In an earlier entry, back the first week the pups were born, I refer to the Early Neural Stimulation Exercises, and promised to talk about them in a little more detail. Some people have asked about what they are, and why we do them, so I’ll do my best to give such an important topic the kind of treatment it deserves.
Although I come at this from a “novice to puppy raising” and a “dogs as companions” point of view, I’m no stranger to the borzois and responsible dog care. I got my first borzoi in 1991. But while I’m a long-term dedicated borzoi lover, I’m not a show person. I have spent my decades in the breed enjoying the gentle grace, humor and silliness they bring into my life as pets. So, yes… I believe it’s in everyone’s interest within the breed to “build a better dog,” so to speak, and help the puppies that are born have a chance to grow up and reach their fullest potential – be that in the show ring, chasing the lure, or simply holding down the cushions of my couch.
The Avidog program advocates a few simple exercises that you do with puppies – daily – for the first few weeks of their lives. This involves holding them gently in several different postures, and handling their feet thoroughly. As sighthound people, we all know how important it is to have a dog comfortable with having their feet handled! Here’s what we do:
Head Up (where the pup’s head is highest)
Head Down (where the pup’s head is lowest)
Feet Down (where their feet hang down)
Feet Up (where they are on their back and their feet are up)
Foot Tickle (With a Q-Tip or other non-name brand cotton swab-on-a-stick-thingie). Be sure to get between those tiny toes!
Cold Surface. (Place the puppy on a cold damp towel, chilly pie plate, or ice pack for 3-5 seconds without restraining them.)
These exercises are cycled through, gently, spending no more than 3-5 seconds on each. You can read more about the Avidog’s entire system, Avidog University breeder training and their proven philosophy here – they’re outstanding. There are lots of good videos on You Tube of people doing the exercises with their puppies.
The exercises are done in a random order, so the puppy doesn’t know what to expect next, and become dependent on the routine.
This is also a good time to add in a scent for them to examine, as well. Leaves, grass, spices, fruit peels, soap, or if they are going to be a hunting dog or involved in anything that relies on scent discrimination, they can be introduced to the smells of their eventual trade, like bunnies, game birds or whatever they might be tracking in the future. Termites? Cocaine? Hidden stashes of illegal drug money? Hey, whatever you have lying around! These pups have gotten to check out some orange peels, spices from the kitchen, leaves, grass, dirty laundry, Errol the Cavalier and a bunch of other things – things that they’ll probably encounter in their adult lives in the future, that will smell comforting and familiar.
It’s a great idea to take notes on the whole process. As you handle each puppy daily, through their ups, downs, moods and growth spurts, you begin to get a really good feel for who each puppy really IS, and what makes them tick. Got a future drama queen? Or a tough, determined little scrapper? Or a sweet, pliant love bug? Well, you might just be able to tell early on, and that works to everyone’s benefit -especially the puppy! This is definitely a topic I want to come back to, because I have a great real life example of how this works together to match the right dog to the right home.
At this stage of their development, their little brains and nervous systems are growing like crazy, developing connections that will be with them the rest of their life. A little bit of healthy stress and the right kinds of stimulation AT THE RIGHT TIME can yield big results later on. These gentle, specific, strategic exercises put stress on a developing puppy’s body in such a way that it prepares their system to handle stressors in the best way, thus setting them up for excellence in their adult life. This type of system – coupled with advantages of great breeding – is the way to build a high achieving dog!
Anyway, I hope this sheds a little more light on the subject for anyone who was looking for a bit more information.