I got an interesting question from a prospective puppy buyer. Do I use Early Scent Introduction (ESI) protocol with my litters? I never have but heard lots about it and am truly excited to experiment with it.
ESI was developed by Gayle Watkins, a long time breeder of Golden Retrievers and co-founder of Avidog, a breeder education forum. The long term results of ESI were studied in a 7-year breeding test. Success of puppies trained in ESI compared to a control group was remarkable! In their adult life they achieved scenting titles much earlier ( years earlier!), accumulated more titles overall and their abilities were more complex. ESI has since been used widely by breeder enthusiasts involved in scenting disciplines and the protocol has been endorsed by the American Kennel Club.
ESI is used in conjunction with Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS), a protocol I described in detail in my earlier post from last year. I have been using ENS for years, ever since my very first litter. However, this is my first litter trained with Early Scent Introduction concurrently with Early Neurological Stimulation.
A puppy is introduced to a stimulus of a strong smell for about 5 seconds. The puppy is unrestrained and allowed to move freely. Its reaction is recorded as neutral, positive or negative.
The photos above show a clear positive response to a fresh basil leaf. This was the first time (day 4 of the exercise) when I recorded a response in all puppies of this litter and it was unmistakable. Watson reacted to the scent here by moving closer and sniffing it.
Meanwhile, Hudson clearly showed a negative reaction to the basil leaf.
What was thrilling that day was that the reactions were apparent. The first 2 days of the ESI the puppies showed no response at all, marked as neutral response in the records. On day 3 Holmes responded positive to a flowering cherry branch, while his siblings remained neutral.
So far the puppies have been introduced to the following scents:
Day 1 (day 5 of life) pine needles all neutral
Day 2 (day 6 of life) orange peel all neutral
Day 3 (day 7 of life) cherry blossoms Homes positive, Watson and Hudson neutral
Day 4 (day 8 of life) fresh basil leaf Holmes and Watson positive, Hudson negative
Day 5 (day 9 of life) garlic all negative
Day 6 (day 10 of life) rich dirt all positive (very positive!) – TERRIERS!!!
Day 7 (day 11 of life) rat bedding all positive (very positive, including the dam!) – TERRIERS, TERRIERS, TERRIERS!!!
All three puppies were very interested in rat bedding (photos above). You see my hand in one photo as I was spotting Watson not to fall off the blanket stretchered across on my lap when racing to the rat bedding. Can you tell they are terriers?
So is ESI intended for dogs that are going to have careers in tracking or hunting? No, this is for any puppy! The idea behind these exercises is to stimulate the areas of the brain primed for development spurt.
Canines perceive the world predominantly by scent and scent memory. Our human perception of the world around us is predominantly visual. Very much the way we introduce mobiles in our babies’ cribs to stimulate their development, strong scents offered to puppies in neonatal period stimulate their brains and form neural connections for scent memories.
But hey, priming these pups for future success in tracking, barn hunt and earthdog will be a lovely bonus.