When our female Rottweiler had a new litter, I invited my daughter to take a look. The puppies were around a week old, and still had their eyes shut. Joan started whistling and making cooing sounds to get their attention, but she got no response.
She turned to me bewildered, asking why the puppies were not responding. Didn’t they like her? I explained that, in addition to having their eyes shut, the puppies also have their ears closed, essentially making them deaf and blind. However, they can taste, feel, and smell. I told my daughter if she touched the puppies, they would know she was nearby, and they could also taste their mother’s milk. But her question had me thinking, because there must be a scientific reason why puppies are born deaf and blind.
After some research, I discovered that there is a good reason. In the wild and long before humans domesticated them, dogs survived by hunting prey and lived in packs. In a pack, every member has to contribute to hunting, including pregnant mothers.
A pregnant dog is not able to run fast enough to catch prey, so evolution made the gestation period for dogs shorter so that the mothers could soon join the pack in hunting as soon as possible. The gestation period is only two months, meaning the puppies are not fully developed especially their sight and hearing senses.
This means the eyes need remain closed to keep dirt and light out as the sense of sight develops, and the ears have to be closed too to keep sharp noises from harming the still immature eardrums. After about two weeks, the puppies’eyes open up, and they slowly start responding to sound as their senses are now more mature.
Although dogs now live with humans, they still have short gestation periods even if they don’t need to hunt for food anymore. In the wild, with her puppies safe in a warm den, the mother could hunt for prey and still go back to nurse her puppies until they were old enough to join in the pack’s hunting escapades.
I explained my findings in a language a 6-year old can understand and hoped my daughter got why the puppies needed to be blind and deaf. Even if she does not understand now, at least she knows.
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