Comment: The Army attempted to breed a super dog in the late 60s.
The program was managed by the head of the Army Vet Corp (Colonel
Castleberry), located at Walter Reed Medical Center, DC. German Shepherds
share a genetic hip disorder that is common in all large breeds--hip
dysplasia. This disorder crippled and eliminated many dogs from military
service. It became hard to acquire decent German Shepherds as the puppy
mills bred for volume not quality. The size of the American bred German
Shepherd decreased over the years.
The results of the experiment arrived at
the Lackland Dog School in the early 70's. The Army called the dogs
Bio-Sensor, we called them Super Dogs. The Army had closed down its scout
dog program and no longer needed the dogs.
The dogs resembled a German Shepherd, but
most had a far away look in their eyes. The initial litters had been raised
in a kennel environment. When the dogs were exposed to common elements of an
outside environment (birds, grass, etc), they were afraid, confused and
Instructors of one class with several of
these dogs demonstrated how the dogs refused to cross a line painted on the
pavement. Other Instructors joked with them about how cheap it would be to
kennel them. All you had to do was paint a circle around a doghouse.
Later litters were taken outside to run and
play in a fenced in obstacle course area. This was an attempt to socialize
them to the outdoors. Many of these dogs then associated a obstacle course
as a play area and could not be controlled easily off leash.
The dogs that were trainable did exhibit
superior intelligence. Some would learn very quickly, then become bored
unless the training problems became more complex. however, many were unable
to complete the training. Dogs washed out of patrol dog classes were entered
into sentry dog classes. After several more unsuccessful attempts to train
them, they were put to sleep.
The expense of breeding these particular
dogs was several thousand dollars each. The dogs would not be released to
the public after being exposed to aggression training due to liability
reasons. Dogs that were not trainable were destroyed. At this time, the DOD
Dog Center was purchasing German Shepherds for only a few hundred dollars.
A breeding program that was successful was
developed by the Australian government. Even in the 70's, the Australian
military was breeding dogs for military and police use. In 1998, Australian
Customs donated foundation breeding stock and methodology to U.S. Customs to
enable them to enhance their detector dogs program. Since research began for
the Customs selective breeding program, over 357 dogs have been bred. The
DOD Dog Center developed a breeding program for military dogs. Puppies are
placed in foster homes to raise them until they can start basic training.
Carmen L Battaglia
Originally published as "Early Neurological Stimulation"
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
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 of life.
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 superiority.
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:
stimulation (between toes)
Tactile stimulation |
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
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 (Figure 2).
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 (Figure 3).
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. (Figure 4)
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. (Figure 5)
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
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
- Greater resistance to
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. 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 toward partners.
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
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
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
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.
C.L., "Loneliness and Boredom" Doberman Quarterly, 1982.
- Kellogg, W.N. & Kellogg,
The Ape and the Child, New York: McGraw Hill.
- 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
Across The Pacific, breeding better dogs!