About 10 years ago I worked with dog trainer Victoria Stillwell, who was filming an episode of “It’s Me or the Dog” for Animal Planet at the Naples Humane Society. Like me, Victoria is a devoted shelter advocate and was demonstrating some of her techniques for the staff and trainer volunteers.
It was remarkable how the dogs followed her around as if she were the Pied Piper. Her charisma attracted the dogs to her every movement and sound. In discussing this with Victoria I found out she had previously worked as an actress in New York. That was an “aha” moment for me. Victoria, like other excellent actors and actresses, was an expert at posturing her vocals, facial expression and body movement to communicate. Dogs understood Victoria because Victoria, being the great posturer that she was, understood dogs.
Dogs are tremendously focused on and sensitive to our facial expression, vocal intonation and body movement. Dogs’ eyes are sensitive to movement and their hearing is four times more sensitive than ours. In addition, the thermal detector on a dog’s nose can sense your body heat and its vomeronasal organ at the top of its mouth can sense the hormones your body is emitting. Your dog knows whether you’re calm and confident or unsure, upset or anxious.
Canine Command clients learn three types of posturing: command, correction and recall. Clients learn to understand the importance of height in the canine world. Height means status and you want your status when you’re commanding and correcting. This means you stand tall, face your dog, move forward and use a firm tone and facial expression when you’re commanding a behavior, for example, “sit.”
Stand tall, turn away from your dog and lower your voice when you’re correcting a behavior, for example, your dog jumping on you.
Recall posturing is the exact opposite of this. If you want your dog to come to you, lower your eyes, in other words, become more sociable, move backwards to trigger your dog’s prey drive and call his name with a high, happy voice and facial expression. I call this “puppy party” posturing. Your dog will love coming to you knowing that there’s a giant puppy party occurring when he gets there with petting, praise and treats. You can really supercharge recall by making it a hide-and-seek game. Go to a hiding spot and then call out in a high happy voice “Rover, where are you?” When Rover gets to you, cry out “You found me!” and pile on the petting, praise and treats. Just remember never use recall behavior to admonish your dog. If you do that, she won’t want to come to you.