Welcome to Pure Dog Talk the podcast on pure bred dogs. I am your host, Laura Reeves. Today we are talking about stacking your dog. We are going to find out what it is, why it’s important and how it helps you succeed.
What is stacking your dog? It is when you take the feet and place them in the proper position so that the dog makes the picture. We talk about making the picture. Each judge has an image in their mind that is the ideal representative of your breed. By putting your dog’s feet in their proper place, you have your best chance at making the judge see the picture with your dog. That is why it’s important. You want to win? The way you win is you make the judge see your dog as the picture of the breed they have in their mind. You watch the group rings. You watch the handlers. Every single one of them gets that dog stacked quick, easy, and no muss no fuss. That’s the way you win.
So, hand stacking. Dogs that are built correctly are going to naturally put their feet in a comfortable position. This is a position where they are balanced and the handler isn’t going to have to do a whole lot of work if that dog comes down and stands up properly, there is not much you have to do. An awfully pretty presentation package when the handler has a dog that steps right up into a stack and all you have to do is stand there looking proud. This is something everyone needs to know how to do.
I started with puppies on a table. Take pictures of them. It starts when you do the evaluation of the litter. Every action you have with your dog is an opportunity for training. It doesn’t matter how old they are. Starting at 6 weeks up to 6 months. You can teach your dog how to stand up and do it easily. Three pieces to the puzzle on hands stacking.
The first, the head controls the body. The second, we use elbows and hawks to properly place the legs into position. The third, once you have the muscle memory, how and where to put the legs, we are going to do it quickly and we will have a 5 second drill. So starting at the top. Head controls the body. This is simple dynamics. I know that it can be a difficult one when you are starting with a young dog that is exuberant and full of himself. This is where you have to start. You are using either the collar or the dog’s chin. So underneath the jaw, to simply keep the head still. If the head is looking forward, it’s in the proper position to the dog’s body. In other words, not down, not cranked back over its shoulders. Properly set and that head is still. The rest of the body is going to fall in line. It continues right down the spine. We start by teaching the dog just to be still. I don’t care where its feet are. It can do whatever it wants with its feet. As long as the head is still. And the dog is still while it’s standing there. You start out super easy. You have your dog, leash, and collar in left hand. You have your right hand in front of the dog. Walk the dog to the hand. Your right hand becomes the marker. There is no food. We are not teaching them to bait. We are not doing anything other than teaching them to stand still in the basic position that becomes the foundation for everything else. You walk your dog with your left hand up to your right hand. Until the dog touches your right hand. Then you take that right hand and you hold either the collar, next to the dog’s ear, or just gently underneath the chin, hold onto the jaw bone and you keep that head facing forward. You use that left hand to just quietly stroke the dog. You are just patting it. All the dog needs to do is relax. Meanwhile you have commanded the dog to stay. The command is just stillness. There is no perfection of feet, nothing else. The dog is still for five seconds. That is good. You are going to give him a release command. I use OK. Tap him on the head and say Yah, good boy. You are the best dog in the world. I like to do that three times in a row. Each time hold the head with the right hand and gently pet the dog until its still. By still I mean not wiggling or flinging or wagging its tail so hard it’s a blur. Just still. This is just a settling exercise. You want the dog to be quiet and peaceful. Get five seconds and make it reach to ten seconds. Ok. Good Boy! This foundation step of just keepi9g the dog still, walking the dog into the target that is your right hand, holding the jaw by the right hand and patting it with the left, this will keep you moving forward. You will do this for a week, maybe, maybe more. It depends on your dog. Until your dog has that particular obedience step established, you are not going to move on. Remember the dog has to understand what you want it to do before you can ask it to do something else.
The next step in our process is to physically move the dog’s legs into position. At this point, the dog understands stay. It understands that it can gently rest his head in your palm and that everything is going to be fine. It doesn’t have to be excited. It’s a peaceful time. The next step we are going to set the dog’s feet. This is where I add the stand command. You have got stay, and ok. Now we are going to add stand. When you are placing the dog’s feet into position, you will do the same thing you did before. The dog is going to walk up into your right hand. You will pat it and tell it how good it is. Once its still, you are going to start and go to your left front leg. You are going to pick that up gently by the elbow place it so it is underneath the dogs shoulder. Toes pointed forward, perpendicular to the ground. The next step, you are still holding the dogs chin with your right hand. You are going to go to the left, rear foot. You are going to set that using the hawk. You are going to do the same thing. The rear leg is in line with the front leg. The rear leg should come just past the hip bone so the toes and the hip bone are in line. Hawk is perpendicular to the ground. With your right hand on the chin still, you are going to go to the right rear leg. Now we are to the off show side. I always encourage people to start with the show side. If the judge looks your dog is set up at least as much to what they can see. Place the right rear leg. Now comes a little bit of boggling around. Now you have to change hands on the dog’s collar or on the dogs chin. I like to take my left hand and just grab the left side of the dog’s jawline. It’s the easiest way for me to do it. Going over the top of the dog’s neck. I pick up that right front leg and I set it down in place. It matches the left front leg. Now the dog should basically be a square or rectangular or whatever your breed calls for inn that line.
You can look down on the dog and see where the legs are. I encourage having a practice mirror set up so you can see the same thing the judge is going to see. Step 5 of our process now in the stand command is what we would like to call presentation. So you are going to stand up and straighten your back out. If your dog’s tail comes up, whatever the dog should look like in a presentation mode that is step five. If you aren’t sure what this looks like, where these body parts might be, anything like that, we will have an illustration for you in the show notes. This is essential knowledge. Putting the dog’s legs in the proper position gives the judge the right picture in his mind. Putting them in the wrong position can very badly affect what the dog looks like. The legs are too far apart. The dog might sag in the middle. The dog’s legs are too close together. It might make the topline have a big hump in it. Keep in mind how your breed is stacked is different than someone else’s. You should know what the picture should be for your breed.
We have got stay, stand, now we are going to the five second drill. And this is sort of a muscle memory building process that I like to do and I teach it as a game. So that you can time yourself. You go through this process left, front, left rear, right rear, change hands, right front, presentation. You should be able to go through those things in five seconds. I know it seems scary, but you can do it. Each leg has a number. Think of it that way. That is the one two three four five that I do. Leg one is front left. Leg two is rear left. Leg three is right rear, switch hands, leg four, is right front. Five is presentation. Professional tips, this is a great way to keep you the handler, from fidgeting with your dog. Nothing is more distracting than someone who keeps resetting the dog’s feet and moving them around. This will help you not do that. Once again, smooth, efficient, compact movements are what we are looking for trying to get this done.
The next piece. You have started up here at the top with walking the dog with the target hand. A dog that is built correctly is going to put its feet in a balance way so that it is comfortable. Once the dog knows it can walk into your hand, you will look down and say hey, I don’t have to move anything. Be glad and skip right into step five. The less time you spend messing with the dog and bothering its feet, the better off you are. The dog doesn’t want to be messed with. The judge doesn’t like the fussing. If you look down and the dog is balanced and its feet are in the right place from the muscle memory drills you do often, boom, it’s in place and you just stand proud. The other thing this does is when you are going through this process and you are teaching the hand stack, you have confidence. The dog takes the confidence from you. You being confident as the handler, the dog being confident together, you make a presentation to the judge that is impressive. That is what you want to do. You want to catch the judge’s eye and he will say, that’s it. That is the picture. That is the easy and obvious choice. You have a dog that walks right into a stack, you stand there and say, and here it is. That is impressive.
Now to talk about the fun part of training a show dog. I love teaching free staking. I train hand standing and free stacking at the same time. They are almost never in the same session. I want to train the dog in pieces. When we are done, we can weave all of the parts together. Puppies, when they are little, we start learning how to free stack without a leash. This is where they gets lots of food and praise and there isn’t a wrong answer. We use treats to teach dogs to go kennel. We start with a puppy. I call the puppy in and I show the cookie. I ask her to watch me. This is a command that is essential in free stacking. Watch me is what you want them to know. It will give you a bedrock of focus that you can use later in other situations. If the dog knows watch me, it gives the dog a place to think and concentrate. It’s a critical piece of the equation. Throw the cookie forward. Watch me is I want the dog to make eye contact. I want the eye contact to last for as long as I am making eye contact with the dog. I am the one that breaks the eye contact. If the dog has broken the eye contact, the dog does not get the treat. We build on the watch me, for a treat. Asking the dog to wait longer for the reward. Focus. This is the watch me. It gives you the focus you are looking for. That is your first tool. Focus when you are doing a free stack. Once you have that focus, you can start moving the dog around. I do this again. This is all hands free. We call this hands free technology. I walk toward the dog, the dog back up. I walk away from the dog, the dog walks forward. All of the time, they are watching me. I have got the food. Eventually, I have moved to the side. The dog moved to the side. I moved to the other side. This is all about how you use your body to control the dog’s body. Dogs don’t talk. Really. They understand tone, inflection, and body language. Words are for us. The tone and the inflection and the body language is for the dog. We are tying those altogether when we are teaching free staking. I still haven’t put my young dog or any dog on a leash. This has all been done with body language. If you have a dog that doesn’t like food that much, you can use a toy. Toy drive works just as well. As I am moving the dog around, I am working on that same watch me command, I start adding commands to the list. I start giving them other cues when I walk forward, I tell them, back. I have the treat in my hand and they are watching me. I am using that treat to back them up. As well as my whole body language. When I tell them to step up, I step back. The whole time the dog is focused on me and on my body language because I have food in my hand. I am putting it where they can see it. Fix it is another request we add to a little more advanced dog. Watch me, back up, step up and fix it. Once the dogs understand, fix it means move one foot, back up means go backwards. The nice thing about having your dog back up and know what that means, when the dog goes backwards, it will almost always set its rear by itself. Once its rear is set, you teach them step up with their front feet. This is where I add a leash. You are practicing your free stack, you have your watch me, and you have your back up, step up, and fix it. You put the leash and that gives you a little more control over the dog’s weight distribution. You can use the leash to move only the front feet forward so you are holding the bait in your hand and you tell the dog to step up. You can move the dog’s weight off of one foot and then the other foot in the front. This enables them to understand the concept that they are moving their front feet forward. That is the step up command. You can touch a toe if they have a front foot out of place. You can touch it with yoour toe. That will encourage them to move their foot back. That becomes your fix it command. With very little effort, these are wa
ys to teach a dog to stand on its own balance and watch you with great focus and there is never anything other than happy. I don’t do corrections when you are doing free stacking. This is the fun part of what we do There is no word, NO. There is no bad dog when it comes to free stacking. They don’t do it right, you start over again. It’s all good. Going back to body language and the dog reading your body language. My body language, when I am working with the dog, I teach the dog to come straight into me. My shoulders are square. My hips are square. My feet are facing forward and the dog will mimic you. I want my dog to come straight into me because my physical presence is a block of forward progress. The dog will naturally walk towards me and stop because I am in front of it. When I have taught him a watch me, a back, a step up and a fix it, the dog is going to line up on me in a completely perpendicular way. The more my body is straight, my shoulders are back, and I am standing up straight, the more the dog will stand up straight. The dog is going to move with you in tandem. I want my body position to be almost a mirror. They will mirror what I am doing. The philosophy that we use when we are training a free stack is one that many judges subscribe to. This is another part of the importance of winning. Good dogs look their best when you just let them stand up on their own. If you teach that dog to stand up, be balanced, be focused, get their ears up, have a little tail wag, that hands free picture, I didn’t do it the dog did it, it’s all about the dog. That just screams to the judge that this is a great dog. If you trained watch me really well, your control of the dog is with your eye contact. It’s all about the eye contact with you and the dog. You will get into Zen mode with the dog. That means the handler, you, have to maintain the watch also.
One of my favorite show dogs of all times was a dog named Smoke. She was very serious about her watch command. I was showing her at a national specialty. She was retired but was excited to come back. She did her down and back. She did this gorgeous free stack. The judge said something to me and I broke my watch command by turning my head. She was very offended. She jumped up and bounced off of my chest with her front feet so hard, it left a mark. The valuable lesson here is keep your eye on the prize because that is what the dog wants. They want that connection with you.
Thank you for listening. I am your host Laura Reeves.