Stress inoculation therapy is a form of behavioural therapy whereby the aim is to maximise preparedness for an individual to face any given stressful event. Generally, these events would be for people who work in traditionally very high-stress jobs such as the military or firemen, for example. Whilst this is a programme and method used in humans, there are now many a dog trainer out there who have drawn from the possible efficacy of using such ideas and techniques, with puppies.
There is limted scientific research for puppies in this area, however there IS some evidence in other species which we can draw from. Monkeys have been studied showing that whilst early and consistent removal from their mum, whilst hugely stressful at the time (increase in cortisol, agitation etc), later on at 9 months were experiencing LESS stress and anxiety than the control group (Parker et al. 2004).
Well, we need our pups to be resilient, to be able to face stressful situations and have the ability to recognise it, cope with it and most importantly, bounce back from it quickly. We need puppies to reguarly and early on practice self regulation after mild stress exposure, and become fairly fluent in facing novel situations with as much confidence as possible, for when they are older.
One study (Battaglia, 2009) showed that taking pups away from their mum and littermates between 2 and 16 weeks old and exposing them to different stimuli and exercises (so, mild stress) will lead to an adult who is more proficient in problem-solving abilities, stronger heart beats, higher resistance to disease and stronger adrenal glands. By early exposure to stress, what do we mean? We may mean mild and gentle handling by the breeder, placing the puppy onto different surfaces, we may mean brief separation from mum and littermates.
It should be noted that when puppies tested via an ENS (Early Neurological Stimulation) programme against a group of guide dog puppies with a complex and robust training programme, there was little evidence to suggest the ENS puppies faired better. However, could this not be because guide dog pups DO have the most robust and thorough socialisation programme in the history of the world EVER??! Maybe so.
Throughout this, the main thing to take away will likely be that mild forms of stress are indeed important early in life, to give us that ability to cope when stressful, novel and unpredictable things happen later on. This can be started with the breeder via mild exposure and can be somewhat continued by new owners in those early weeks. It is key to remember, MILD stress is something very different to throwing a puppy out to the wolves and expecting it's going to have a beneficial effect. IT'S NOT!!!! Planned, mild, consistent exposure is something that takes a bit of thought and consideration. Gain advice first!
If you need more information regarding mild stress and stress innoculation with your pup, do get in touch! I love talking about puppies woohoo!! Could talk about pups all day :)