As a breeder, we are trying to make sure that our pups are getting the best start in their life, which is why we use ENS.
ENS – Early Neurological Stimulation is a method of stimulating the nervous systems of the puppies during the early stages of their development – from birth until they start their independence.
In discussions of how to best support puppy development and welfare, factors such as the puppy’s growth or time spent with its mother and littermates are often considered. Recently, the amount and type of environmental enrichment provided to puppies in the form of toys, walks or playtime outdoors, and interactions with humans and other animals have also become important considerations. Simple interactions early in a puppy’s life may additionally increase its ability to learn and cope successfully with stress later on, thus leading to better welfare outcomes. 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. The stressors—which often include removing animals from their litters for short periods, very briefly exposing them to cool temperatures, holding them in different positions, and gently touching parts of their bodies – are applied for a few seconds, once a day, for at least 10 days.
The link between stress and activation of the endocrine system is well known. The release of glucocorticoids (a class of stress hormones) from the adrenal cortex following stress affects many processes in the body. These changes are the basis for the body’s “fight or 2 VA-24-W Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS): Implications for canine welfare and management flight” response. The effects of short-term, mild stress can be beneficial, creating “robustness” in the body and preparing it to deal more effectively with stressors later in life (Levine, 1960; and reviewed in Meaney, 2001; Pryce and Feldon, 2003). However, not all stress is equal. High-intensity or long-term stress is often detrimental, either because of overwhelming the body’s ability to respond, or leading to negative side effects from a sustained “fight-or-flight” process, which depletes energy and the ability to resist disease (Selye, 1956). Studies of ENS began with rat pups, and currently, most of the published work in this area is rodentfocused. Rat pups handled early in life were much less fearful when exposed to an auditory stimulus (Schaefer, 1963), had lower corticosterone levels when restrained by a person (Plotsky and Meaney, 1993), and were less resistant to being captured after stress (Núñez et al., 1996). These findings have since generated interest in exploring the effects of ENS in other species, including dogs.
As is the case for rodents, it is believed that ENS may provide stimulation to the developing puppy’s endocrine system and cause him/her to develop more ability to deal with stressful events later in life. This may lead to better learning and an improved ability to cope with adversity. Though some of this belief stems from the benefits of ENS shown in other species, it has also been advanced by unpublished work conducted as part of a US Military Working Dog (MWD) training program called “Bio Sensor,” later discussed by Battaglia (2009). Specific claims on the effects of “Bio Sensor” listed in Battaglia’s discussion include “improved” heart rate, “stronger” heartbeats and adrenal glands, and increased stress tolerance and disease resistance (Battaglia, 2009), although how these effects were measured was not specified. The “Bio Sensor” program exercises included the following:
- Tactile Stimulation: the puppy is “tickled” between the foot pads on any one foot with a Q-Tip (3-5 seconds).
- Head Erect: the puppy is held perpendicular to the ground with both hands, orienting its head above its tail (3-5 seconds)
- Head Down: the puppy is held perpendicular to the ground with both hands, orienting its tail above its head (3-5 seconds).
- Supine: the puppy rests with its back in the palms of both hands, with its nose oriented toward the ceiling (3-5 seconds).
- Thermal Stimulation: a damp towel is placed in fridge for at least 5 minutes; place puppy on towel on all fours and do not restrain movement (3-5 seconds).
This is what has been done with puppies from birth until 3 weeks of age. You can read more about ENS on internet.