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EARLY LEARNING PROGRAM - HIGHLIGHTS


**Please note:  Early stimulation, and the other early work we do, like most things can be good or bad.  It all depends on your knowledge and experience.  If not performed correctly, it can be dangerous!  Extreme caution should be exercised to avoid excessive stress to the puppies, especially during certain developmental periods. 

Before you consider buying a puppy from a breeder, or anywhere else for that matter, be sure they incorporate an early learning program for their puppies.  Meet the parents of the puppies, tour the facility, do your homework!


Our program is based on the research of animal behaviorists, researchers and experts such as Scott & Fuller, Fox, Pfaffenberger, Freeman, Appleby and others. Our early learning program is based on concepts derived from these animal behavior researchers, as well as our practical experience of puppy training/rearing, working with our puppies, and from litters we are asked to consult on.  We believe that young puppies should have the opportunity to develop emotionally, socially and physically from the moment they're born.  This is done through exposure to a variety of activities and exercises that are necessary to enable an optimal learning experience.  Working with puppies at this neo-natal and early age instills a deep rooted bond to humans, gives them a solid foundation for all future endeavors, builds confidence, fosters enthusiasm for training, instills a willingness to be of service (in the case of a working dog future), and so much more. Our early learning focus is on developing puppies to their fullest potential, helping explore, learn, achieve... making them a puppy prodigy!  And reducing the possibility of the mature dog ending up in a shelter because of behavioral issues.

Puppies continue to spend time with their littermates and mother to learn proper canine social behavior while at the same time we foster an environment that provides a comprehensive learning platform to build the human-canine bond, enrich the puppies spirit, increase their social skills, build confidence, exercise their bodies, and stimulate their minds.  We ensure that puppies are given the right balance of stimulation, play and rest so they enjoy learning and never feel overwhelmed.  We devote a significant amount of time to human socialization because we strive to develop a puppy who is confident, yet socially dependent which is a good combination of traits for assistance work. 

All puppies should be whelped and raised in a home environment to mimic their future role which facilitate a balance of a calm atmosphere, day-to-day activities, constant care, and learning opportunities.  We want puppies to grow up in an environment that is conducive to their future role as service dog, or pet dog. We feel a home rich in stimulus will be conditioned in their developing brain.  Our program consists of structured protocols based on very specific developmental timelines in the young puppy, and includes two components.  The first component focuses on human social bonding, imprinting, stimulation, conditioning, enrichment, habituation and socialization which are strategically implemented and include the following which are described below if you scroll further down the page:

The second component of our program focuses on training and helps advance the puppy's intellectual development.  They have a natural curiosity, and we find it extremely easy to teach them an array of behaviors beginning at about 18 days of age.  Assistance dog puppies have learned to tug doors open at 4 1/2 weeks, turn lights on at 6 1/2 weeks, and so much more.  This is because of their developmental processes at this age, as well as their enjoyment of training and eagerness to learn.  We use reward based training with positive reinforcement which includes clicker training and lure/reward training.  This early training helps build confidence and problem solving skills.  Some of the behaviors and skills that are taught are:


 

PRENATAL CARE
Stress reactions by the dam during gestation can be passed on to her puppies, so take great care in providing a calm, non-stressful prenatal environment.  Also ensure the mother receives proper exercise, nutrition and attention.  By providing these measures you'll be able to produce puppies with a better start to life.

If  you're a rescue or shelter, you can help the dam with these exercises as well.

 

 

 

PRENATAL STIMULATION
Studies have shown that when a pregnant animal is petted, the litter is more docile.  The petting activates the parasympathetic system, facilitating relaxation, emotional attachment and socialization.  Puppies from a petted mother have a greater tolerance to handling than puppies from a mother that is not petted. 

There is also an array of other relaxation therapies such as soothing music, aromatherapy, massage, TTouch and other therapies to provide the best pre-natal environment to doggie mothers!

 

PRENATAL VIBRATIONAL THERAPY
We have developed a vibrational therapy program which includes vibrations delivered to the pups through a device held against the mother's belly.  These various simulations are used in an effort to help the puppies begin their socialization and awareness process pre-natally.  Using this stimulation has showed increased activity of the pups in the womb.

 

BIOTINUS TESTING
We start getting to know our puppies in the immediate moments after their birth by performing the Biotinus test, also known as the vigor for life test.  We combine these results with all our other exercises, tests, observations, etc to get a better understanding of each individual puppy and their potential future.

 

 

 

NEUROLOGICAL STIMULATION
We utilize neurologic stimulation based on Dr. Fox's research as well as the U.S. Military's "Bio-Sensor" program.  Incorporating exercises from both sources, our puppies are gently handled using a series of exercises to produce brain wave activity that would not naturally occur otherwise.  Early brain development is enhanced by creating more neuro synapses.   This early stimulation has significant and lasting effects which include improved future performance as well as the ability to withstand stress better than pups that are not-stimulated. 

 

IMPRINTING
Imprinting is a form of learning which occurs from birth to 16 weeks of age and includes behavior patterns which are developing, attachments to people, and preferences for stimuli they've been exposed to.  We facilitate this process with various stimuli and activities so the puppies will have a low fear, low anxiety association during this critical window of opportunity

 

HUMAN SOCIAL ATTACHMENT & BONDING
To facilitate the human/animal bond in our puppies, we begin human social attachment and bonding exercises from the moment the puppies are born, and continue throughout their stay.  We want puppies very closely bonded to humans, but not so dependent that they suffer from separation anxiety in the future.  We strive for a balance of dependence and independence.

 

HANDLING & TOUCH CONDITIONING/DESENSITIZATION
We provide gentle daily handling from the day the puppies are born which has been shown to improve their ability to thrive.  In addition, touch conditioning and desensitization is provided by manipulating their bodies so puppies are accustomed to being touched in various ways, resulting in low body sensitivity.  This conditioning allows for their positive associations and interaction with people, which in turn produces puppies that prefer human interaction opposed to other dogs or the environment.  The desensitization also prepares the puppy for potential day-to-day body bumps, tail grabs by children passing by, or environmental stimuli such as wheelchairs, crutches, etc while working.

 

STRESS REDUCTION & CALM CONDITIONING
In an effort to help the puppy develop into a calm and confident dog, we provide the puppy with stimuli and exercises, including TTouch to reduce stress, and facilitate them in learning how to relax in stressful situations.  This conditioning begins the moment the puppies are born, and continues until they leave, but we strongly encourage new owners to continue this process.

 

TACTILE STIMULATION & CONDITIONING
Since a puppy's tactile sense is functioning at birth, we begin slowly acclimating the puppies to surfaces and textures they are likely to encounter as an adult.  Through short, structured exercises, the puppies are introduced to various stimuli in an effort to condition them, but not over-stress them.

 

 

 

OLFACTORY STIMULATION & CONDITIONING
Not all senses are functioning in a puppy when born, but the olfactory sense is, so we begin acclimating the puppies to smells they are likely to encounter as an adult.  This is also a time when scent conditioning for future work in scent detection is introduced and exercises are performed on a daily basis.

 

 

 

VISUAL STIMULATION
A puppy is born with his eyes closed and is isolated from visual stimuli.  As the puppies eyes begin to open, we utilize exercises to stimulate and enhance their vision.  These exercises continue in a careful and systematic fashion to ensure an optimal, stress free experience.

 

 

ENVIRONMENT ENRICHMENT
Research has shown that animals raised in a sensory rich environment develop thicker cerebral cortexes, have more synaptic contacts between neurons and have higher levels of neuro-endocrine transmitters in their brains than do those that have been raised in a non-stimulating environment.  When measured later in life, the results show that the animals raised in an enriched environment tend to be more inquisitive, more adept at performing difficult tasks, and are more intelligent because they have experienced a great deal while they were young.   

Based on this research, we provide an enriched environment for our puppies in a systematic fashion to ensure they have the best chance of developing a sound temperament and the capacity to cope with life situations in the future.  The puppies get to exercise their curiosity while having fun exploring the novelties they encounter.  We also provide ample opportunities for the puppies to become accustomed to mobility equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, etc.  Because our puppies are destined to become future assistance dogs who encounter new environments very often, we prepare our pups by providing an ever changing environment under controlled circumstances .  This results in a puppy who is comfortable in a changing, new environment.

 

SOCIALIZATION
The developmental period from three to 12 weeks is the most influential nine weeks of a puppy’s life.  This period is associated with the development of many social behavior patterns and a great deal of learning about the environment.  Much of what is learned during this early period is permanent and provides a foundation for adult behavior patterns.  To decrease the possibility of fearful responses as a puppy develops, it is essential to expose them to many people, places and things during the socialization period when they can most effectively socialize, localize and habituate to these stimuli.  We are systematic in our socialization program based on the things the puppy is expected to coexist with in his future role including people, places and other animals.  All socialization is performed in a progressive, step-by-step process to ensure the puppy is having an enjoyable interaction, is safe, and is forming positive associations.  We also introduce friendly, rock solid adult dogs for the puppies to interact with, so they can learn appropriate "doggie language" from others in addition to their mom. 

 

FIELD TRIPS/OUTINGS
We want to expose our puppies to new stimuli without creating a stressful experience, so they are slowly and methodically introduced to new situations and environments, including a vehicle.  We continuously watch body language, and monitor heart rate for signs of stress.  By introducing the puppies to new environments in a structured fashion, they are able to habituate to the stimuli and have positive interactions, thus reducing future issues in unfamiliar situations.

 

HABITUATION TO NOVEL & ENVIRONMENTAL STIMULI
Habituation is a form of learning in which an animal become acclimated to novel and environmental stimuli through exposure and stops responding, ultimately ignoring the stimuli.  We provide non-threatening, structured exercises to our puppies through various mediums in an effort to facilitate habituation of day-to-day and novel stimuli in their environment such as vacuum cleaners, blenders, garbage disposals, moving objects, etc.  As soon as the puppies eyes/ears open, novel stimuli is put into their whelping box, and continues in the puppy pen, and then the puppy play yard.

 

SOUND CONDITIONING & DESENSITIZATION
A puppy is born with his ears closed and is isolated from sound during the first couple weeks.  Once his ears open he can respond to sound indiscriminately.  His new capacity for learning quickly enables him to discriminate between situations that pose a threat and those which are insignificant.  If a puppy is not exposed to sudden noises followed by a low level startle response, and a quick return to normal, he will most likely over react to noises followed by prolonged fearfulness when he enters the fear stage. 

We provide sound conditioning and desensitization in a gradual fashion, slowly introducing various sounds in different locations.  This is done during the critical period when the puppy's central nervous system is developing.  This activity conditions the puppy to have appropriate startle responses followed by quick recovery.  In addition, because the puppies are conditioned from an early age, they often develop more confidence and lower noise sensitivity.  So, although they will hear an unexpected sound, they may ignore it and continue their assistance work un-phased.

 

MENTAL & PHYSICAL CHALLENGES
We provide tiered mind challenging problems that will exercise the brain and enhance its development.  This stimulation helps them develop problem solving abilities, confidence, resiliency and mental coordination. Puppies raised in environments lacking challenges are more likely to develop into fearful, less successful adults. 

We also challenge the puppies physically in an effort to improve muscle coordination, balance, motor skills, confidence, agile movement, body self awareness, and development.  We provide a “playground” of challenges which helps to develop strength, agility and coordination skills in a fun environment.  We begin in the whelping box, and continue in our puppy play yard which is filled with equipment including ramps, tunnels, wobble boards, various obstacles, stairs, planks, high reaching toys, and many, many novel items that help build confidence. 

 

GROOMING CONDITIONING/DESENSITIZATION
We begin touching all parts of the puppy's anatomy from the time they're born in an effort to desensitize to touch.  Because many puppies/dogs have an aversion to grooming, we begin by making it a very positive experience.  By the time our puppies leave at 7-12 weeks, they are comfortable with bathing, brushing, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, nail clipping, nail dremeling, body checks and more.

 

INDIVIDUALIZED ATTENTION
In addition to the activities that our puppies do as a litter, and the time they spend with their mom learning important life lessons, we also work with each puppy separately to develop their individual personalities.  Puppies act differently as a group, in sub-groups, and in pairs than they do individually, so it's also important for us to observe the changes in personality in various situations.  Helping the puppy build their confidence outside the litter is a very important aspect to the program.

 

SEPARATION CONDITIONING
Because separation anxiety in older dogs can be a problem later in life, we begin separation conditioning to gradually acclimate a puppy to short periods of being alone so they can form positive associations.  Since many assistance dogs are typically with their partner 24/7, they are not accustomed to being alone.  In the event their partner has to go into the hospital for an extended stay, or some other unforeseen event separates them, we condition the puppy to be emotionally prepared. 

 

HOUSE TRAINING
We begin house training our puppies at approximately three weeks of age when they develop the instinctual desire to eliminate outside their nest.  We provide many different types of surfaces so the puppy is accustomed to eliminating in any environment.  This is helpful for assistance dogs that will be working in various environments, where grass (or whatever they're accustomed to) may not be available. 

 

CORE BEHAVIORS/MANNERS TRAINING
By the time the puppies leave us at 7-12 weeks, they have been taught core behaviors which are geared to avoid typical behavior problems seen in young puppies, such as nipping, difficulty riding in the car, jumping up on people, leash training, hard mouth, separation anxiety, housetraining, crate training, etc.  We work on all these behaviors so the puppy has a foundation of good manners, making it much easier for the transition to their new environment and follow-up training.  We include men, women and children in supervised training so puppies are used to learning from a variety of individuals.

The five week old puppies pictured have learned that if they want to be petted, picked up, or taken out of the puppy pen, they must sit first (learning self control).  This results in a default sit.

 

CRATE TRAINING
We acclimate puppies to crate training at an early age because it's a great help in house training.  It also gives the puppy a safe place of its own so it gets accustomed to being confined for short periods of time and associates it with positive events.  When the puppies go to their new homes at 7-12 weeks of age, they do not have difficulty adjusting to their new home, and the feedback we receive is how well the puppy did the first night.

 

BEHAVIOR SKILLS TRAINING
Beginning at about 13 days of age, we start teaching our puppies behavior skills.  By the time they're seven weeks old, they have quite a repertoire of behaviors such as sit, down, turn, roll, wait, come, off, speak, go to bed, jump on, shake, leave it, leash walking, etc.  This early task training helps the puppies learn focus, concentration, and how to work with a handler.  Please visit our video clips page to see some of our pups in action.

 

ASSISTANCE DOG SKILL TRAINING
Because of the exercises we perform to create more neuro synapses in the brain, our puppies are able to perform many advanced behaviors by four, five and six weeks old.  We have puppies tugging doors open at 4 1/2 weeks old and turning light switches on by 6 1/2 weeks.  They also learn to retrieve during a very specific stage of development.  Our puppies have a complete repertoire of assistance dog behaviors be 12 weeks of age.  To see some of our pups in action, visit our video clips page, and to learn more about the behaviors we teach, visit our service dog training page.

 

 

 


 

**Please note:  Early stimulation and the other early work we do, like most things can be good or bad.  It all depends on your knowledge and experience.  If not performed correctly, it can be dangerous!  Extreme caution should be exercised to avoid excessive stress to the puppies, especially during certain developmental periods. 
 

"From small beginnings come great things"
Unknown

 


4 1/2 week old puppy learning to "tug" a door open
 


6 week old puppy learning to pull a "zipper"
 


 

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