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The rodent maternal separation (MS) paradigm is frequently used to investigate the impact of early-life conditions in the offspring. One critical issue is whether the effects seen in the offspring are a result of maternal contact deprivation and/or altered pup-directed maternal behavior. To address this question we used an innovative approach with a qualitative analysis of pup-retrieval strategies in a test situation related to risk for the pups. The dams were separated from their litters for 0 (MS0) or 360 (MS360) min, respectively. The pups were placed in a risk area in the multivariate concentric square field? test at two test occasions and the pup-retrieval strategies were recorded. No significant evident differences between MS0 and MS360 dams were found. However, there were clearly two different strategies, either removing the pups out of potential danger or into safety, and these strategies were represented in both MS groups. As compared to the MS0 dams, the MS360 dams did not change their strategies and left more pups in the risk area in both pup-retrieval tests. This implies different pup-retrieval strategies depending on early-life conditions.