3 months old; 5.0±1.6 puppies per litter) and a multiparous group (5 mothers, 74.4±10.0 months old, 6.6 ±1.7 puppies per litter). Mothers and puppies were videoed for 15 minutes each day, in the morning, from day 1 to 21 after the birth.

Videos were analysed on a second-by-second basis, observing each mother-puppy couple and using an ethogram of mother-puppy interaction behaviours adapted from Rheingold (1963).

The median total amount each interaction behaviour (during the 21 day period) was compared between primiparous and multiparous groups (Mann Whitney test). Levels of each interaction behaviour were also compared between the groups at three timepoints (day 1, 10 & 19) to investigate changes in maternal behaviour during the three weeks of observation (Mann Whitney test ). Within-group changes in interaction behaviours were evaluated for the same time points (Wilcoxon signed-rank test).

Total contact between mother and pup was significantly higher during the 21 day period in multiparous mothers, and remained consistent between timepoints. In primiparous mothers there was a statistically significant increase in contact over time that, at day 19, led to a statistically higher value compared to multiparous mothers (p=0.042, U=283.000). Primiparous mothers showed a significant increase in nursing behaviour during the analysed period, and when compared with multiparous mothers, were found to spend significantly more time nursing their puppies at day 19 (p=0.002, U=212.000). The amount of licking of the anogenital area was found to be significantly higher in primiparous mothers over the 21-day period, and increased significantly from day 1 to day 19. When compared with multiparous mothers, primiparous mothers were found to spend significantly more time licking the anogenital area of their puppies at day 19 (p=0.001, U=199.500).

In summary, in primiparous mothers there was a marked increase in licking the anogenital area, nursing and staying in contact with the puppies from day 1 to 21, which led at the end of the third week to a higher quantity of maternal care compared to multiparous mothers; whilst in multiparous mothers there was a tendency towards constant maternal care. These preliminary results suggest interesting differences in maternal behaviour between primiparous and multiparous bitches.