Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Robert M. Seyfarth


How does maternal style, experienced over the first few weeks of life, affect later outcomes? Equally important, what is the role of an adolescent’s temperament and cognitive skills? The quest to understand which factors early in development lead to positive life outcomes is an endeavor that transcends species boundaries. In this dissertation, I explore the nature of these relationships using data collected from birth to adolescence in a cohort of prospective guide dogs. In Study 1, I quantify the behavior of mothers (n = 21) toward their litters. The results revealed that canine maternal style can be summarized in one principal component that explained a significant proportion of the variation and was stable across weeks, variable across individuals, and related to maternal cortisol and experimental measures. In Study 2, I examine the influence of early maternal style on later behavior, as well as on success in the guide dog program up to two years later. I also evaluated the influence of young adult temperament and cognition on success. Measures of maternal style as well as adolescent temperament and cognition were significantly associated with outcome in the guide dog program, even when controlling for each other. Successful dogs had less involved mothers as puppies, and demonstrated superior problem-solving skills, lower levels of perseveration, and reduced anxious vocal behavior as young adults. Temperament and cognition are frequently assessed in tasks purporting to measure one or the other, but large-scale studies usually only include tasks assigned to either domain. Dogs in our study completed a battery of both temperament and cognitive tasks. Thus, in Study 3, I address the categorization of ‘temperament’ and ‘cognitive’ tasks using both confirmatory and exploratory analyses and validate the findings using subjective ratings from puppy raisers, salivary cortisol, and program outcome measures. Forcing tasks into groups defined by cognition or temperament led to poor results, whereas a bottom-up approach revealed that putative cognitive and temperament measures interact in unanticipated ways. Taken together, these results suggest that mothering and the not-so-straightforward interplay of temperament and cognition provide important clues to the future success of an animal.

Included in

Psychology Commons