Saturday, October 20, 2012

Super Dogs

Last May the GSD Club members took a field trip to Williston, Florida to tour The Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs facility. It was amazing to see everything those dogs can do. We got to see the kennels, heard many success stories and were given a demonstration of the types of services these dogs provide -- everything from opening refrigerators to calling 911. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the founder tell us that they use German shepherds almost exclusively. When sharing some of the training methods, we were told that they use the "Super Dog" (also called "Bio-Sensor") training with their newborn puppies. My future Breeder said she uses the same method with her puppies. So you know I had to look it up!

Probably the most informative article I found on it was Early Neurological Stimulation by Dr. Carmen Battaglia. The author advocates intentionally stressing puppies for three minutes once daily during the first 10 days of life, well before their ears and eyes are open. Five separate exercises are performed.   

1. Tactile stimulation for 3-5 seconds, while holding the pup in one hand, the handler gently stimulates (tickles) the pup between the toes on any one foot using a Q-tip. Dr. Battaglia states that it's not necessary to see that the pup feels the tickle. 

2. 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 for 3 - 5 seconds.

3. 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 for 3 - 5 seconds.

4. Supine position – the handler holds the pup so that its back is resting in the palm of both hands with its muzzle facing the ceiling for 3-5 seconds. The pup is allowed to sleep while on its back.  

5. Thermal stimulation – for 3-5 seconds the pup is placed feet down on a damp towel that has been cooled in a refrigerator for at least five minutes. The pup is not restrained from moving. 
 
So why are these puppies being stressed? According to the research:
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 . . . 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.
 
So does this actually work? I've found many, many breeders online who swear by it. I only found one skeptic at Bio-Sensor is Bad Science. However, this author's biggest complaint seemed to be with the term "Bio-Sensor" and he didn't have any evidence to refute the claims made by a Labrador breeder of:
        • Improved Cardiovascular Performance
        • Stronger Heart Beats
        • Stronger Adrenal Glands
        • More Tolerance to Stress
        • Greater Lifetime Resistance to Disease
The dissenting author didn't say that there was any actual harm done to the puppies by this handling either. My feelings are: Then what why not? What does it hurt? If nothing else, these dogs are used to being handled. I've seen fearful, poorly socialized dogs in my line of work, and it breaks my heart.

One reason I chose to get a puppy from Breeder was our similar feelings on handling and socialization. I love the fact that my puppy was born in the house and is being raised in the dining room. Although he comes from Champion bloodlines, he's being initiated into the lifestyle of beloved pet. By the time he joins our family he'll be use to cooing, kisses and belly rubs. It'll be perfectly normal for him to have his feet touched, ears checked and mouth opened. Because he's being raised in the house, Puppy won't be phased by the sounds of the microwave, the vacuum cleaner or Jeopardy on TV. 

Breeder and I had a long talk during that field trip last spring. She was trying to find a suitable stud for Zasha; I was fascinated by the logistics of artificial insemination. Logan was still with us and I wasn't even considering bringing home a puppy. (Honestly, it would have broken his heart.) We had no idea at the time that Zasha's heat cycle would be delayed by three months, or that Logan's heart would give out a month later. Maybe I should name the puppy Happenstance. Whatever his name, I should be getting another newsletter from Breeder today! I'll share, promise. Until then, -- K