Early Learning Focus
Early Learning Program Highlights
SURFice Dog Initiative
Service Dog Training
Pet Dog Training
How to Help
EARLY LEARNING PROGRAM -
**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
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:
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.
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!
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.
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
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
future performance as well as the ability to withstand stress better than
pups that are not-stimulated.
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
SOCIAL ATTACHMENT &
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.
& 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
& 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
page to see some of our pups in action.
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
**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
"From small beginnings come great things"
4 1/2 week old puppy learning to "tug" a door open
6 week old puppy learning to pull a "zipper"
The Puppy Prodigies neo-natal and early learning
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