Early Neurological Stimulation
Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS), is a method of applying gentle stressors to a very young animal for short periods. Some believe that ENS improves stress responses later in life. In early studies of ENS with rats, early handling (a mild stressor) resulted in pups with:
- decreased corticosterone (a stress hormone) when restrained
- less resistance to capture by a handler
- enhanced learning
- increased resistance to stress
The US Military adapted ENS (1968-1974) to improve the performance of military dogs. Their program, described by Battaglia, included specific touch strategies. These touches were applied daily during a time of purported rapid brain development. The puppies in the program reportedly benefitted from:
- improved cardiovascular and adrenal gland function
- greater tolerance to stress
- resistance to disease
Recent research has found conflicting results. There is no current scientific agreement on the effects of ENS on dogs. Some studies have found few effects of ENS.
How ENS might work is not well understood. We also don’t know what type of handling (e.g., specific touch protocols vs brief removal of the pup from the nest) is most beneficial.
One possibility is that the stress of handling or removal from the nest is beneficial. However, removing pups from the nest changes the mother’s behavior. When pups return to the nest, she is more likely to lick, clean and touch them.
Take care when handling newborn puppies. It can be a stressor for them. Some stressors may be too intense and have a negative impact on a young, developing nervous system.
At this point, we don’t have enough research to say whether ENS is beneficial to puppies. We need clarification on whether ENS can improve neurological development and reduce stress.
Gentle handling by humans is good for puppy development. Specific handling techniques, such as ENS, are not necessary. They have not been found to be better than general, gentle touch.
Boone, G., Romaniuk, A. C., Barnard, S., Shreyer, T., & Croney, C. (2022). The Effect of Early Neurological Stimulation on Puppy Welfare in Commercial Breeding Kennels. Animals, 13(1), 71.
Early Neurological Stimulation Library
Bare Bones – If you only have a few minutes for the basics
Kibble – If you want to take a deep dive into the SCIENce
The Effect of Early Neurological Stimulation on Puppy Welfare in Commercial Breeding Kennels - CRONEY RESEARCH GROUP
Effects of Early Gentling and Early Environment on Emotional Development of Puppies
Periods of Early Development and the Effects of Stimulation and Social Experiences in the Canine
Are There Long-Term Effects of Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) on Working Dogs?
Additional Resources to Support Dogs in Other Environments
SHELTER & RESCUE
Dogs living in shelter or rescue kennels face challenges specific to their living environments. Practical applications for their management and care may also differ. Additional resources for their caretakers, including those caring for dogs in home-based foster systems or rescue networks, are provided to support efforts to improve, maintain, and protect their welfare.
Dogs living in homes as family pets face challenges specific to their living environments. Practical applications for their management and care may also differ. Additional resources for their caretakers, support the human-animal bond, keep pets in their homes, and improve, maintain, and protect their welfare.
Research & Teaching
Dogs living in research or teaching kennels face challenges specific to their living environments. Practical applications for their management and care may also differ. Additional resources for their caretakers are provided to support efforts to improve, maintain, and protect their welfare.
Applications for Research & Teaching
Evaluating the Effect of Early Neurological Stimulation on the Development and Training of Mine Detection Dogs
Schoon, A. and Berntsen, T. (2011). Evaluating the effect of early neurological stimulation on the development and training of mine detection dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 6, 150-157. doi: 10.1016/j.veb.2010.09.017