Can Canine Body Language Talk Back?
By Jane Killion Director of the film, “Puppy Culture - The Critical First 12 Weeks That Can Shape Your Puppy’s Future”
"Off-Label" Applications for Killer Free Stacks Part One:



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?



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


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.

Amy Cuddy again:

And what are nonverbal expressions of power and dominance? Well, this is what they are. So in the animal kingdom, they are about expanding. So you make yourself big, you stretch out, you take up space, you're basically opening up. It's about opening up. And this is true across the animal kingdom. It's not just limited to primates.

- Amy Cuddy, Ted Talk June  2012

So confident animals stand over more ground, hold their heads higher, etc.  And confident animals have higher testosterone and lower stress hormones.  All sounds reasonable, but so what?

Leaving Money On The Table Pretend and Become

Is this 16 month old puppy “owning the ground she stands on” because she’s confident, or is she confident because she’s been taught to own the ground she stands on?


This 26 month old bitch struggled with confidence in the breed ring and her owner had difficulty showing her.  Once her owner taught her to free stack, she immediately picked up a major win, finished her championship, and earned her first grand championship points in one weekend.  The stacking confidence spilled over to the entire show experience.

Power of the Ages

People practicing cobra pose

    • Improved antioxidant levels
    • Lowered Cortisols
    • Increased Testosterone
    • Increased DHEA
    • Lowered Stress (Self-Rated)
    • Lowered Blood Pressure
    • Decreased Heart Rate

The studies are numerous and the health benefits are wide ranging, but there was one study that stood out for us as interesting as relates to “Power Posing.”

The Zen of Testosterone

A group of trained yoga practitioners were studied to see what effects the “cobra pose” had on their endocrine system (hormones). Blood samples were drawn just before and just after the subjects practiced the “cobra pose”  and various hormone levels were measured.  Analysis of the blood samples showed that, after practicing cobra pose for 2-3 minutes:


  • Cortisol was reduced by an average of 11%
  • Testosterone was increased by an average of 16%

Why the cobra pose is able to effect these hormonal changes is still unknown.  The researchers did find that spine and head position, and the unusual muscular effort to maintain that position, were essential for the results to be reproducible:

Doggy cobra pose?


So, the study indicates that the “magic” position is:

Continuing the muscular efforts aimed at maintaining the bend in the thoracolumbar part [ i.e the back ], the subjects lowered their chins until they felt a sharp increase in the pressure along the line of subjective  perception of the kidneys on their backs. Continuously increasing tension of the muscles that take part in maintaining the posture is a substantial element of its technique as the essential condition of appropriate reproducibility of the hormonal changes observed in response to this posture.


  1. chest forward, lifted and rolled over arms, legs out behind
  2. back muscles flexed over the spine
  3. head up, chin slightly lowered


Does this remind you of anything when it comes to dogs? I pulled three clips from our Stack and Deliver video - can you match them to the key positional elements described in the cobra pose study?

Back To The Dogs


Just One More Thing…

Could it be that there is no “feedback” given to the dog by any particular body position, and the effects we are seeing in dogs taught to free stack are side benefits of learning and problem solving?  Is this just a matter of the training itself having a general focusing and calming effect on the dog?


Well yes, and no.

In one stress management study, practicing yoga posture was compared with cognitive behavioral therapy (i.e. training) to see which had the greater impact on stress levels.  the study measured self-reported stress levels, heart rate, and stress hormones.  The study found that both cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga had significant positive effects in all areas studied. The study also found that the effects of both modes of stress reduction were similar -  neither yoga or cognitive behavioral therapy appeared to work better than the other.


So yes, learning and problem solving can confer excellent benefits in terms of stress reduction and increased confidence, but that does not negate the fact that power posing can have benefits in its own right.  So why not use both?


I don’t want to start a run on power posing as a “magic bullet” that’s going to fix up every dog with issues.  Nothing is going to take the place of a well thought out training program.  However, I do think the idea of power posing with dogs could be a useful and novel tool that we can add to our toolkits!


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About The Author Jane Messineo Lindquist (Killion) is the director of "Puppy Culture The Powerful First Twelve Weeks That Can Shape Your Puppies' Future" as well as the author of "When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs." Jane has had Bull Terriers since 1982 and she and her husband, Mark Lindquist, breed Bull Terriers under the Madcap kennel name. Her interests include dog shows, dog agility, gardening, and any cocktail that involves an infused simple syrup. Visit Jane's Websites:

For further reading and citations to the studies and findings mentioned in this article:

Photo Credits:


Louis B Ruediger (Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dog and Labrador Retriever)


Charlotte Den Boef (Golden Retriever)


Alice Mirestes (Ibizan Hound)


Roxanne McHatten (Australian Shephard)


Dolores Ferrero (Boston Terrier)


Rhonda Ewing (Chinese Crested)


Whitney Suarez (Basenji)


Diane Faulkner (Dachshund)




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