Ratesdownload (1)
Skyscraper 3
August K9_DEADLINES_2024-2025August K9_DEADLINES_2024-2025
Skyscraper 4

Training Advantage from the Superdog Program

Click here to read the complete article

360 – February, 2015

Nutrition and Early Life Experiences During the First Year of Life

“Success depends on what you know”

 By Dr. Carmelo L. Battaglia

For centuries man has used various methods to improve the performance of their dogs. History is full of examples that demonstrate the importance of nutrition and experiences during early life to improve our dogs. Today we know much more about what can and should be done during the first year of life. In the early breeding programs, the entire process of selection was founded on the belief that performance was inherited. By the 1950s, researchers proved that other variables, such as nutrition and early stimulation, were important, especially when it was discovered that the immaturity of a newborn is susceptible and responsive to a restricted but important class of stimuli. During the past 25 years research has continued to advance new information on how supplements and nutrition can be used during the fetal stage. The following is a review of the literature that summarizes and uncovers some interesting facts about the importance of early life.

During the past century, the factors known to improve and affect early behavior and influence later development began changing. Nutritional and behavioral research shows that when they are combined, behavior can be influenced. To this end three sequential time-sensitive periods have been identified. The first period begins with gestation and the fetal stage which is called the Neonatal or Primary Period. It begins when the female is bred and lasts from the birth of a litter up to three weeks of life. The second period is called socialization which lasts from 4 to 14 weeks of age. The third is called enrichment which is from 14 weeks to 52 weeks of age.


Scientists studying dogs and rodents found that behavior can be affected by factors as early as in the uterus (Thomson, Hart and Hart). Using rodents, they discovered that the nervous system of the fetus was sensitive to hormones through the placenta, and that such a hormonal influence can affect future behavior. Experiments with rats showed that postnatal oxytocin treatment and stroking resulted in lowering blood pressure (Holst et al). More recently, Kelley and Hoffman, using DHA as a nutritional supplement, studied dogs using three colonies of dams. They began by supplementing the daily diets of dams in each colony beginning with their gestation period throughout the weaning period and until the pups were 14 weeks of age. The three colonies of dams were labeled “a”, “abs”; “b”. Each colony was fed a different amount of DHA, from low, to medium, to high. The three levels of DHA supplementation were continued through gestation, weaning and until the pups were 14 weeks old which is the time when a puppy’s brain is 90% developed. At 14 weeks, the pups were tested using an object recognition test that evaluated the differences between the pups in each colony. Figure 1 shows the differences in test scores for pups in each colony.

Effect of Maternal and

Post-Weaning Diet on Puppy Trainability

Figure 1 shows the significant advantage of the pups from colony “b” that were fed the enhanced (high) level of DHA. These data show that performance can be improved through the use of DHA as a food supplement. One can conclude from these results that those with the highest test scores were smarter and likely to be the more trainable pups.

In addition to the use of supplements, others investigated certain aspects of early life (Dunbar, Pfaffenberger, Scott, Fuller and Fox). At Bar Harbor, Maine, Scott and Fuller (1965) called this early period just after birth, “a special time in life when a small amount of experience will produce a great effect on later behavior”. It was also reported that puppies begin to learn as early as birth, and “from seven weeks to sixteen weeks they are going to learn the things which will form their character as adults.” (Pfaffenberger 1963b). Dunbar (1985) reported that newborn puppies were able to respond to certain stimuli even though they had limited motor capacity and lived in a “sensory void”. In spite of these shortcomings, he found they were responsive to touch and movement. Another scientist, Fox (1971), showed that pups, when exposed to early stimulating exercises, matured at faster rates when measured by elcetroencephalographic changes. He found that stimulated pups performed better in certain problem-solving tests than non-stimulated littermates.

Maternal Influence

Researchers continued to look for more information and noticed that during the first weeks of life following birth a dam influences and stimulates her pups in many ways that result in their learning through daily interactions with her. These interactions have long been known to be meaningful and serve as the common denominator that transcends most species. Among the canines, the maternal influence includes licking, gestures, eye contact and body language. Through daily interactions the dam shapes and influences learning and subsequent adult behavior. Other species use different modes to influence and shape behavior, but nonetheless, the maternal influence is present. For example, Krual (2010), found that trained rats could be used to detect mines planted by the Colombian drug traffickers who were killing about 1,000 people each year. The rebels, principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, planted mines to defend encampments from soldiers and cocaine plantations from peasants hired to eradicate the crops. Using a project in Tanzania as a model, Colombian scientists taught rats to detect mines buried as deep as three feet.

In the wild, the maternal influence provides important lessons that are used to develop the young and ensure their survival. Good examples of this can be found among the large cats. Unless a lion teaches her cubs to hunt, they are not good at it as adults. Cubs learn to hunt efficiently and perfect this skill by watching and then participating with their mother as she hunts. Orphaned cubs who do not participate with their mothers or other adults do not become good hunters and many will starve unless rescued by humans. Observation coupled with participation plays a key role in learning and separates the poor from the excellent hunters. Since most puppies live together with their mother and siblings until they are eight to ten weeks of age, it is not unreasonable to expect that a similar effect exists in canines.

Based on these findings Slabbert (2001) studied the effect of extended maternal contact (12 weeks) and found several important characteristics about dams and their maternal influence. His data shows that for those who keep a puppy beyond eight weeks, their behavior could be improved if the pups are allowed to observe their own mothers perform a learned skill. They show the importance and practical value of allowing pups to watch their trained mothers work. His findings are summarized below:

1. Pups who observed their own trained mothers work performed much better when tested as adults than other pups.

2. Those weaned and separated from their trained mothers at six weeks, including those left with another untrained adult up to 12 weeks of age, had significantly lower performance ratings when tested as adults.

3. Early separation from their mother had a negative effect on physical conditioning, weight gain and the susceptibility to disease.

These findings show that this method is a viable option for those who use conventional training methods.

In another attempt to further our understanding of early experiences, Gazzano (2007) studied the effects of gentling and its effect on the emotional stability of puppies. His study compared littermates. Half of each litter was gently handled daily from the third day postpartum until the twenty-first day of life. The other half was not handled. His study showed a statistically significant difference between handled and non-handled pups. Those that were handled showed lower levels of reactivity and were calmer as they grew and developed. These results are consistent with other studies and further suggest the importance of using diverse experiences as a way to influence later development.

PRIMARY PERIOD (3-16 days)

Battaglia reported on the success of the Bio-Sensor program which used early neurological stimulation between three and sixteen days of age. His paper showed the importance of the dam’s role during the primary period when newborn immature pups were unable to survive without constant supervision and stimulation from their dam. At this age, basic body functions are limited to: digestion, urination and defecation, all of which depend on the interaction and stimulation from their dam. They are uniquely different from adults in several respects. When born, their eyes are closed and they are only able to smell, suck, and crawl. They are unable to maintain their body temperature and must sleep close to their mother or crawl into piles with other littermates. The list below highlights the extent of their immaturity and lack of functionality.


• Can: suck, crawl, smell and have limited vision

• Cannot: maintain body heat or digest food without help

• Cannot: shiver, urinate or defecate without stimulation from dam

• Have: sub-normal body temperature, elevated heart beats

Body temperatures at:

• 1 week = 96-97 degrees

• 2 weeks = 97-98 degrees

• 3 weeks = 98-99 degrees

• 4 weeks = 100 degrees

Other indicators of immaturity

• Heart rate at birth = 200 beats/minute

• Body weight doubles in 7-10 days

Early Neurological Stimulation

The effects of early stimulation was also studied in primates (chimpanzees) by Kellogg and Yerkes using surrogate mothers. Their pioneer research found 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. This early research helped the U.S. Military, in their canine program called “Bio Sensor”. In an effort to improve the performance of dogs used in the Viet Nam War, the US Department of Defense conducted a research effort to study the effect of early neurological stimulating exercises and their important and lasting effects. These studies confirmed that there are specific time periods early in life when early neurological stimulation has optimum results. The Bio-Sensor program showed that many benefits resulted when pups were stimulated between 3-16 days of life. Five exercises were used which do not naturally occur during this early period. The benefits derived from these five stimulations when administered once each day are listed below. The popularity of these exercises quickly became associated with this program and it later became known as the “Super Dog” Program.


1. Improved cardiovascular performance (heart rate)

2. Stronger heartbeats

3. Stronger adrenal glands

4. More tolerance to stress

5. Greater resistance to disease

Denenberg studied another aspect of stimulation in early life and noted that early experiences can also adversely affect learning and must be used with caution (i.e. too much stress can cause pathologic adversities rather than physical or psychological superiority). The threshold for over- and under-stimulation and all of the dangers involved are not known. A full discussion of early neurological stimulating exercises was written by Battaglia and can be found at www.breedingbetterdogs.com (articles). Look for the paper titled “Early Neurological Stimulation”.


This period extends from four to fourteen weeks of age. Studies about this period show that small amounts of stimulation and stress during the Primary and Socialization periods can produce beneficial results (Fox, Scott and Fuller). For example, under-socialized pups will oftentimes develop into older individuals unprepared for adult life and unable to cope with its many challenges. Attempts to re-socialize poorly-socialized pups when they become adults often produce only small gains which suggest that the window of opportunity for stimulation and socialization may only come once after which little or nothing can be done to overcome the negative effects of too much or too little stimulation. Fox (1972) showed that pups not socialized or given opportunities to explore and learn in places away from their kennel, when given free choice, prefer to stay in their kennels, while other littermates who were given only small amounts of outside simulation between five and eight weeks of age became inquisitive and willing to explore, For example, when kennel doors were left open, the pups exposed to outside influences came bounding out, while littermates who were not exposed to new and different experiences remained behind. Non-stimulated pups typically are fearful of unfamiliar objects and generally preferred to withdraw rather than investigate. Even the well-bred pups from superior pedigrees would not explore or leave their kennels and many were found difficult to train as adults. Those not exposed to new and different experiences 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.

During the past 25 years dog parks have emerged as places devoted to the exercise of dogs. They have become popular among dog owners who have busy lifestyles with long and tiring work days. Their pets are often left alone and at times neglected. With only an occasional trip out of the house or off of the property, these pets seem to enjoy the outdoors of the dog park. While useful to their owners, many of these pets seldom see new places or strangers and oftentimes develop differently than those who are socialized using exposure to a broad range of experiences. The result is that many suffer from loneliness and boredom. The side-effects of which manifest in the form of chewing, digging and hard-to-control behavior (Battaglia, 1958). These problems are well-known to the shelters, rescue groups and dog trainers. What underlies many of these behavioral problems can be explained by the lack of early life experiences.


This paper reviewed many of the methods used to influence development using nutritional supplements, early neurological stimulation, the maternal influence, handling, socialization and enrichment exercises. Each has been used to help shape later canine behavior. The research presented points to some of the specific methods and techniques that are useful, and when combined, help develop better adults. These methods are generally known to avoid the problems associated with excessive barking, fearfulness, food possiveness and destructive behavior. By combining these findings, superior adults are being developed. This information has practical value to those who train performance and companion dogs especially those with an interest in Seeing Eye, FEMA, Search and Rescue, hunting, obedience, rally, agility, tracking and working dogs.

A more in-depth discussion of these topics is available on the breeder’s website. www.breedingbetterdogs.com


• Battaglia, C. 2008. Periods of early development and the effects of stimulation and social experiences in the canine. J. Veterinary Behavior

• Battaglia, C., 1956. Loneliness and boredom, National German Shepherd Dog Magazine, Oct. 16- 26.

• Battaglia, C. 2009. Breeding Dogs to Win. BEI Publications, Atlanta, Georgia.

• Denenberg, V., Kline, J., 1964. Stimulus intensity versus critical periods; a test of two hypotheses concerning infantile stimulation. Canad. J. Psychol. 18: 1-5.

• Dunbar, 1., 1985. Socialization, Center for Applied Animal Behavior, Berkeley, CA. First published in 1933 by McGraw Hill, reprinted in 1967 by Hafner.

• Dunbar, I., 1979. Dog Behavior, T.F. H. Publications Inc., Neptune, NJ. pp. 15-34.

• Fox, M., 1971. Integrative Development of Brain and Behavior in the Dog, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Il. Pp. 225-233.

• Fox, M., 1972. Understanding Your Dog, Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, Inc. New York, NY., pp. 74, 100-108.

• Fox, M., Stelzner, D., 1966. Behavioral effects of differential early experience in the dog. Anim. Behav. 14, 273–281.

• Fuller, J., 1955. Hereditary differences in trainability of purebred dogs. J. Genet. Psychol. 87, 229–238.

• Gazzano, A. et al., 2008.Effects of early gentling and early environment on emotional development of puppies, Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 110, 294-304.

• Hart, B., Hart, L., 1985. Canine and Feline Behavioral Therapy. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia.

• Holst. S., Uvas-Moberg, K., Petersson, M., 2002. Postnatal oxytocin treatment and post natal stroking of rats reduce blood pressure in adulthood, Auto. Newosci. Basic Clinic, 99, 85- 90.

• Kelley, R. 2001. Canine reproductive management: factors influencing litter size. Annual Conference / Society for Theriogenology, Lexington, Ky., pp. 263-272.

• Kelley, R. 2005. Improving puppy trainability through nutrition, Proceedings symposium at the federation of animal science societies FASS, Cincinnati, OH, pg. 11-13.

• Kelley, R., Hoffman, L., Waltz, D., 2004. For smarter more trainable puppies: effect of docosahexaenoic acid on puppy trainability. Iams, Eukanuba and Eukanuba veterinary diets, Dayton, OH.

• Kellogg, W.N., Kellogg, E., 1933. The Ape and the Child; McGraw Hill, Hightstown, New York, New York.

• Kraul, C. 2010. A rat patrol for minefields in columbia, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA. Dec 4, p. A. 3.

• Pfaffenberger, C., 1963. The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior. Howell Book House, Inc., New York, N.Y. pp. 192-194.

• Scott, J, Bielfelt, S., 1976. Analysis of the puppy-testing program. In: Pfaffenberger, C.J. (Ed.), Guide Dogs for the Blind: Their Selection, Development, and Training. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 39–76.

• Scott, J., Fuller, J., 1965. Dog Behavior -The Genetic Basics, U. Chicago Press, Chicago, Il. Pp 117.

• Scott, J.P., Fuller, J.L., 1965. Genetics and the Social Behaviour of the Dog. University Chicago Press, Chicago.

• Slabbert 2005. Strandberg, E., Jacobsson, J., and Saetre, P., Direct genetic, maternal and litter effects on behavior in german shepherd dogs in Sweden. Livestock Prod. Sci. 93: 33-42.

• Thomson, W., 1957. Influence of prenatal maternal anxiety on emotionality in young rats. Science 125, 698– 699.

• Yearkes, R., 1916. The mental life of monkeys and apes, a study of ideational behavior. Beh. Monogr. 12: 824

Short URL: http://caninechronicle.com/?p=70298

Posted by on Feb 24 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed


  • July 2024