The U.S. Military Bio-Sensor "Super Dog" Program
Originally published as "Early Neurological Stimulation"
by Carmen L. Battaglia
Surprising as it may seem, it isn't capacity that explains the differences that exist between
individuals because most seem to have far more capacity than they will ever use. The
differences that exist between individuals seem to be related to something else. The ones who
achieve and out perform others seem to have within themselves the ability to use hidden
resources. In other words, it's what they are able to do with what they have that makes the
In many animal-breeding programs the entire process of selection and management is founded
on the belief that performance is inherited. Attempts to analyze the genetics of performance in
a systematic way have involved some distinguished names such as Charles Darwin and Francis
Galton. But it has only been in recent decades that good estimates of heritability of
performance have been based on adequate data. Cunningham (1991) in his study of horses
found that only by using Timeform data, and measuring groups of half brothers and half sisters
could good estimates of performance be determined. His data shows that performance for
speed is about 35% heritable. In other words only about 35% of all the variation that is
observed in track performance is controlled by heritable factors, the remaining 65% are
attributable to other influences, such as training, management and nutrition. Cunningham's
work while limited to horses provides a good basis for understanding how much breeders can
attribute to the genetics and the pedigrees.
Researchers have studied this phenomena and have looked for new ways to stimulate
individuals in order to improve their natural abilities. Some of the methods discovered have
produced life long lasting effects. Today, many of the differences between individuals can now
be explained by the use of early stimulation methods.


Man for centuries has tried various methods to improve performance. Some of the methods
have stood the test of time, others have not. Those who first conducted research on this topic
believed that the period of early age was a most important time for stimulation because of its
rapid growth and development. Today, we know that early life is a time when the physical
immaturity of an organism is susceptible and responsive to a restricted but important class of
stimuli. Because of its importance many studies have focused their efforts on the first few
months of life.
Newborn pups are uniquely different than adults in several respects. When born their eyes are
closed and their digestive system has a limited capacity requiring periodic stimulation by their
dam who routinely licks them in order to promote digestion. At this age they are only able to
smell, suck, and crawl. Body temperature is maintained by snuggling close to their mother or by
crawling into piles with other littermates. During these first few weeks of immobility
researchers noted that these immature and under-developed canines are sensitive to a restricted
class of stimuli which includes thermal, and tactile stimulation, motion and locomotion.
Other mammals such as mice and rats are also born with limitations and they also have been
found to demonstrate a similar sensitivity to the effects of early stimulation. Studies show that
removing them from their nest for three minutes each day during the first five to ten days of life
causes body temperatures to fall below normal. This mild form of stress is sufficient to
stimulate hormonal, adrenal and pituitary systems. When tested later as adults, these same
animals were better able to withstand stress than littermates who were not exposed to the same
early stress exercises. As adults, they responded to stress in "a graded" fashion, while their
non-stressed littermates responded in an "all or nothing way."
Data involving laboratory mice and rats also shows that stress in small amounts can produce
adults who respond maximally. On the other hand, the results gathered from non-stressed
littermate show that they become easily exhausted and would near death if exposed to intense
prolonged stress. When tied down so they were unable to move for twenty-four hours, rats
developed severe stomach ulcers, but litter mates exposed to early stress handling were found
to be more resistant to stress tests and did not show evidence of ulcers. A secondary affect was
also noticed.
Sexual maturity was attained sooner in the littermates given early stress exercises. When tested
for differences in health and disease, the stressed animals were found to be more resistant to
certain forms of cancer and infectious diseases and could withstand terminal starvation and
exposure to cold for longer periods than their non-stressed littermates. Other studies involving
early stimulation exercises have been successfully performed on both cats and dogs. In these
studies, the Electrical Encephalogram (EEG) was found to be ideal for measuring the electrical
activity in the brain because of its extreme sensitivity to changes in excitement, emotional
stress, muscle tension, changes in oxygen and breathing. EEG measures show that pups and
kittens when given early stimulation exercises mature at faster rates and perform better in
certain problem solving tests than non-stimulated mates. In the higher level animals the effect
of early stimulation exercises have also been studied. The use of surrogate mothers and familiar
objects were tested by both of the Kelloggs' and Dr. Yearkes using young chimpanzees. Their
pioneer research shows that the more primates were deprived of stimulation and interaction
during early development, the less able they were to cope, adjust and later adapt to situations
as adults.
While experiments have not yet produced specific information about the optimal amounts of
stress needed to make young animals psychologically or physiologically superior, researches
agree that stress has value. What also is known is that a certain amount of stress for one may
be too intense for another, and that too much stress can retard development. The results show
that early stimulation exercises can have positive results but must be used with caution. In
other words, too much stress can cause pathological adversities rather than physical or
psychological superiority.

Methods of Stimulation

The U.S. Military in their canine program developed a method that still serves as a guide to
what works. In an effort to improve the performance of dogs used for military purposes, a
program called "Bio Sensor" was developed. Later, it became known to the public as the
"Super Dog" Program. Based on years of research, the military learned that early neurological
stimulation exercises could have important and lasting effects. Their studies confirmed that
there are specific time periods early in life when neurological stimulation has optimum results.
The first period involves a window of time that begins at the third day of life and lasts until the
sixteenth day. It is believed that because this interval of time is a period of rapid neurological
growth and development, and therefore is of great importance to the individual.
The "Bio Sensor" program was also concerned with early neurological stimulation in order to
give the dog a superior advantage. Its development utilized six exercises which were designed
to stimulate the neurological system. Each workout involved handling puppies once each day.
The workouts required handling them one at a time while performing a series of five exercises.
Listed in order of preference the handler starts with one pup and stimulates it using each of the
five exercises. The handler completes the series from beginning to end before starting with the
next pup. The handling of each pup once per day involves the following exercises:

1.Tactical stimulation (between toes)
2.Head held erect
3. Head pointed down
4.Supine position
5.Thermal stimulation.

1. Tactile stimulation
Holding the pup in one hand, the handler gently stimulates (tickles) the pup between the toes
on any one foot using a Q-tip. It is not necessary to see that the pup is feeling the tickle. Time
of stimulation 3 - 5 seconds.

2. Head held erect
Using both hands, the pup is held perpendicular to the ground, (straight up), so that its head is
directly above its tail. This is an upwards position. Time of stimulation 3 - 5 seconds.

3. Head pointed down
Holding the pup firmly with both hands the head is reversed and is pointed downward so that it
is pointing towards the ground. Time of stimulation 3 - 5 seconds.           

4. Supine position
Hold the pup so that its back is resting in the palm of both hands with its muzzle facing the
ceiling. The pup while on its back is allowed to sleep struggle. Time of stimulation 3-5 seconds.

5. Thermal stimulation
Use a damp towel that has been cooled in a refrigerator for at least five minutes. Place the pup
on the towel, feet down. Do not restrain it from moving. Time of stimulation 3-5 seconds.

These five exercises will produce neurological stimulations, none of which naturally occur
during this early period of life. Experience shows that sometimes pups will resist these
exercises, others will appear unconcerned. In either case a caution is offered to those who plan
to use them. Do not repeat them more than once per day and do not extend the time beyond
that recommended for each exercise. Over stimulation of the neurological system can have
adverse and detrimental results. These exercises impact the neurological system by kicking it
into action earlier than would be normally expected. The result being an increased capacity that
later will help to make the difference in its performance. Those who play with their pups and
routinely handle them should continue to do so because the neurological exercises are not
substitutions for routine handling, play socialization or bonding.

Benefits of Stimulation

Five benefits have been observed in canines that were exposed to the Bio Sensor stimulation
exercises. The benefits noted were:
1.  Improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate)
2.  Stronger heart beats
3.  Stronger adrenal glands
4.  More tolerance to stress and
5.  Greater resistance to disease.

In tests of learning, stimulated pups were found to be more active and were more exploratory
than their non- stimulated littermates over which they were dominant in competitive situations.
Secondary effects were also noted regarding test performance. In simple problem solving tests
using detours in a maze, the non-stimulated pups became extremely aroused, wined a great
deal, and made many errors. Their stimulated littermates were less disturbed or upset by test
conditions and when comparisons were made, the stimulated littermates were more calm in the
test environment, made fewer errors and gave only an occasional distress when stressed.


As each animal grows and develops three kinds of stimulation have been identified that impact
and influence how it will develop and be shaped as an individual. The first stage is called early
neurological stimulation, and the second stage is called socialization. The first two (early
neurological stimulation and socialization) have in common a window of limited time. When
Lorenz, (1935) first wrote about the importance of the stimulation process he wrote about
imprinting during early life and its influence on the later development of the individual. He
states that it was different from conditioning in that it occurred early in life and took place very
rapidly producing results which seemed to be permanent. One of the first and perhaps the most
noted research efforts involving the larger animals was achieved by Kellogg & Kellogg (1933).
As a student of Dr. Kellogg's I found him and his wife to have an uncanny interest in children
and young animals and the changes and the differences that occurred during early
development. Their history making study involved raising their own new born child with a new
born primate. Both infants were raised together as if they were twins. This study like others
that would follow attempted to demonstrate that among the mammals there are great
differences in their speed of physical and mental development. Some are born relatively mature
and quickly capable of motion and locomotion, while others are very immature, immobile and
slow to develop. For example, the Rhesus monkey shows rapid and precocious development at
birth, while the chimpanzee and the other "great apes" take much longer. Last and slowest is
the human infant.
One of the earliest efforts to investigate and look for the existence of socialization in canines
was undertaken by Scott-Fuller (1965). In their early studies they were able to demonstrate that
the basic technique for testing the existence of socialization was to show how readily adult
animals would foster young animals, or accept one from another species. They observed that
with the higher level animals it is easiest done by hand rearing. When the foster animal
transfers its social relationships to the new species, researchers conclude that socialization has
taken place. Most researchers agree that among all species, a lack of adequate socialization
generally results in unacceptable behavior and often times produces undesirable aggression,
excessiveness, fearfulness, sexual inadequacy, and indifference toward partners.
Socialization studies confirm that the critical periods for humans (infant) to be stimulated are
generally between three weeks and twelve months of age. For canines the period is shorter,
between the fourth and sixteenth week of age. During these critical time periods two things can
go wrong. First, insufficient social contact can interfere with proper emotional development
which can adversely affected the development of the human bond. The lack of adequate social
stimulation, such as handling, mothering and contact with others, adversely affects social and
psychological development.
Second, over mothering can prevent sufficient exposure to other individuals, and situations that
have an important influence on growth and development. The literature shows that humans and
animals respond in similar ways when denied minimal amounts of stimulation. In humans, the
absence of love and cuddling increases the risk of an aloof, distant, asocial or sociopathic
individual. Over mothering can also have its detrimental effects. It occurs when a patient
insulates the child from outside contacts, or keeps the apron strings tight, thus limiting
opportunities to explore and interact. In the end, over mothering generally produces a
dependent, socially maladjusted and sometimes emotionally disturbed individual.
The absence of outside social interactions for both children and pups usually results in a lack of
adequate learning and social adjustment. Protected youngsters who grow up in an insulated
environment often times become sickly, despondent, lacking in flexibility and unable to make
simple social adjustments. Generally, they are unable to function productively or to interact
successfully then they become adults.
Owners who have busy life styles with long and tiring work and social schedules often times
cause pets to be neglected. Left to themselves with only an occasional trip out of the house or
off of the property they seldom see other canines or strangers and generally suffer from poor
stimulation and socialization. For many, the side effects of loneliness and boredom set-in. The
resulting behavior manifests itself in the form of chewing, digging, and hard to control behavior
It seems clear that small amounts of stress followed by early socialization can produce
beneficial results. The danger seems to be in not knowing where the thresholds are for over and
under stimulation. Many improperly socialized youngsters develop into older individuals
unprepared for adult life, unable to cope with its challenges, and interactions. Attempts to
re-socialize them when adults have only produced small gains. These failures confirm the
notion that the window of time open for early neurological and social stimulation only comes
once. After it passes, little or nothing can be done to overcome the negative effects of too
much or too little stimulation.
The third and final stage in the process of growth and development is called enrichment. Unlike
the first two stages it has no time limit and by comparison covers a very long period of time.
Enrichment is a term which has come to mean the positive sum of experiences, which have a
cumulative effect upon the individual. Enrichment experiences typically involve exposure to a
wide variety of interesting, novel, and exciting experiences with regular opportunities to freely
investigate, manipulate, and interact with them. When measured in later life, the results show
that those reared in an enriched environment tend to be more inquisitive and are more able to
perform difficult tasks. The educational TV program called Sesame Street is perhaps the best
known example of a children's enrichment program. The results show that when tested,
children who regularly watched this program performed better than playmates who did not.
Follow up studies show that those who regularly watched Sesame tend to seek a college
education and when enrolled, performed better than playmates who were not regular watchers
of the Sesame Street Program.
There are numerous children studies that show the benefits of enrichment techniques and
programs. Most focus on improving self-esteem and self-talk. Follow up studies show that the
enriched Sesame Street students when later tested were brighter and scored above average and
most often were found to be the products of environments that contributed to their superior test
scores. On the other hand, those whose test scores were generally below average, (labeled as
dull) and the products of underprivileged or non- enriched environments often times had little
or only small amounts of stimulation during early childhood and only minimal amounts of
enrichment during their developmental and formative years. Many were characterized as
children who grew up with little interaction with others, poor parenting, few toys, no books and
a steady diet of TV soap operas.
A similar analogy can be found among canines. All the time they are growing they are learning
because their nervous systems are developing and storing information that may be of
inestimable use at a later date. Studies by Scott and Fuller confirm that non-enriched pups
when given free choice preferred to stay in their kennels. Other litter mates who were given
only small amounts of outside stimulation between five and eight weeks of age were found to
be very inquisitive and very active. When kennel doors were left open, the enriched pups
would come bounding out while littermates who were not exposed to enrichment would remain
behind. The non-stimulated pups would typically be fearful of unfamiliar objects and generally
preferred to withdraw rather than investigate. Even well bred pups of superior pedigrees would
not explore or leave their kennels and many were found difficult to train as adults. These pups
in many respects were similar to the deprived children. They acted as if they had become
institutionalized, preferring the routine and safe environment of their kennel to the stimulating
world outside their immediate place of residence.
Regular trips to the park, shopping centers and obedience and agility classes serve as good
examples of enrichment activities. Chasing and retrieving a ball on the surface seems to be
enriching because it provides exercise and includes rewards. While repeated attempts to
retrieve a ball provide much physical activity, it should not be confused with enrichment
exercises. Such playful activities should be used for exercise and play or as a reward after
returning from a trip or training session. Road work and chasing balls are not substitutes for
trips to the shopping mall, outings or obedience classes most of which provide many
opportunities for interaction and investigation.
Finally it seems clear that stress early in life can produce beneficial results. The danger seems
to be in not knowing where the thresholds are for over and under stimulation. However, the
absence or the lack of adequate amounts of stimulation generally will produce negative and
undesirable results. Based on the above it is fair to say that the performance of most individuals
can be improved including the techniques described above. Each contributes in a cumulative
way and supports the next stage of development.


Breeders can now take advantage of the information available to improve and enhance
performance. Generally, genetics account of about 35% of the performance but the remaining
65% (management, training, nutrition) can make the difference. In the management category it
has been shown that breeders should be guided by the rule that it is generally considered
prudent to guard against under and over stimulation. Short of ignoring pups during their first
two months of life, a conservative approach would be to expose them to children, people, toys
and other animals on a regular basis. Handling and touching all parts of their anatomy is also
necessary to learn as early as the third day of life. Pups that are handled early and on a regular
basis, generally do not become hand shy as adults.
Because of the risks involved in under stimulation a conservative approach to using the
benefits of the three stages has been suggested based primarily on the works of Arskeusky,
Kellogg, Yearkes and the "Bio Sensor" program (later known as the "Super Dog Program").
Both experience and research have dominated the beneficial effects that can be achieved via
early neurological stimulation, socialization and enrichment experiences. Each has been used to
improve performance and to explain the differences that occur between individuals, their
trainability, health and potential. The cumulative effects of the three stages have been well
documented. They best serve the interests of owners who seek high levels of performance
when properly used. Each has a cumulative effect and contributes to the development and the
potential for individual performance.

References: 1.Battaglia, C.L., "Loneliness and Boredom" Doberman Quarterly, 1982.
2.Kellogg, W.N. & Kellogg, The Ape and the Child, New York: McGraw Hill.
3.Scott & Fuller, (1965) Dog Behavior -The Genetic Basics, University Chicago Press
4.Scott, J.P., Ross, S., A.E. and King D.K. (1959) The Effects of Early Enforced Weaning on
Stickling Behavior of Puppies, J. Genetics Psychologist, p5: 261-81.