Do Male Dogs Have Paternal Instincts?

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So Mr. and Mrs. Pooch just had a litter of puppies, and while mama spends day and night catering to the pups, papa seems to be in his own world. You may wonder if he's lost his sense of familial obligations. Domestication, along with the fact that dogs have been accustomed for centuries to rely on the assistance of humans, seems to play a role in his poor parenting practices.


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A Far Cry From Wolves

Although father wolves are known for being attentive, monogamous for life and very protective of their mates and pups, your pooch may differ a lot from these great exemplary dads. Most likely, Pongo won't stand guard, hunt for food or bring tasty edibles to his offspring. While wolves and dogs share the same genetic makeup with 78 chromosomes arranged in 39 pairs, they differ in many ways, including how they raise and care for their progeny.

Domestication Effects


The many years of domestication that separate wolves from dogs may explain why Pongo has lost quite a chunk of paternal instincts along the way. For instance, humans now have taken over the task of weaning puppies from milk to solid foods, whereas in the past this was totally mama dog's job. In the same way, male dogs are perhaps no longer needed to hunt and provide food for their offspring. Humans, in this case, seem to have taken over Pongo's "pet-ernal instinct."

No Trespassing

Even if Pongo truly had an ounce of paternal instinct, most likely he would never make it to the whelping box without Perdita showing him her pearly whites. Mama dog is very protective of her pups, especially during their very first days. Born functionally blind and deaf, the newborn pups are completely helpless, and need all the maternal protection they can get.


Signs of Caring

While Pongo won't win the "Best Dad Award," he may show some signs of caring. For starters, as the pups grow and walk about, he will respect them and most likely won't attack them. In some cases he may also protect the pups from an external attack. He may sometimes show a certain feeling of benevolence towards the pups -- and you may even catch him playing with them.

For the Most Part, Indifference

Most commonly, though, the father remains overall quite indifferent to mama dog and the pups after being born. Yes, once the pups grow, he may indeed play with them, but that interest isn't much different from the interest in other non-related pups. Having a father-and-son relationship doesn't necessarily mean an absence of altercations or violence; paternal attacks on pups are unfortunately not unheard of. For safety's sake, keep daddy away from the puppies for the first several weeks.


By Adrienne Farricelli


Mother Nature Network: Nature's 10 Best Animal Dads
Simon & Schuster's Guide to Dogs; Simon & Schuster
Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers; Bonnie V. G. Beaver
Psychology Today: Why Are Puppies Born With Their Eyes and Ears Closed?
All About Goldens: Preparing for Dog Birth
Veterinary Partner: Fighting Dogs
Science Daily: Canine Hybrids


About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.