We use Early Neurological Stimulation, the Seven Rules of Seven and Puppy Culture Protocol in raising our puppies. My research and experience, in my nearly 30 years of breeding and rasing dogs, has led me to many studies and research in genetics, epigenetics, animal husbandry, training and species specific nutrition.
One study that intrigued me was: Cunningham, P (1991) in his study of racing horses. He found that performance for speed is about 35% heritable. In other words only about 35% of all the variation that is observed in track performance is controlled by heritable factors, the remaining 65% are attributable to other influences, such as training, management and nutrition.
Cunningham’s work while limited to horses, provides us with a good basis for understanding how much breeders can attribute to the genetics, and epigenetics of their animals. Researchers are continuing to study and look for new ways to stimulate individuals in order to improve their natural abilities. Some of the methods discovered have produced life long lasting effects. Many of the differences between individuals can now be explained by the use of enrichment experiences, socialization and early neurological stimulation (ENS) .
Methods of Stimulation
Findings such as this mentioned above, have led other researchers to explore how changing the way an animal is raised can affect them as adults. These studies often focused on early stimulation.
The first period involves a window of time that begins at the third day of life and lasts until the sixteenth day. It is believed that this interval of time is a period of rapid neurological growth and development, and therefore, is of great importance to the individual.
Studied done with mice and rats were the first to confirm that mild forms of stress, stimulated hormonal, adrenal and pituitary systems, which allowed these animals to withstand stress better later in life. They also performed tests better than their non- stressed litter mates. Other effects included earlier sexual maturity, more disease resistance, and better problem-solving abilities.
Studies with other species, such as cats, dogs, and chimpanzees, found similar results. Animals that were not given the early stimulation were less able to cope, adjust, and adapt.
The U.S. Military in their canine program developed a method called “Bio Sensor Program”. Based on years of research, the military learned that early neurological stimulation exercises could have important and lasting effects on the dogs in their program. Their studies confirmed that there are specific time periods early in life when neurological stimulation has optimum results. The first period involves a window of time that begins at the third day of life and lasts until the sixteenth day.
The “Bio Sensor” program was also concerned with early neurological stimulation in order to give the dog a superior advantage. Its development utilized six exercises which were designed to stimulate the neurological system. Each workout involved handling puppies once each day. The workouts required handling them one at a time while performing a series of five exercises. Listed in order of preference the handler starts with one pup and stimulates it using each of the five exercises. The handler completes the series from beginning to end before starting with the next pup. The handling of each pup once per day involves the following exercises:
(1) Tactical stimulation (between toes)
(2) Head held erect
(3) Head pointed down
(4) Supine position
(5) Thermal stimulation.
1. Tactile stimulation
Holding the pup in one hand, the handler gently stimulates (tickles) the pup between the toes on any one foot using a Q-tip. It is not necessary to see that the pup is feeling the tickle. Time of stimulation 3 – 5 seconds.
2. Head held erect
Using both hands, the pup is held perpendicular to the ground, (straight up), so that its head is directly above its tail. This is an upwards position. Time of stimulation 3 – 5 seconds.
3. Head pointed down
Holding the pup firmly with both hands the head is reversed and is pointed downward so that it is pointing towards the ground. Time of stimulation 3 – 5 seconds .
4. Supine position
Hold the pup so that its back is resting in the palm of both hands with its muzzle facing the ceiling. The pup while on its back is allowed to sleep struggle. Time of stimulation 3-5 seconds.
5. Thermal stimulation
Use a damp towel that has been cooled in a refrigerator for at least five minutes. Place the pup on the towel, feet down. Do not restrain it from moving. Time of stimulation 3-5 seconds.
These five exercises done with tenderness and only once a day will produce neurological stimulations, none of which naturally occur during this early period of life. These exercises impact the neurological system by kicking it into action earlier than would be normally expected. The result being an increased capacity that later will help to make the difference in its performance. We also will begin to lightly brush them with a soft brush for a few seconds every other day, hold a clipper (minus the blade) to their feet for a few seconds so that they can feel the vibration. As thier eyes and ears are just beginning to open we begin to play conditioning sounds such as thunder, fireworks, sirens, vacume cleaners, etc. at a low volume at least once a day and increase the volume a little bit each week.
Benefits of Stimulation
Five benefits have been observed in canines that were exposed to the early neurological stimulation exercises. The benefits noted were:
Improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate)
Stronger heart beats
Stronger adrenal glands
More tolerance to stress and greater resistance to disease.
In tests of learning, stimulated pups were found to be more active and were more exploratory than their non- stimulated litter mates over which they were dominant in competitive situations.
Secondary effects were also noted regarding test performance. In simple problem solving tests using detours in a maze, the non-stimulated pups became extremely aroused, wined a great deal, and made many errors. Their stimulated litter mates were less disturbed or upset by test conditions and when comparisons were made, the stimulated litter mates were more calm in the test environment, made fewer errors and gave only an occasional distress when stressed.
The second stage is called socialization. Early neurological stimulation and socialization have in common a window of limited time.
When Lorenz, (1935) first wrote about the importance of the stimulation process he wrote about imprinting during early life and its influence on the later development of the individual. He stated that it was different from conditioning in that it occurred early in life and took place very rapidly producing results which seemed to be permanent.
One of the earliest efforts to investigate and look for the existence of socialization in canines was undertaken by Scott-Fuller (1965). In his early studies he and his team were able to demonstrate that the basic technique for testing the existence of socialization was to show how readily adult animals would foster young animals, or accept one from another species. Most researchers agree that among all species, a lack of adequate socialization at a very young age generally results in unacceptable behavior and often times produces undesirable aggression, excessiveness, fearfulness, sexual inadequacy, and indifference toward partners.
Socialization studies confirm that the critical periods for our puppies to be stimulated are generally between fourth and sixteenth week of age. During these critical time periods two things can go wrong. First, insufficient social contact can interfere with proper emotional development which can adversely affected the development of the human bond. The lack of adequate social stimulation, such as handling, mothering and contact with others of the same species or different, adversely affects social and psychological development.
The absence of outside social interactions for puppies usually results in a lack of adequate learning and social adjustment. Protected youngsters who grow up in an insulated environment often times become sickly, despondent, lacking in flexibility and unable to make simple social adjustments. Generally, they are unable to function productively or to interact successfully then they become adults.
Owners who have busy life styles with long and tiring work and social schedules, often times cause thier dogs to be neglected. Left to themselves with only an occasional trip out of the house or off of the property they seldom see other dogs or people and generally suffer from poor stimulation and socialization. For many, the side effects of loneliness and boredom set-in. The resulting behavior manifests itself in the form of chewing, digging, and hard to control behavior (Battaglia).
The third and final stage in the process of growth and development is called enrichment. Unlike the first two stages it has no time limit and by comparison covers a very long period of time. Enrichment is a term which has come to mean the positive sum of experiences, which have a cumulative effect upon the individual.
Enrichment experiences typically involve exposure to a wide variety of interesting, novel, and exciting experiences with regular opportunities to freely investigate, manipulate, and interact with them. When measured in later life, the results show that those puppies reared in an enriched environment tend to be more inquisitive and are more able to perform difficult tasks.
There are numerous studies with animals that show the benefits of enrichment techniques and programs. All the time they are growing they are learning because their nervous systems are developing and storing information that may be of inestimable use at a later date. Studies by Scott and Fuller confirm that non-enriched pups when given free choice preferred to stay in their kennels. Other litter mates who were given only small amounts of outside stimulation between five and eight weeks of age were found to be very inquisitive and very active. When kennel doors were left open, the enriched pups would come bounding out while littermates who were not exposed to enrichment would remain behind. The non-stimulated pups would typically be fearful of unfamiliar objects and generally preferred to withdraw rather than investigate. Even well bred pups of superior pedigrees would not explore or leave their kennels and many were found difficult to train as adults, preferring the routine and safe environment of their kennel to the stimulating world outside their immediate place of residence.
Regular trips to the park, shopping centers and obedience and agility classes serve as good examples of enrichment activities that provide many opportunities for interaction and investigation.
Genetics only account for about 35% of the performance but the remaining 65% (management, training, nutrition) can make all the difference!
Both experience and research have dominated the beneficial effects that can be achieved via early neurological stimulation, socialization and enrichment experiences. Each has been used to improve performance and to explain the differences that occur between individuals, their trainability, health and potential. The cumulative effects of the three stages have been well documented. They best serve the interests of owners who seek high levels of intellegence, performance when properly used. Each has a cumulative effect and contributes to the development and the potential for individual performance.
Battaglia, C.L., “Loneliness and Boredom” Doberman Quarterly, 1982.
Kellogg, W.N. & Kellogg, The Ape and the Child, New York: McGraw Hill.
Scott & Fuller, (1965) Dog Behavior -The Genetic Basics, University Chicago Press
Scott, J.P., Ross, S., A.E. and King D.K. (1959) The Effects of Early Enforced Weaning on Stickling Behavior of Puppies, J. Genetics Psychologist, p5: 261-81.
Killian, Jane, Puppy Culture, The Enrichment Affect