There is a certain “look” that I work to obtain from every dog. I call it “The Face”. It is that happy, affectionate, stress free, attentive, warm, open, and smiling mouth expression. In play, or when doing tasks, The Face is more attentive, sparky, and focused on the handler and task, but either way, it is in that state the dog is most easily worked with.
I work with a lot of dogs which start out with varying intensities of, and triggers for, fears, anxieties, and stresses. When a dog is in one or more of those emotional mind frames, a lot of learning is blocked, and the dog isn’t easy to manage. One of my primary goals is to help every dog develop positive feelings towards, and in, all companion dog situations.
For example, I was working with a student and his Doberman this morning. He was about 18 months old when they adopted him. He’s a typical adolescent Doberman, the kind of dog you’d like to have. But he has some insecurities and that makes him somewhat resistant to learning in new situations. He’s somewhat hypervigilant on walks, searching for dangers where there are no dangers. Unknown sounds alert him. He is slightly defensive when seeing a jogger or an unknown dog in the neighborhood. He also lights up if he sees or smells a rabbit. Fortunately, the owner has a good way with his dog and his dog already loves him.
But it took over 30 minutes this morning of warm up work to get him to tune into his owner outdoors. The objective was for his dog to show The Face. When we got him to that point, he was tuned into his owner, and we had The Face. Right then, right at that moment, we had him in the proper mind frame. Now that we had him in that state, he was very easy to direct, redirect, or obey commands. We had his attention at that point, and he was directable and malleable. That lasted about 5 to 10 minutes, and then we lost that state. He was tired and it was time to go home.
I can see and feel when a dog is at that optimum point. It’s hard to describe, but a warm and happy feeling wells up inside me when I see that warm and attentive interaction between the owner and the dog. The more time I can sustain The Face, the easier it is for me to teach a dog new skills. So, it is a top priority.
Another example. I’m working with an adult male French Bulldog. He’s a nice boy, but he started out with some issues that we are working through: wary of strangers in the home; hypervigilant in the home and in public; guards some stuff he finds on the floor; and doesn’t like being moved when on furniture. When he gets defensive, he will charge at you. Most of this stuff is rooted in insecurities.
For now, he’s gotten much better with guests. Almost all that defensiveness is gone. The owners tell me he is relaxing more throughout the day, instead of always pacing around and on his feet. We are still working on him relinquishing objects that he has fixated on. And we are still working on him not getting defensive when made to move from a place where he is resting. But I haven’t yet seen The Face. He’s happier and more relaxed, so that is a good thing. If I am talking with the owners in the kitchen as we wrap up his private lesson, he will go lay down on his own and probably fall asleep. I can move about the room without him having to face me and watch what I’m doing. But we still don’t have that connection that I want to see between him and his family.
I would have to say the greatest reward for me is when I see dogs start giving The Face to their owners when they are together. Some will even lean in and close their eyes when being petted, regardless of where we are. They will do it in the home, during a lesson, or almost anywhere in public. These dogs are easy to manage, direct, be around, play with, or just hang out with. The Face is a major objective in my training since that tells me we are on the right track.
Does your dog give you The Face?