top of page

What Happens in the First Couple Weeks of a Puppy’s Life at Agape Standard Poodles?

First, it’s important to understand what we mean when we say, “neonate puppy”. A neonate puppy is any puppy from birth to two weeks old. During this time, their eyes and ears are sealed shut and they are helpless and tiny, vulnerable to the outside world. At this age, pups can only touch, smell and taste. They rely on momma for everything essential for living. They nurse for nutrition and comfort, momma stimulates puppies to pee and poop, and most importantly she protects them from all outside elements and predators. During the neonate stage, a puppy’s brain is rapidly changing. It is quadrupling in size and undergoing huge chemical and structural changes as they age.

At Agape Standard Poodles, we aim to produce the best-rounded, versatile, and happy puppies and therefore, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that we implement several proven activities to our protocol, consulting with and implementing portions of many leading programs in the industry. The first way we accomplish this is by setting out a protocol for proper handling and Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) and Early Scent Introduction (ESI) are importance portions of our protocol. We start at just a few days old and keep the time handled to less than a minute each in the first couple of weeks. We grow from this and focus on every part of the puppy’s body during week three. Then, more time is spent on each section, focusing on the puppy as a whole. By the time he goes home, he will be used to it all!

Let’s discuss our protocol and some of the “tools” we consulted when building our tool bag. The U.S. Military created a program based on years of research aimed at producing the most agile and healthy dog to be used in a highly important and stressful occupation. This “Bio Sensor” program became known as the “Super Dog Program” and was created by Dr. Carmen Battaglia1 in 1995. One of the key components to the Super Dog Program is ENS – Early Neurological Stimulation. ENS, when done properly, has lifetime benefits to a dog by increasing and strengthening physiological responses, increasing health in a dog (improved heart rates, stronger heart beats and stronger adrenal glands to name a few), and helping aid in lifetime stress tolerance and resistance to disease.

We perform the standard Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) protocol alongside Early Scent Introduction (ESI) and document anything witnessed in behavior. Both begin on day three and lasts two weeks long, but done as separate items. ENS is broken into five different exercises, each lasting only three to five seconds long, once a day. All five exercises are performed on each puppy on an individual basis and we don’t move to the next pup until all five have been completed.

Early Neurological Stimulation entails the following exercises:

1. Tactile stimulation – Holding the pup in one hand, we gently rub and tickle the pup between the toes on all four feet using a Q-tip.

2. Head held erect – Using both hands, we hold the puppy in an upward position, so that its head is directly above its tail.

3. Head pointed down – We now hold the puppy firmly with both hands so that the head is reversed and is pointed downward.

4. Supine position – We hold the puppy resting in the palm of both hands with its muzzle facing the ceiling, allowing the puppy to sleep if it so desires.

5. Thermal stimulation – We now use a cold pack wrapped in a thin blanket or towel and place the puppy on the towel, feet down, not restraining any movement. We follow up lastly with laying the puppy on a heating pad in the whelping box.

ENS has been part of our protocol for almost as long as we have been breeding. We saw a difference in the very first litter we practiced on and have consistently seen differences in the litters who we did ENS with and those who we didn’t.

The other part of our early protocol in our litters’ first few weeks is ESI, or Early Scent Introduction. Alexandra Horowitz2 explains this best in her book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. She explains the vast difference in strength between our noses and that of our dog companions. Dogs use their noses as we use our eyes and rely on them to make more sense and process their surroundings. The part of a dogs brain used to process what they smell is forty times larger than the same area in our brains.

We have already learned that dogs rely on their sense of smell for so much more than we do. Dogs’ process smells as we do with what we see and therefore should be a main focus in puppy rearing from the very beginning. Dogs in all occupations will benefit from a program that implements this into their protocol. Just think about diabetic alert dogs, just as epileptic service dogs, which rely on their sense of smell to help alert their human handlers before a problem arises. The same goes for dogs that use their sense of smell for search and rescue, hunting in the field, alerting to harmful substances, drug and bomb detection, and the list goes on. Therefore, it’s no secret that a dog’s nose is one of his most important tools.

Dr. Gayle Watkins3, owner and breeder of sporting Golden Retrievers, under the kennel name “Avidog” saw a need for scent work introduction. Dr. Gayle created the ESI component of neonate care in her program and has since perfected and proven its benefits. ESI is done once daily, just like ENS. It starts by introducing scents from natural items, such as leaves, dirt, and flowers and then moves into herbs, fruits and spices. The last category of items are those used more regularly, such as game birds, tennis balls, leather, and the like, keeping in mind to never use meat items, as the focus needs to be on smell and not trigger the desire to eat. In over 10 years of experience, she tested and saw vast differences in dogs who received ESI and those who did not. Not only did she personally witness increased scent work success, but the ESI dogs proved her positive response in the number of titles they received in AKC and other Kennel Clubs, as shown in the graph below.

The process of ESI is fairly simple and is more of a game of interpretation than anything else. Each pup is individually introduced to a daily scent while we sit on the ground with pup held close to our body. We offer the “scent” ½ an inch from the pup’s nose. We will witness one of three reactions- engagement, resentment, and carelessness. If the pup likes the scent, it will show engagement- we look for sniffing and moving towards the item. If the pup doesn’t like the item, it may try to move away, blow air out of its nose, it may screech and whine and snort. Carelessness can be witnessed as “laziness” and pup may just act totally not interested at all, appearing asleep with no reaction. Typically, neutral responses occur in half of our witnessed responses.

Going through our ENS and ESI protocol, we are hopefully setting up each pup with the ground work to succeed in whatever job may lay ahead. We are firm believers in our puppies’ abilities as hard workers and we truly feel that our program sets them apart from others.

References for sources used to create this article:

1. Battaglia, Carmen, Early Neurological Stimulation.

2. Horowitz, Alexandra. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Large print ed. New York, Thorndike Press, 2009.

3. Watkins, Gayle. Why not start your puppies on Early Scent Introduction?

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page