|For centuries people have been trying to breed better
animals - cattle, horses, dogs, and many other species. There have
been many amazing advances, however genetics alone won't always answer
why one animal might perform better than another similarly-bred
animal. This is pretty much what a recent (1991) study by Cunningham
concluded. By studying racehorses he found that speed was only about
35 percent heritable. Or in other words, a horse's speed depends as
much as 65 percent on other factors such as training, management and
Findings such as this 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.
One study with mice and rats found that by removing the babies from
their nest for three to five minutes each day during the first few
days of life they caused the animal's body temperature to fall below
normal. This mild form of stress stimulated hormonal, adrenal and
pituitary systems which allowed these animals to better withstand
stress later in life. They also performed tests better than
their non-stressed littermates. Other effects included earlier sexual
maturity, more disease resistance, and better problem solving
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. Although they
have yet to determine an optimal amount of early stress, they do know
that some stimulation is good, but too much can cause problems.
The U.S. military decided to study the effects of early
neurological stimulation in their "Bio Sensor" or
"Super Dog" program. From this research they developed a
series of exercises for very young puppies. These exercises work best
during the puppy's third to sixteenth day of life which is a period of
rapid neurological development.
Each puppy undergoes this handling once per day for those two
weeks. All five exercises are completed with one puppy before handling
the next puppy.
1. Tactile stimulation
While holding the puppy in one hand, the handler uses a Q-tip to
tickle the puppy between the toes on one foot. The tickling should
last between three to five seconds. The puppy does not have to show a
2. Head held erect
Holding the puppy in both hands, the puppy is positioned so its head
is directly above its body. This position is held for three to five
3. Head pointed down
Holding the puppy in both hands, the puppy is reversed so its tail is
uppermost and directly above its head. This position is held for three
to five seconds.
4. Supine position
Hold the puppy in the palms so it is resting on its back with its face
pointed upward. This position is held for three to five seconds.
5. Thermal stimulation
Before starting the exercises, place a damp towel in the refrigerator
for at least five minutes. For this exercise, place the puppy on the
cool towel, belly down. Allow the puppy to wriggle off if it desires.
Remove the puppy from the towel after three to five seconds if it
hasn't moved itself.
The researchers found that these exercises started the puppies'
neurological system earlier than was normally expected. The benefits
that they noticed included:
- Improved cardiovascular performance (heart rate)
- Stronger heart beats
- Stronger adrenal glands
- More tolerance to stress
- Greater resistance to disease
Although the stimulation proved beneficial, over stimulating had
detrimental results. The researchers also found that regular handling
and socialization were still necessary.
Studies by Scott and Fuller pinpointed several critical periods in
a young puppy's development. These periods occurred between four and
sixteen weeks of age. If a puppy did not interact with other dogs (at
least his mother and littermates) and with people during this time
period, he would never be able to bond to other dogs or to people. For
an interesting account of how this research was used to dramatically
increase the number of guide dogs who successfully completed training,
The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior by Clarence
In addition to socialization, exposing puppies to various sights,
sounds, smells, tastes and touches allows them to
better cope as an adult dog. Enrichment activities can begin at a
very early age, perhaps even at birth. Some ideas include providing
toys of all shapes and textures; providing a variety of footing such
as newspaper, carpeting, window screens, plastic, concrete, gravel;
providing a variety of sounds such as radio, cap gun, vacuum cleaner;
providing a variety of challenges such as climbing steps, going
through a tunnel, playing hide and seek, etc. Just be sure that the
enrichment activities you design won't hurt or scare the puppy.
To provide even more experiences the puppy can be walked
around the shopping mall, taken for a romp in open fields, enrolled in
a Puppy Kindergarten class, taken on car trips, allowed to watch
older, trained dogs working. All of these experiences will give the
puppy a chance to experience new things and to meet new people.
So to get a puppy off to the best possible start in life be sure to
- early neurological stimulation (between three and sixteen days
- plenty of socialization (especially important during weeks four
- enrichment activities starting early and continuing throughout
the puppy's life