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Sensory development in puppies (Canis lupus f. familiaris): implications for improving canine welfare

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Despite an auspicious start from which lasting theories were generated (eg critical periods hypothesis, Scott & Marston 1950), and despite recent modern technology enabling biological investigations of sensory development (eg EEG, fMRI), in the last fifty years little attention has been devoted to the development of puppies' (Canis lupus f. familiaris) sensory abilities. Attention to puppies' sensory development is needed for both theoretical and applied purposes, because understanding puppies' early experiences depends on understanding their perceptual world. This paper reviews the chronology of sensory development in puppies, looking at each sense individually. It then examines the relationships among phases of sensory and neural development and the critical periods proposed by Scott and Marston (1950). With improved knowledge and awareness of canine sensory development, researchers and other practitioners that work with puppies can better assess and improve puppies' welfare. Therefore, this review should be of interest not only to researchers, but should also be of use to others that interact with dogs (eg shelter workers, dog breeders). By knowing what puppies are able to see, practitioners can visually enrich puppies' environments. By knowing what puppies are able to taste and smell, practitioners can better predict the preference-related impact of introducing dietary variation to puppies. Knowing when puppies are first, and best, able to hear, see, and otherwise sense people and other animals, practitioners can design and customise programmes of socialisation and systematic exposure of young puppies.
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Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; CANIS LUPUS F. FAMILIARIS; CRITICAL PERIODS; PUPPY; SENSORY DEVELOPMENT; SOCIALISATION

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 2007

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