Training For Conformation Stacking: Mastering the Art of Show Dog Presentation

Video how to stack a dog

Are you ready to take your dog’s conformation training to the next level? Most people mistakenly believe that walking on a leash and basic obedience is enough for a show dog. But seasoned professionals know that training a dog for the Specials ring is just as complex as training for Utility. The more a dog understands and excels in the ring, the closer they are to achieving that coveted “Ch” title.

Easy Beginnings: Teaching Proper Stance

To start, it is crucial for your dog to be ready to work, standing tall, and comfortable being handled in all areas. But in this article, we’ll focus on teaching the foundation of conformation stacking – standing up correctly. Yes, it’s important to teach your pup to sit, but it’s equally vital to teach them to be comfortable standing up.

Don’t worry about perfection at this stage; it’s just the beginning. Conformation is like a dance, communicated through subtle cues and body language. We’ll teach your dog to respond to these cues instead of relying on verbal commands.

Dog Stacking

Hand Stacking: Positioning the Feet

Hand stacking involves physically positioning your dog’s feet for the best presentation. While the exact positioning depends on the individual dog, there are some constant principles to follow.

Remember, you don’t truly control the dog until you can control their head. Keep this in mind as we guide you through the process. For smaller dogs, a grooming table works best, while medium to large dogs can benefit from a pause table. These elevated platforms allow for better visibility of the dog’s feet and more precise positioning.

Start with your dog standing in front of you, facing your right hand. Gently hold their muzzle in your right hand and click, rewarding them with a treat. Repeat this until your dog is comfortable with you holding their muzzle. Then, start moving their head to the left. If they follow the pressure, click and treat.

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When moving their head, use gentle, fingertip pressure. The goal is for the dog to willingly release their head, not for you to force it from side to side. Gradually, you’ll be able to move their head easily from side to side. As you move their head to the left, their weight will shift towards their left foot, and vice versa. This weight distribution is what we want for a proper stance.

Free Stacking: Achieving Natural Elegance

The ultimate goal is to achieve free stacking, where the dog intuitively presents themselves in the best position without needing physical manipulation. Most dogs don’t naturally free stack because they’re more comfortable with their back feet slightly closer to their front feet.

To achieve free stacking, we need to ask the dog to move their front feet a step or two further forward, creating separation from the back feet. Although it sounds simple, asking a dog to move forward often leads to them moving their back feet first, which doesn’t solve the problem.

Anchoring the Back Legs: The Key to Effective Movement

To move the front feet forward, we first need to anchor the back legs. You can’t ask the dog to move their front feet ahead, but you can ask them to move them side to side. Just as we did during hand stacking, we’ll now lure the dog’s head to the left or right rather than physically moving it.

You can use a treat as a lure or your hand as a target. Start with the dog standing comfortably, facing your right. Place a treat on their nose and slowly move their nose to the left. Pay close attention to their right front foot. When the foot lifts, click, and reward them. Repeat this exercise, focusing on the opposite direction as well.

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With practice, your dog will learn to anchor their rear legs while allowing you to move their front feet left or right. This level of control over their movement is essential for achieving a perfect stack.

Dog Stacking

Center of Gravity: Achieving Balance and Poise

Now that the dog is comfortable with moving their front feet side to side, it’s time to work on shifting their center of gravity forward. Even the best-built dog can look lackluster if they don’t pull their weight forward when stacked.

Teach your dog that they can’t move their front feet straight forward by anchoring their front feet in the desired position. Once they’re properly stacked, lure them slowly and carefully forward. Watch for the “knick” just forward of the center of their back. As they lean forward, the skin around the knick will shift. Click and reward this weight shift.

If your breed requires a raised tail in the ring, this exercise is even more beneficial. By teaching your dog to pull forward, you’re encouraging a dominant attitude and a raised tail, enhancing their overall appearance.

Conformation Zen: Harmonious Handler-Dog Communication

Mastering conformation stacking is about creating subtle, seamless communication between you and your dog. Ideally, you want to achieve a position where you don’t have to stoop down or direct your dog with your hands close to their face. The dog should appear effortlessly stacked, as if they naturally assume the correct position without any external guidance.

To achieve this, you can gradually transition from luring with treats to using subtle hand signals. Begin by placing your hand at waist level and subtly move it left or right a few inches to adjust your dog’s feet. Eventually, you can simply look at a specific foot, and your dog will respond to the subtle cue.

Once your dog is securely stacked, you can play a game to maintain their focus and alertness in the ring. Show them a treat, briefly hide it behind your back, and if they remain stacked, click and toss the treat for them to catch or chase. This game reinforces their ability to stay alert and focused, even when they anticipate a reward.

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Setting the Back Legs: Controlling Placement

Teaching your dog to back up gives you control over their back leg placement. If you aren’t satisfied with how they’ve positioned their back legs, you can either manually adjust them or ask your dog to take a step backward and then proceed with free stacking.

There are two methods for teaching backing up. The first is to stand in front of your dog and lean slightly towards them. As they take a step back, click and reward the movement. This method establishes a reliable verbal and physical cue for backing up.

The second method involves luring your dog backward with a treat at their nose. Lower the treat slowly toward their throat, and most dogs will naturally step backward. Click and reward this movement. While this technique is less subtle, it effectively achieves the desired result.

Conformation Zen: Mastering Teeth Inspection

In addition to stacking, it’s important for your dog to exhibit proper manners during teeth inspections in the ring. We can teach them a technique known as “Conformation Zen.”

Start by holding a treat between your thumb and forefinger, making it available to your dog. However, hold another treat in your last three fingers, making it off-limits. Allow your dog to investigate the treat in your last three fingers until they lose interest. Click when they disengage, and promptly switch the treat to your thumb and forefinger for them to enjoy. Repeat this process until your dog learns that the treat is only accessible when handed to them.

Dog Stacking

Achieving Conformation Success

You’re now equipped with the knowledge and techniques to master conformation stacking. Remember, the ultimate goal is to make the entire process subliminal, so your dog naturally presents themselves in the best possible way. With practice and dedication, you’ll have people admiring your dog’s natural ability to stack themselves correctly.

Enjoy the journey and relish in the subtle art of perfecting your show dog’s presentation!

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