Since we came out with our“Killer Free Stack”video on training puppies for the show ring, a curious thing has happened. Not only are people messaging us that this training has been transformative for their puppies and adult show dogs, but people are also telling us that they are successfully using free stacking as a technique to work with fearful or apprehensive pet dogs to build their confidence and emotional resilience.
Wow, talk about unintended consequences... how can this be?
There are a lot of reasons this could be happening and I’m not ready to say that free stacking is the new “thing” for sensitive dogs, but here are some thoughts on why we could be seeing this positive effect.
This 16 month old non-show girl was sensitive and shy but her owner wrote to us that the dog found her confidence using Killer Free Stack training. She told us the confidence had spilled into other areas, too - this was the first case that got us thinking….
What Are Leaders Made Of?
This young lady had no trouble finishing her championship but struggled as a special (champion's class) - until her owner taught her to free stack. Within just a few minutes of training, her attitude completely transformed. Two weeks later, she won at a large specialty show. Was there more than “training” going on here?
I have to admit to being a bit of aTED talkjunkie. And when we started getting these messages about people using show stack training to help pet dogs,Amy Cuddy’s TED talkcame to mind. Here are some key points from that talk.
We know from human and primate studies that two key hormones, testosterone and cortisol, differ greatly in “powerful” and “powerless” individuals:
- Alpha primates/human leaders have HIGH testosterone and LOW cortisol, and powerless primate/human individuals have LOW testosterone and HIGH cortisol.
Why does this particular relationship between power, testosterone, and cortisol exist? Cuddy says:
"When you think about power, people tended to think only about testosterone, because that was about dominance*. But really, power is also about how you react to stress. So do you want the high-power leader that's dominant, high on testosterone, but really stress reactive? Probably not, right?
You want the person who's powerful and assertive and dominant, but not very stress reactive, the person who's laid back."
- Amy Cuddy, Ted Talk June 2012
Power is Spreading
Confident individuals of any species are easily recognized. We may not at first be able to put our finger on what is common and recognizable as power, but we know it when we see it.
The one quality that is shared across the animal kingdom is that confident individuals take up more space.
Two very good photos of the same top winning show dog - but we immediately recognize the second photo as “more powerful.” The head and neck are in the same position in both photos but the rear legs and tail are positioned differently. The dog is standing over more ground in the second photo because her rear legs are positioned further back. The tail extends behind to take possession of even more space - we intuitively read this as more confident and dominant.