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Early Neurological Stimulation of Puppies

Neurological stimulation is something I am keen to start with our next litter of puppies.

It's no secret that reputable breeders are continually trying to improve their lines. This may be towards: better breed standards, improved hip scores, agility or better working ability. As only about 35% of a dog's performance ability is believed to be heritable (a product of genetics and pedigree), I have become interested in the other ways that a dog's natural abilities can be stimulated. The remaining 65% of performance ability can be attributed external factors such as: training, management and nutrition.

The US Military have long been using neurological stimulation in their canine program to improve the performance of their dogs. They have found that there are certain periods of time early in life, when neurological stimulation has optimal results. The first window of time begins on day 3 or life and completed on day 16. This period of time is of great importance to the developing puppy due to rapid neurological growth and development.

The program used by the US Military involves handling the puppies one at a time, each day, for a series of five exercises. The exercises are:

1. Tactile Stimulation:

​This involves holding the puppy in one hand and rubbing between the toes of one foot with a cotton bud for between 3 and 5 seconds.

2. Head Held Erect:

Both hands are used to hold the puppy perpendicular to the ground for 3 to 5 seconds, ie. straight up, so it's head is pointing up and its tail towards the ground.

3. Head Pointed Down:

The puppy is held firmly with both hands - the head is reversed and is pointed downward so that it is pointing towards the ground for 3 to 5 seconds.

4. Supine Position:

The pup is held so that its back is resting in the palm of both hands with its muzzle facing the ceiling. Allow the puppy to sleep for 3 to 5 seconds while on its back.

5. Thermal Stimulation:

The puppy is placed feet down on a damp towel that has been cooled in a refrigerator for at least five minutes. The puppy is allowed to move. Duration is 3 to 5 seconds.

These exercises produce neurological stimulations, that don't occur naturally during this early period of life. Some puppies may resist these exercises, while others will appear unconcerned. Do not repeat them more than once per day and do not extend the time beyond that recommended for each exercise. Research has shown that over stimulation of the neurological system can have adverse and detrimental results.

These exercises impact the neurological system by kicking it into action earlier than normal, the result being an increased capacity leading to a difference in its performance later in life. Playing with puppies and routinely handle them should continue as the neurological exercises are not substitutions for routine handling, play socialization or bonding.

Benefits of Stimulation:

Five benefits have been observed in dogs that have been exposed to early neurological stimulation exercises. The benefits are:

  1. Improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate)

  2. Stronger heart beats

  3. Stronger adrenal glands

  4. More tolerance to stress

  5. Greater resistance to disease.

In "learning" tests, stimulated puppies were found to be more active and more exploratory than their non- stimulated littermates. They were also more dominant in competitive situations.

In simple problem solving tests using detours in a maze, the non-stimulated pups became extremely aroused, whined a great deal, and made many errors. Their stimulated littermates were less upset by test conditions and were more calm in the test environment, made fewer errors and only whined occasional when stressed.

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