Re-Thinking Early Neurological Stimulation (2022)

Puppy Cultureis an open source architecture-it grows and clarifies based on the input and feedback of the users. Pursuant to that, based on the discussions in our Facebook Discussion Group, I think a major re-thinking of Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) is in order.

Don’t panic, I’m not “turning against” ENS! It’s still an awesome protocol under the right circumstances. But the piece that I think we need to embrace is that ENS really is a subset of a larger category, which is shaping the neurological development of neonates. And there is (or at least should be) more than one protocol in that category, depending on the circumstances.

For those of you who are not familiar with Puppy Culture, one of our core tenants is that we look for behavioral markers to know when a particular protocol is appropriate, rather than looking at the temporal age of the puppies. So we always want to know the developmental period, rather than how many days the puppy has been alive in order to do the right thing at the right time. And litters vary a lot - developmental periods have been documented to vary by as much as 16 days between breeds, and, in our experience, this is a pretty conservative estimate.

What I've recently come to realize is that, in the same way that we look for behavioral markers to know when to do what protocol in Puppy Culture, we need to focus on the circumstances of the litter to know WHAT KIND of stimulation is required:

(Video) ENS~Early Neurological Stimulation~The Super Puppy Program~The Ability Within! The Retriever Nation

  • Where all the stars align with a low stress birth and excellent maternal care, ENS is perfect, and should confer all of the benefits Dr. Battaglia talks about in Puppy Culture.

  • But, where the stars don’t align so well and there is a stressful birth or poor maternal care, ENS is unnecessary as the puppies already are stressed. Both Dr. Battaglia and I talk about this in Puppy Culture. In this situation you can focus on tactile stimulation that would simulate maternal care (licking). So long firm strokes of the body and anogenital regions, with your hands or possibly with a soft brush, rather than stressful ENS-type manipulations.


That's the Reader's Digest version of this reasoning for this is outlined at some length, below, (and I am only skimming the topic, at that). But I know it’s somewhat dense material and not everyone will wade through it, so I wanted to get it out up front that, in cases where the litter is stressed, I believe there is already enough stress to produce the results of ENS, and furthermore there is an alternative to ENS that the research indicates will be appropriate and beneficial under those circumstances.

Why Touch Shapes Personality

(Video) Caring For A New Litter Of Puppies - BioSensor Training - Early Neurological Stimulation - Day 3-16

The neurological and endocrine systems of neonates are extremely flexible (approximately the first two weeks of life). In a safe environment with lots of resources, certain neurological and endocrine (hormonal) responses will aid survival, and in a dangerous environment with low resources a completely different set of responses will aid survival. This is why these systems are so plastic at birth - they develop differently to optimize based on the environment into which the animal is born.

Suffice it to say that the kinds of emotions and behaviors we want our dogs to have are by and large facilitated by convincing the puppies’ systems that they are going to be living in a safe and resource abundant environment. But we also, when possible, want to challenge the puppies’ endocrine and neurological systems ever so slightly to get additional gains in those systems. This is the tightrope we are walking when we get into protocols that shape early neurological development.

Why Circumstances Matter

Now back to ENS. ENS assumes that the environment truly is low stress, low danger, and high resource. In this case, we can pick up bonus development by introducing low amounts of stress. But what does that mean in terms of a litter in the breeder’s house? It means the dam is not stressed, has good mothering skills, plenty of milk, and is in good health. It means the puppies have not been stressed in any way, their birth wasuneventful and natural, that they are eating and gaining normally, and are not sick in any way. This describes perfectly the average German Shepherdlitter that is free whelped - the mother cares well for the puppies and the breeder hardly touches them for the first two weeks. ENS in this situation is almost certainly very beneficial.

But what if any of those dimensions are missing? If you’ve been to my Puppy Culture seminar, you know we talk a lot about neonatal neurological and endocrine development and how touch, stimulation, and maternal stress can effect that development, positively or negatively. I’m going to pick out one small part of my presentation to talk about, which is the role of tactile stimulation. Many of you are familiar with the “licked rats” studies (if you’re not familiar with it, you can get an overview, HERE). The reader’s digest version is that maternal care, specifically licking completely changes the development of the neurological and endocrine systems of neonate rats, specifically the systems that regulate emotional stability, resilience, and stress reactions - the HPA axis .

(Video) Dr. Ian Dunbar's thoughts on Early Neurological Stimulation

It’s been demonstrated conclusively that rat pups whosemother licked them have much better emotional regulation and behavior than non-licked pups. And this is independent of DNA - they have cross fostered rat pups and the result is clearly dependent on maternal care, not the genetics of the pup. Read more HERE and HERE

Best Practices for Breeders

The studies show That this "licking effect" can be reproduced by human caregivers. In the absence of maternal licking, tactile stimulation of the rat pup’s anogenital region with a soft paintbrush or a Swiffer brush applied gently over their whole body could produce results similar to maternal licking. Beneficial results were found with as little as a few seconds three times per day, but it appears that the maximum experimental result so far has been with 15 minutes of stimulation per day.

So, practically, what does this mean to you as a breeder? Say, for instance, your bitch has had a c-section and is slow to come around to caring for the puppies. You’re already picking up and manipulating the puppies to feed them, to clean them, to move them in and out of the whelping box. They’re either getting a feeding tube down their throat several times a day, or being held in position while sponge or bottle fed, or their dam is being pinned down while the puppies are slid on to her teats to nurse. The last thing those puppies need is extra stress.

But what they are lacking is maternal licking, which is extremely important to favorable development of the genes surrounding the HPA axis. So (and I’m just taking a stab at this, based on the rat research) long soft but firm strokes along their bodies, and also anogenital regions (unless you are already having to void the puppies yourself). You might consider using a large paintbrush with soft bristles which might more accurately reproduce the action of a tongue. I have not used a brush myself but it would be consistent with the way the rat experiments were designed.

(Video) Creating Super Puppies- Early Neurological Stimulation

We have recent personal experience with this. Naboo had her two boys by C-section and it took her five days to fully come around to caring for the puppies. In the interim, we were holding Naboo in place so the puppies could nurse, and then cleaning the puppies ourselves. One of the puppies seemed to have extreme reactions to being held and cleaned, so we began stroking him for a few minutes each time we took him out to feed him. At first, he wailed and resisted but after only two days he immediately settled when stroked. I know it’s a sample size of one, but we have seen similar results in other litters, and it makes sense, based on the research.

So, the bottom line is, if you have an outstanding earth mother who free whelped and is caring for a thriving litter of puppies, do ENS, it’s really helpful. But if you have any other scenario, consider simulated maternal stimulation (SMS), instead. And, of course, the scenario can change - you might have a litter with a rough start that settles in, in which case you can switch from SMS to ENS. Once again I will disclaim that this is all just my personal experience and how I read the research - but it has definitely been proven that too much ENS is bad for puppies, so I think this is an excellent stab at better practices.

A New Place To Put Your Energy

We get an awful lot of breeders who are super concerned when told that they need to skip ENS because the puppies already have enough stress. These breeders never seem happy with the answer that they should leave out ENS protocols. They feel like their puppies will be short changed.And it seems like many breeders push doing ENS when perhaps it might be better not to do it.

Mulling it over, I think these breeders have the correct instinct, in that we can positively influence the neurological and endocrine development of puppies quite easily in the neonatal period, and they want to take action. But, up until now, they have felt that ENS was their only option. So breeders push hard to “get ENS done” even when it might have been better not to.

And that’s what I believe we need to re-examine - ENS is a fantastic protocol under the right circumstances, but it’s not your only option for influencing the neurological and endocrine development of your puppies. You should always consider whether SMS (Simulated Maternal Stimulation) might be the better protocol, based on the circumstances of the litter.

​Hope this helps you make the best choices for your litters. I will be thinking and researching this more in the coming months and perhaps even doing an update to the Workbook down the road.

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(Video) Dog Breeder Tutorials - Early Neurological Stimulation


How do you stimulate a neurological early? ›

Neurological Stimulation Program Details
  1. Tactical stimulation (between toes) Holding the pup in one hand, the handler gently stimulates (tickles) the pup between the toes on any one foot using a Q-tip. ...
  2. Head held erect. ...
  3. Head pointed down. ...
  4. Supine position. ...
  5. Thermal stimulation.

What benefits come from early neurological stimulation? ›

Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) is a process we started doing that introduces mild stresses to very young puppies in a controlled way. These stresses help stimulate the neurological system which improves the growth and development of the pup's immune system, cardiovascular system, and stress tolerance.

What are ENS exercises? ›

Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS), which involves applying gentle stressors to a very young animal for short periods of time, is thought to improve their stress responses later in life.

What is ENS and ESI? ›

Early Neurological stimulation (ENS) and Early scent Introduction (ESI) ENS is a prescribed series of exercises which each puppy goes through, every day, from Days 3-16, for 3-5 seconds each time. This exposes the puppy to very slight stressors - which have an optimal effect on the developing brain and immune system.

What are the Rule of 7s? ›

It's the Rule of Sevens. It says that by the time your puppy is 7 weeks old it should be exposed to the following situations: Been in 7 different, safe locations. Eaten from 7 different containers.

What is Avidog? ›

​ Avidog combines science, art and over 40 years of breeding experience to create, develop and present puppy rearing courses, programs, and equipment for puppy owners and dog breeders. Their goal is to help people raise healthy, stable, and fit dogs.

Are there long term effects of early neurological stimulation ENS on working dogs? ›

Although there is ample evidence that enrichment and socialization have a positive impact on adult behavior in dogs, there is no evidence ENS in and of itself has any lasting effect on dog behavior.

What is ENS and ESI for puppies? ›

Simple interactions early in a puppy's life may increase its ability to learn and cope successfully with stress later on, thus leading to better welfare outcomes.

How can you tell a puppy's personality? ›

The Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) is commonly used. There are 10 items that test for social attraction, following, restraint, social dominance, elevation dominance, retrieving, touch sensitivity, sound sensitivity, sight sensitivity, and stability.

What are the benefits of ENS? ›

ENS Combines Multiple Web Services into a Frictionless One

The main benefit of this multi-address/resource capability is that ENS unifies and facilitates many complex web services into a single resource.

What is puppy Culture method? ›

Puppy Culture is a program developed by Jane Killion, professional dog trainer and breeder. It is a comprehensive, organized program for breeders to follow during the first weeks of a puppy's life. The first 12 weeks of a puppy's life are incredibly important.

What is early scent introduction? ›

Early Scent Introduction (ESI) is a procedure we do that helps puppies with their nose awareness and confidence. It enhances their ability to identify and react to scents. Similar to Early Neurological Stimulation, ESI is introduced at days 3-16 of a puppies life and is very benefical for their development.

How do you stimulate a newborn puppy? ›

Helping Newborn Puppies Use the Bathroom - YouTube

What is bio sensory training for puppies? ›

The Biosensor Routine is a series of five simple exercises. They are performed on each puppy once a day, starting at three days of age. Each exercise lasts a minimum of three seconds to a maximum of five seconds per exercise. The last exercise is completed on the 16th day.

What should I expose my puppy to? ›

The goal is to expose your puppy to, well, just about everything, including:
  • People of different genders.
  • People of different races.
  • People of different ages.
  • People with and without disabilities.
  • Different animal species.
  • New places.
  • New sounds, smells and sensations.
May 9, 2022

Does the rule of 7 still apply? ›

That number has since increased to more than 5,000 ads per day in 2017. Research shows that consumers are tired of ads and we've gotten better at tuning them out. Not only does the 'Marketing Rule of 7' no longer apply, there are few traditional marketing methods that are working in our modern, ad saturated world.

What is the 7 times 7 rule? ›

This marketing principle is a maxim that was developed in the 1930s by the movie industry, who found through research that a potential moviegoer had to see a movie poster at least seven times before they would go to the theatre to see a movie.

How many times do you need to see something before you buy it? ›

The Marketing Rule of 7

The Rule of 7 states that a prospect needs to “hear” the advertiser's message at least 7 times before they'll take action to buy that product or service. The Marketing Rule of 7 is a marketing maxim developed by the movie industry in the 1930s.

Does puppy culture make a difference? ›

Not only is Puppy Culture for you, there's a special advantage to starting early with puppies. You'll see in the film that many of the lessons are demonstrated by puppies as young as 4 weeks old, because puppies learn certain things fastest and most easily in the first 12 weeks of life.

What does neural stimulation mean? ›

Neurostimulation is the purposeful modulation of the nervous system's activity using invasive (e.g. microelectrodes) or non-invasive means (e.g. transcranial magnetic stimulation or transcranial electric stimulation, tES, such as tDCS or transcranial alternating current stimulation, tACS).

What is bio sensory training for dogs? ›

Bio-Sensory Training for Dogs improves the development of the puppy's neurological systems by early stimulation and stress.

How can I get my dogs to breed better? ›

breeding better dogs - YouTube

How do you reset your nervous system? ›

A deep sigh is your body-brain's natural way to release tension and reset your nervous system. Simply breathe in fully, then breathe out fully, longer on the exhale. Studieshave shown that a deep sigh returns the autonomic nervous system from an over-activated sympathetic state to a more balanced parasympathetic state.

How do you rewire your nervous system? ›

Rewiring your brain might sound pretty complicated, but it's absolutely something you can do at home.
  1. Play video games. Yes, you read that right. ...
  2. Learn a new language. Ever considered studying another language? ...
  3. Make some music. Music has several brain benefits. ...
  4. Travel. ...
  5. Exercise. ...
  6. Make art.
Jun 16, 2020

How do you heal your nervous system? ›

How to keep your nervous system healthy
  1. Provide the nerves with the supplies they need to transmit messages. ...
  2. Protect the nerves with B vitamins. ...
  3. Use yoga and stretching to strengthen the nervous system. ...
  4. Pursue well-being to improve the health of the nerves.

How do you retrain the autonomic nervous system? ›

To train your nervous system to be adaptable and functioning optimally, here are some key steps:
  1. 1) Breathe diaphragmatically all the time. ...
  2. 2) Learn to relax the body. ...
  3. 3) Learn to relax the mind. ...
  4. 4) Exercise on a regular basis with a large variety of challenges. ...
  5. 5) Get deep rest. ...
  6. 6) Spend time in nature.
Feb 3, 2018


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