HIGH ACHIEVERS AKC GAZETTE, MAY
as it may seem, it isnít innate capacity that explains the differences that
exist between individuals, humans or dogs.
Most seem to have far more capacity than they will ever use.
The ones who achieve and out-perform others seem to have within
themselves the ability to use hidden resources.
In other words, itís what they are able to do with what they have that
makes the difference.
Researchers have studied this phenomenon and have looked for new ways to
stimulate individuals to improve their own natural abilities.
Some methods have produced lifelong lasting effects, and many of the
differences between individuals can be explained by the use of early
stimulation. The key, it seems, is
adding just the right amount of stress early on; not too much, and not too
Because of its importance, many studies have focused their effects on the
first few months of life. When pups
are first born, their eyes and ears are closed.
Their digestive systems have limited capacity and require periodic
stimulation by their dam, who routinely licks them in order to promote
At this age they are only able to smell, suck and crawl.
Body temperature is maintained by snuggling close to their mother or by
crawling into piles with other littermates.
During these first few weeks of immobility, researchers have found these
immature and underdeveloped canines are sensitive to a restricted class of
stimuli that include thermal and tactile stimulation, motion and locomotion.
Other mammals, such as mice and rats, have also demonstrated a similar
sensitivity to certain stimuli. Studies
show that removing them from their nest for 3 minutes each day during the first
5 to 10 days of life causes body temperatures to fall below normal.
This mild form of stimulation was sufficient to stimulate their hormonal,
adrenal and pituitary systems. When
tested later as adults, these same animals were better able to withstand stress
than littermates who were not exposed to the same early stimulation exercises.
Other studies involving early stimulation exercises have been performed
on both cats and dogs. The
electroencephalogram has been used to measure the electrical activity in the
brain because of its extreme sensitivity to changes in excitement, emotional
stress, muscle tension, and changes in oxygen and breathing.
EEG measures show that pups and kittens given early stimulation mature at
faster rates and perform better in certain problem-solving tests than
experiments have not yet produced specific information about the optimal amounts
of stimulation needed to make young animals psychologically or physiologically
superior, researchers agree that very early stimulation has value.
What are also known is that what may be just the right amount of
stimulation for one may be too intense for another, and that too much can retard
development. The results show that
early stimulation exercises can have positive results but must be used with
caution. In other words, too much
stimulation can cause pathological adversities rather than physical or
The U.S. military developed a method that still serves as a guide.
In an effort to improve the performance of dogs used for military
purposes a program called BioSensor was developed.
Later, the public as the Super Dog Program better knew it.
Based on years of research, the military learned that early neurological
stimulation exercises could have important and lasting effects on dogs.
Their studies confirmed that there are specific time periods early in
life when neurological stimulation has optimum results.
The first period of a window of time that begins at about the third day
of life and lasts until the 16th day.
This is believed to be a period of rapid neurological growth and
The result of this research is a group of exercises called the BioSensor
method (see attachment). These
exercises affect the neurological system by kicking it into action earlier than
would normally be expected, resulting in an increased capacity.
Five benefits have been observed in dogs that were exposed to the BioSensor stimulation exercises:
Improved cardiovascular performance; ∑
Stronger heartbeats; ∑
Improved cardiovascular performance;
resistance to stress;
resistance to disease.
In tests of learning, stimulated pups were found to be more active and
were more exploratory than their non-stimulated littermates, over which they
were dominant in competitive situations.
In simple problem-solving tests using detours in a maze, the
non-stimulated pups became extremely stressed, whined a great deal and made many
errors. Their stimulated
littermates were more calm in the test environment, made fewer errors and gave
only an occasional distress signal.
As each animal grows and develops, factors outside it affect how it will
be shaped as an individual. Early
neurological stimulation is the first stage.
The second stage is socialization, and it also has a limited window of
When ethologist Konrad Lorenz first wrote about this process in 1935, he
talked about imprinting and its importance on the later development of an
animal. He differentiated
imprinting from conditioning in that imprinting occurs early in life, takes
place very rapidly and seems to have lifelong results.
Socialization studies confirm that the critical period for canine
socialization is between the fourth and 16th week of age.
During this period two things can go wrong.
First, insufficient social contact can affect proper emotional
development, which can adversely affect the development of a human bond.
Second, over-mothering can prevent sufficient exposure to other
individuals, places and situations that have an important influence on growth
and development. The lack of
adequate social stimulation, such as handling, mothering and contact with
others, adversely affects social and psychological development.
Most researchers agree that among all species, a lack of adequate
socialization generally results in unacceptable behavior and oftentimes produces
undesirable aggression, fearfulness, sexual inadequacy and indifference toward
Busy lifestyles with long and tiring schedules often
cause pets to be neglected. Left to
themselves with only an occasional trip out of the house or off the property,
they seldom see other dogs or strangers and generally suffer from poor
stimulation and socialization. For
many dogs, the side effects of loneliness and boredom set in.
The resulting behavior manifests itself in the form of chewing, digging
and behavior that is hard to control.
It seems clear that small amounts of stimulation, followed by early
socialization, can produce beneficial results.
The danger seems to be in not knowing what the thresholds are for over
Many improperly socialized puppies develop into older individuals
unprepared for adult life, with its challenges and interactions.
Attempts to re-socialize them as adults only produce small gains.
These failures confirm the notion that the window of opportunity for
early neurological and social stimulation is only open once.
After it closes, little can be done to overcome the negative effects of
too much or too little stimulation.
The third and final stage in the process of growth and development is
called enrichment. Unlike the first
two stages, it has no limited window of opportunity.
Enrichment means the positive sum of experiences that 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 animals reared in an
enriched environment tend to be more inquisitive and are better able to perform
Studies by canine behaviorists John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller show
that, when given free choice, non-enriched pups preferred to stay in their
kennels. Other littermates that
were given only small amounts of outside stimulation between 5 and 8 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 that were not reared in an enriched environment would
The pups that received less stimulation 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 difficult to train as adults.
These pups acted as if they had become institutionalized, preferring the
routine and safe environment of their kennel to the stimulating world outside.
Regular trips to the park, shopping centers and obedience classes are
examples of enrichment activities. Chasing
and retrieving a ball is often considered enriching because it provides exercise
and serves as a reward. While
repeated attempts to retrieve a ball provide stimulation, it should not be
confused with enrichment exercises. Such
playful activities should be used as an exercise or as a reward after returning
from a trip, and should not be used as a substitute for trips, outing or
obedience classes that provide many opportunities for interaction and
Because of the risks involved in under-stimulating pups, a conservative
approach has been suggested. However,
as a guide, it is generally considered prudent to guard against
under-stimulation rather than over-stimulation.
A conservative approach would be to expose them to other people, toys and
other animals regularly. Handling
and touching all parts of their anatomy is also necessary as early as the third
day of life. Pups that are handled
regularly generally do not become hand-shy as adults.
Both experience and research have demonstrated the beneficial effects of
early neurological stimulation, socialization and enrichment.
Each has been used to show how significant differences between individual
dogs, their trainability, health and potential for individual performance can be
realized. The cumulative effects of
these stimulations have been well documented and best serve the interests of the
owner and the animal.
BY CARMEN BATTAGLIA.
This site created June 4,