For those of you who are not familiar with Puppy Culture, one of our core tenants is that we look for behavioral markers to know when a particular protocol is appropriate, rather than looking at the temporal age of the puppies. So we always want to know the developmental period, rather than how many days the puppy has been alive in order to do the right thing at the right time. And litters vary a lot - developmental periods have been documented to vary by as much as 16 days between breeds, and, in our experience, this is a pretty conservative estimate.
What I've recently come to realize is that, in the same way that we look for behavioral markers to know when to do what protocol in Puppy Culture, we need to focus on the circumstances of the litter to know WHAT KIND of stimulation is required:
- Where all the stars align with a low stress birth and excellent maternal care, ENS is perfect, and should confer all of the benefits Dr. Battaglia talks about in Puppy Culture.
- But, where the stars don’t align so well and there is a stressful birth or poor maternal care, ENS is unnecessary as the puppies already are stressed. Both Dr. Battaglia and I talk about this in Puppy Culture. In this situation you can focus on tactile stimulation that would simulate maternal care (licking). So long firm strokes of the body and anogenital regions, with your hands or possibly with a soft brush, rather than stressful ENS-type manipulations.
That's the Reader's Digest version of this blog...my reasoning for this is outlined at some length, below, (and I am only skimming the topic, at that). But I know it’s somewhat dense material and not everyone will wade through it, so I wanted to get it out up front that, in cases where the litter is stressed, I believe there is already enough stress to produce the results of ENS, and furthermore there is an alternative to ENS that the research indicates will be appropriate and beneficial under those circumstances.
The studies show That this "licking effect" can be reproduced by human caregivers. In the absence of maternal licking, tactile stimulation of the rat pup’s anogenital region with a soft paintbrush or a Swiffer brush applied gently over their whole body could produce results similar to maternal licking. Beneficial results were found with as little as a few seconds three times per day, but it appears that the maximum experimental result so far has been with 15 minutes of stimulation per day.
So, practically, what does this mean to you as a breeder? Say, for instance, your bitch has had a c-section and is slow to come around to caring for the puppies. You’re already picking up and manipulating the puppies to feed them, to clean them, to move them in and out of the whelping box. They’re either getting a feeding tube down their throat several times a day, or being held in position while sponge or bottle fed, or their dam is being pinned down while the puppies are slid on to her teats to nurse. The last thing those puppies need is extra stress.
Mulling it over, I think these breeders have the correct instinct, in that we can positively influence the neurological and endocrine development of puppies quite easily in the neonatal period, and they want to take action. But, up until now, they have felt that ENS was their only option. So breeders push hard to “get ENS done” even when it might have been better not to.
And that’s what I believe we need to re-examine - ENS is a fantastic protocol under the right circumstances, but it’s not your only option for influencing the neurological and endocrine development of your puppies. You should always consider whether SMS (Simulated Maternal Stimulation) might be the better protocol, based on the circumstances of the litter.
Hope this helps you make the best choices for your litters. I will be thinking and researching this more in the coming months and perhaps even doing an update to the Workbook down the road.