"DEVELOPING HIGH ACHIEVERS"
Originally published as
"Early Neurological Stimulation"
by Carmen L. Battaglia
Surprising as it may seem, it isn't capacity that explains the
differences that exist between individuals because most seem to have far more capacity than they will ever use. The differences
that exist between individuals seem to be related to something else. The ones who achieve and out perform others seem to have
within themselves the ability to use hidden resources. In other words, it's what they are able to do with what they have that
makes the difference.
In many animal-breeding programs the entire process
of selection and management is founded on the belief that performance is inherited. Attempts to analyze the genetics of performance
in a systematic way have involved some distinguished names such as Charles Darwin and Francis Galton. But it has only been
in recent decades that good estimates of heritability of performance have been based on adequate data. Cunningham (1991) in
his study of horses found that only by using Timeform data, and measuring groups of half brothers and half sisters could good
estimates of performance be determined. His data shows 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 a good basis for understanding how much breeders can attribute to the genetics and the pedigrees.
Researchers have studied this phenomena and have looked for new ways to stimulate individuals in order
to improve their natural abilities. Some of the methods discovered have produced life long lasting effects. Today, many of
the differences between individuals can now be explained by the use of early stimulation methods.
Man for centuries has tried various methods to improve
performance. Some of the methods have stood the test of time, others have not. Those who first conducted research on this
topic believed that the period of early age was a most important time for stimulation because of its rapid growth and development.
Today, we know that early life is a time when the physical immaturity of an organism is susceptible and responsive to a restricted
but important class of stimuli. Because of its importance many studies have focused their efforts on the first few months
Newborn pups are uniquely different than adults in
several respects. When born their eyes are closed and their digestive system has a limited capacity requiring periodic stimulation
by their dam who routinely licks them in order to promote digestion. 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 noted that these immature and under-developed canines are sensitive to a restricted
class of stimuli which includes thermal, and tactile stimulation, motion and locomotion.
Other mammals such as mice and rats are also born with
limitations and they also have been found to demonstrate a similar sensitivity to the effects of early stimulation. Studies
show that removing them from their nest for three minutes each day during the first five to ten days of life causes body temperatures
to fall below normal. This mild form of stress is sufficient to stimulate 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 stress exercises. As adults, they responded to stress in "a graded" fashion, while their non-stressed littermates responded
in an "all or nothing way."
Data involving laboratory mice and rats also shows
that stress in small amounts can produce adults who respond maximally. On the other hand, the results gathered from non-stressed
littermate show that they become easily exhausted and would near death if exposed to intense prolonged stress. When tied down
so they were unable to move for twenty-four hours, rats developed severe stomach ulcers, but litter mates exposed to early
stress handling were found to be more resistant to stress tests and did not show evidence of ulcers. A secondary affect was
Sexual maturity was attained sooner in the littermates
given early stress exercises. When tested for differences in health and disease, the stressed animals were found to be more
resistant to certain forms of cancer and infectious diseases and could withstand terminal starvation and exposure to cold
for longer periods than their non-stressed littermates. Other studies involving early stimulation exercises have been successfully
performed on both cats and dogs. In these studies, the Electrical Encephalogram (EEG) was found to be ideal for measuring
the electrical activity in the brain because of its extreme sensitivity to changes in excitement, emotional stress, muscle
tension, changes in oxygen and breathing. EEG measures show that pups and kittens when given early stimulation exercises mature
at faster rates and perform better in certain problem solving tests than non-stimulated mates. In the higher level animals
the effect of early stimulation exercises have also been studied. The use of surrogate mothers and familiar objects were tested
by both of the Kelloggs' and Dr. Yearkes using young chimpanzees. Their pioneer research shows that the more primates were
deprived of stimulation and interaction during early development, the less able they were to cope, adjust and later adapt
to situations as adults.
While experiments have not yet produced specific information about
the optimal amounts of stress needed to make young animals psychologically or physiologically superior, researches agree that
stress has value. What also is known is that a certain amount of stress for one may be too intense for another, and that too
much stress 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 stress can cause pathological adversities rather than physical or psychological
Methods of Stimulation
The U.S. Military in their canine program developed a method that still serves as a guide to what works. In an
effort to improve the performance of dogs used for military purposes, a program called "Bio Sensor" was developed. Later,
it became known to the public as the "Super Dog" Program. Based on years of research, the military learned that early neurological
stimulation exercises could have important and lasting effects. 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. It is believed that because this interval of time is a period of
rapid neurological growth and development, and therefore is of great importance to the individual.
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:
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. It is not necessary to see that the pup is feeling the tickle. Time of stimulation
3 - 5 seconds.
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
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
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.
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
will produce neurological stimulations, none of which naturally occur during this early period of life. Experience shows that
sometimes pups will resist these exercises, others will appear unconcerned. In either case a caution is offered to those who
plan to use them. Do not repeat them more than once per day and do not extend the time beyond that recommended for each exercise.
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 would be normally expected. The result being an increased capacity that later
will help to make the difference in its performance. Those who play with their pups and routinely handle them should continue
to do so because the neurological exercises are not substitutions for routine handling, play socialization or bonding.
Benefits of Stimulation
Five benefits have been observed in canines that were
exposed to the Bio Sensor 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 littermates over which they were dominant in competitive
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 littermates were
less disturbed or upset by test conditions and when comparisons were made, the stimulated littermates were more calm in the
test environment, made fewer errors and gave only an occasional distress when stressed.
As each animal grows and develops three kinds of stimulation
have been identified that impact and influence how it will develop and be shaped as an individual. The first stage is called
early neurological stimulation, and the second stage is called socialization. The first two (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 states
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 first and perhaps the most noted research efforts involving the larger animals was achieved
by Kellogg & Kellogg (1933). As a student of Dr. Kellogg's I found him and his wife to have an uncanny interest in children
and young animals and the changes and the differences that occurred during early development. Their history making study involved
raising their own new born child with a new born primate. Both infants were raised together as if they were twins. This study
like others that would follow attempted to demonstrate that among the mammals there are great differences in their speed of
physical and mental development. Some are born relatively mature and quickly capable of motion and locomotion, while others
are very immature, immobile and slow to develop. For example, the Rhesus monkey shows rapid and precocious development at
birth, while the chimpanzee and the other "great apes" take much longer. Last and slowest is the human infant.
One of the earliest efforts to investigate and look
for the existence of socialization in canines was undertaken by Scott-Fuller (1965). In their early studies they 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. They observed that with the higher level animals it is easiest done
by hand rearing. When the foster animal transfers its social relationships to the new species, researchers conclude that socialization
has taken place. Most researchers agree that among all species, a lack of adequate socialization generally results in unacceptable
behavior and often times produces undesirable aggression, excessiveness, fearfulness, sexual inadequacy, and indifference
Socialization studies confirm that the critical periods
for humans (infant) to be stimulated are generally between three weeks and twelve months of age. For canines the period is
shorter, between the 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, adversely affects
social and psychological development.
Second, over mothering can prevent sufficient exposure
to other individuals, and situations that have an important influence on growth and development. The literature shows that
humans and animals respond in similar ways when denied minimal amounts of stimulation. In humans, the absence of love and
cuddling increases the risk of an aloof, distant, asocial or sociopathic individual. Over mothering can also have its detrimental
effects. It occurs when a patient insulates the child from outside contacts, or keeps the apron strings tight, thus limiting
opportunities to explore and interact. In the end, over mothering generally produces a dependent, socially maladjusted and
sometimes emotionally disturbed individual.
The absence of outside social interactions for both
children and pups 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 pets to be neglected. Left to themselves with only an occasional trip out of the
house or off of the property they seldom see other canines or strangers 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).
It seems clear that small amounts of stress followed
by early socialization can produce beneficial results. The danger seems to be in not knowing where the thresholds are for
over and under stimulation. Many improperly socialized youngsters develop into older individuals unprepared for adult life,
unable to cope with its challenges, and interactions. Attempts to re-socialize them when adults have only produced small gains.
These failures confirm the notion that the window of time open for early neurological and social stimulation only comes once.
After it passes, little or nothing 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 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 reared in an enriched environment tend to be more inquisitive and are more able to perform difficult tasks. The educational
TV program called Sesame Street is perhaps the best known example of a children's
enrichment program. The results show that when tested, children who regularly watched this program performed better than playmates
who did not. Follow up studies show that those who regularly watched Sesame tend to seek a college education and when enrolled,
performed better than playmates who were not regular watchers of the Sesame Street Program.
There are numerous children studies that show the benefits of enrichment
techniques and programs. Most focus on improving self-esteem and self-talk. Follow up studies show that the enriched Sesame Street students when later tested were brighter and scored above average and most often were found to be the
products of environments that contributed to their superior test scores. On the other hand, those whose test scores were generally
below average, (labeled as dull) and the products of underprivileged or non- enriched environments often times had little
or only small amounts of stimulation during early childhood and only minimal amounts of enrichment during their developmental
and formative years. Many were characterized as children who grew up with little interaction with others, poor parenting,
few toys, no books and a steady diet of TV soap operas.
A similar analogy can be found among canines. 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. These pups
in many respects were similar to the deprived children. They acted as if they had become institutionalized, 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. Chasing and retrieving a ball on the surface seems to
be enriching because it provides exercise and includes rewards. While repeated attempts to retrieve a ball provide much physical
activity, it should not be confused with enrichment exercises. Such playful activities should be used for exercise and play
or as a reward after returning from a trip or training session. Road work and chasing balls are not substitutes for trips
to the shopping mall, outings or obedience classes most of which provide many opportunities for interaction and investigation.
Finally it seems clear that stress early in life can produce beneficial
results. The danger seems to be in not knowing where the thresholds are for over and under stimulation. However, the absence
or the lack of adequate amounts of stimulation generally will produce negative and undesirable results. Based on the above
it is fair to say that the performance of most individuals can be improved including the techniques described above. Each
contributes in a cumulative way and supports the next stage of development.
Breeders can now take advantage of the information available
to improve and enhance performance. Generally, genetics account of about 35% of the performance but the remaining 65% (management,
training, nutrition) can make the difference. In the management category it has been shown that breeders should be guided
by the rule that it is generally considered prudent to guard against under and over stimulation. Short of ignoring pups during
their first two months of life, a conservative approach would be to expose them to children, people, toys and other animals
on a regular basis. Handling and touching all parts of their anatomy is also necessary to learn as early as the third day
of life. Pups that are handled early and on a regular basis, generally do not become hand shy as adults.
Because of the risks involved in under stimulation
a conservative approach to using the benefits of the three stages has been suggested based primarily on the works of Arskeusky,
Kellogg, Yearkes and the "Bio Sensor" program (later known as the "Super Dog Program").
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 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,
Kellogg, W.N. & Kellogg, The Ape and the Child, New York: McGraw
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carmen L Battaglia holds a Ph.D. and Masters Degree from Florida State University. As an AKC judge, researcher and writer, he has been a leader in promotion of breeding better dogs and has written
many articles and several books.Dr. Battaglia is also a popular TV and radio talk show speaker. His seminars on breeding dogs,
selecting sires and choosing puppies have been well received by the breed clubs all over the country. Those interested in
learning more about his articles and seminars should visit the website http://www.breedingbetterdogs.com