Here at Coleridge Blue Great Danes, we are breeders who believe in and highly stress the importance of early neurological stimulation, socialization, and enrichment in the lives of our puppies from Day 3 throughout the rest of their lives. Research has shown that performance is only about 35% heritable. The remaining 65% is attributable to training, management, and nutrition. Developed by Dr. Carmen Battaglia, this program was created from the US Military’s “Bio Sensor” or “Super Dog” program and is backed by much research over the last several decades. Dr. Battaglia writes that five benefits to dogs have been definitively observed through this program: improved cardiovascular performance (heart rate), stronger heartbeats, stronger (more effective) adrenal glands, more tolerance to stress, and greater resistance to disease. There are other benefits that were observed in other species as well which may be possible to see include more resistance to certain forms of cancer and infectious diseases, faster maturity, better performance in problem-solving tests, improved ability to cope with psychologically stressful situations such as separation from parent or siblings.

There are three stages to the program, and the first stage many blue Great Dane breeders start with puppies while still in the whelping box, which is what we have done. The second stage will be critical for you to do once you take the puppy home. The timing is absolutely essential. The third stage is a lifelong stage that results in a physically and psychologically well-adjusted and happy animal, one who is a pleasure to be around instead of one who adds stress to your life.

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Stage 1 involves five exercises done in succession once a day from Day 3 through Day 16. They are done for 3-5 seconds on each puppy individually. First, tactical stimulation is provided by tickling between the toes with a q-tip or cotton tip applicator. Second, the puppy is held erect, with two hands, perpendicular to ground with the head above the tail. Third, the puppy is safely held in the opposite direction, with two hands again, and with tail above the head. Fourth, the puppy is held in the supine position, lying with its back resting in the palms of both hands, and its belly facing the ceiling. Fifth, thermal stimulation is provided with a damp washcloth cooled in a refrigerator for 5 minutes. The pup is placed on the towel on its belly, with feet down. These exercises provide a small amount of stimulation and stress that jumpstarts the neurological system’s response, kicking it into action earlier than it normally would be expected. While too much stress is detrimental to development, too little stress (or being in sheltered from it) also retards development. These exercises aim just for the middle, to provide just the right amount of stress needed to create better resistance and response long-term. Additionally, they are handled extensively, in every part of their anatomy, especially once eyes and ears open and they become more mobile. This helps them get used to being examined by owners and veterinary staff in the future. We even start introducing them to the feeling of nail maintenance by holding the Dremel tool to their bodies at this point so they can get used to the vibration. Their nails are trimmed starting at Day 3 and continuing about every 3 days or so, to acclimate them to this often-resisted activity.

Stage 2 involves socialization. This is of utmost importance! Blue Great Dane breeders and Dr. Battaglia both recognize that the critical socialization period is from FOUR TO SIXTEEN WEEKS of age. During this time period, you will want to avoid the two cardinal mistakes: over mothering and insufficient social contact. Over mothering is a serious and often-made mistake recognized by blue Great Dane breeders. While we love our kiddos like crazy, insulating them from outside contact and allowing them to be connected to us like glue produces a dependent and socially maladjusted, even sometimes emotionally disturbed (separation anxiety), individual. This often happens when they are over greeted as soon as coming home, sleep with us every night, follow us to the bathroom every time, stay right next to our side while cooking and eating, and the like. Help your puppy to develop the self-confidence to be able to stay in another area during some of these routine times around the house until he or she has developed their self-confidence. Then those activities can be incorporated to the extent that the dog can handle and still maintain their self-confidence without the owner’s presence. Insufficient social contact is the second cardinal mistake. It retards emotional development and interferes with the development of the human bond. It will be crucial to provide your pup outside social stimulation through handling, mothering, and contact with others. This will result in adequate learning and social adjustment. Pups left alone for several hours per day, such as while the family is working, often display deficiencies in this area and activities of loneliness and boredom set in, such as chewing, digging, and other undesirable behaviors that are hard to control. If your family’s schedule changes and you run into this problem, we suggest utilizing puppy kindergarten, doggie daycare, or the like in the interim. Here at Coleridge Great Danes, we start this process with puppies between five and eight weeks of age, when they are allowed to have outside stimulation, exposure to children, people, toys, and other animals. They wear collars from the first day of life and during this 3 week period, they will also have loose leashes attached to each other that they can play and tussle with, and that the children can use them to play with them for short times, in order to get them used to the feel of a leash. These activities are a great start for developing a healthy, inquisitive pet with a normal activity level.

Stage 3 is enrichment. In this stage, the sum of their experiences has a cumulative effect on the dog. You will want to provide your dog with a wide variety of interesting, novel, and exciting experiences with regular opportunities to freely investigate, manipulate, and interact with them. Results show us blue Great Dane breeders that the dogs then become more inquisitive and are better able to perform difficult tasks. Regular trips to the park, shopping centers that allow dogs, obedience and agility classes all make excellent enrichment activities. Remember, the key is that they must be off of your property to provide adequate social stimulation. Doing these things will help your dog to develop into a well-rounded pet who will enjoy your presence but not depend on it.