Are there long-term effects of early neurological stimulation (ENS) on working dogs?

Irit Gazit, Joseph Terkel, Allen Goldblatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Early neurological stimulation (ENS) has been defined as the application of five specific brief daily manipulations to pups from birth until 2–3 weeks of age (Battaglia, 2009). This approach has been adopted by many kennels and promoted as a means to improve the future performance of 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. Since the purported benefits are large and the required manipulations are minor, we sought: a) to evaluate the effects of ENS on self-confidence, motivation, and aggressive/defensive behavior in pups from 2 months of age until 12 months; and b) to determine whether ENS increased the probability of dogs being considered as suitable for further training as working dogs. We used a split-litter design where half of the pups received the ENS manipulations, and the other half were a control group that was simply held for the same amount of time required by the ENS manipulations. Our results indeed show that the ENS treated dogs are more likely to be accepted for such training than were the control pups but that differences in behavior only appeared at testing on months 10 and 12. We suggest two reasons for our results. First, immediately after the ENS manipulations, the ENS pups probably were a bit more socialized than the control pups. This resulted in the caregivers spending more time with the ENS pups which further increased the discrepancy in socialization between the ENS and control pups. Second, since the caregivers were aware of the ENS manipulation their expectations resulted in more positive interactions with the pups resulting in improved behavior; a phenomenon known as the Pygmalion effect.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105588
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume249
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Keywords

  • Dogs
  • ENS
  • Early experience
  • Handler expectations
  • Pygmalion effect

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