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Development, Communication and Social Behavior in the Dog

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Neonatal Behaviors

Picture of puppies

Photo courtesy of Tom Schaefges and Harriet Weatherford

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Lecture Notes

So, the five main neonatal behaviors we will be looking at are rooting, suckling, righting, distress calling, and activated sleep. Rooting is triggered by maternal licking, and the puppies will do a swimming motion to push towards their mother to help find the teat. Suckling, when the mouth comes in contact with the teat, is unique to newborns and will be replaced later with chewing. This can also be accompanied by treading with the front paws. This massaging of the mammary glands helps stimulate milk secretion. Humans can elicit this response by placing a finger in the pup's mouth, for example if someone were to be fostering some puppies. A newborn without a suckle response is in trouble. The righting reflex is where the puppy should be able to flip itself over when it's on its back. Vocalizations during this period are limited to distress calling. They should only cry to indicate hunger or cold. Too much crying is definitely a sign of a problem. Activated sleep is jerking and twitching and shifting. This helps with neuromuscular development and coordination. Healthy puppies and kittens will demonstrate this for about 75% of their sleeping hours.