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What is Early Scent Introduction (ESI)?

Doctor Gayle Watkins is the founder of Avidog and is credited for popularizing the early neurological stimulation (ESI) process with neonates. The military has used this process to train adult dogs since 1995 because research shows that dogs exposed to ESI are better at scent recognition and tracking work.

On days 3-16, we present each pup with a new scent for five seconds, one that it’s never smelled before. We follow this process and note the puppy’s response. We will introduce scents like garlic, grass, dirt, leaves, bark, moss, flowers, pungent fruits, herbs, and spices including orange, banana, lemon, apple, lime, rosemary, mint, cloves, cinnamon, and even anise. Then we introduce working items, like ducks, pheasant, tennis balls, wood, and leather. Finally, if we have them available, we offer the pups miscellaneous items such as other tolerant pets like cats and rabbits, and since the advent of nose work sports, we now include essential oils. However, there are some things we just don’t use. We never offer meat or other food items to our pups, since we want to focus specifically on scenting, not eating. In addition, we are very cautious about presenting potentially hazardous objects, so we use no chemicals and very few unnatural or manufactured items – aside from the aforementioned tennis balls, of course.

Then, one pup at a time we hold these scents just in front of – but not touching – its nose, allowing it to sniff them for 5 seconds. We are looking for one of three common reactions. Some items they love, some items they hate, and some they just don’t care about. How do we tell if a puppy likes the smell of an item? When they like it, the pup will often try to bury its nose in the object, snuffling, staying engaged, and despite their inability to move well they’ll even try to move towards it. If they hate it, pups will turn their head away and keep it there, sometimes blowing hard out their noses as if to clear it, and even screeching. Of course, there are many scents that they just don’t care about. We call this a neutral response and typically the pups do little or nothing aside from sniff when presented with the scent.

We do ESI to increase neuroplasticity in neonates and prepare dogs to be successful in work and everyday life. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience. Some of our puppies will go on to become diabetes support dogs, emotional support dogs, or serve in other capacities.

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