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Have you ever watched the Westminster Dog Show and noticed the poise and grace of the top dogs in the country? When they stack to show off their structure they look so confident and strong. Such confidence can help a dog catch the eye of a judge, and it can draw attention to his fine features and prevent him from being overlooked. When a dog looks that graceful it is easy to assume that that is simply how he stands all of the time, but most of the top contenders were taught how to properly stack and show off their good features. Your dog can learn how to show off his physique as well, with your help.
Teaching your dog how to stack is both an art and a science. The skills involved in stacking range from tolerating touch, to holding still, to following movement, to balancing. Because this seemingly simple task involves many different pieces, be patient with both yourself and your pooch. Many show dogs learn the basics of stacking early on, but fine-tune the skill with practice over time throughout their show careers. In general, you can expect this command to take between one and four months to train though, with better posture and longer stay times improving even more over time.
If you simply wish to position your dog correctly and then have him hold that position, the 'Placement' method will be the simplest method to use. If you wish for him to look as though he effortlessly chose that position without your assistance, then the 'Lure' method or the 'Capture' method will work best. Expect both of these methods to take a bit longer to train though. Also be aware that the 'Capture' method does not work well for all dogs because not all dogs naturally offer the correct stance occasionally when they stop walking. If your pup does offer the correct position at times when you stop moving, then this method might work wonderfully for you though.
If you are using the 'Lure' method, then when you get ready to teach Fido where to shift his weight, be aware that moving the treat to fast or too far forward or backward will cause him to move out of position entirely. There is typically a wonderful middle ground, where you can make minor adjustments to his stance without changing his entire position completely. For this reason, keep the movements slow and small.
To get started you will need small, soft, easy to eat treats, such as real chicken or dried liver. You will also need something that is out of sight to place the treats into, such as a zip-lock bag in your pocket, and you will need a calm location to practice in. If you are using the 'Capture' method, then you will also need a show leash and lots of space to walk in. With all of the methods, you will need patience, perseverance, a great attitude, good timing, and a dog that is comfortable being handled and touched.
The Placement Method
Get set up
To begin, grab some soft treats, such as chicken or dried liver, get your pup used to being touched, and then go to a calm location with him.
Focus on the head
Next, gently move his head so that he is facing straight forward, and as soon as he looks forward tell him "Yes!" and give him a treat. If he resists your movement, simply keep your hand on the side of his face until he moves his head in the direction that you want him to on his own. When he moves his head on his own, then tell him "Yes!" and give him a treat. Keep in mind that the rest of his body will generally go where his head goes so always pay attention to his head placement.
Repeat moving his head into the correct position and rewarding him for allowing you to move it, until he will easily allow you to place it. When he will allow you to place it, then offer him an additional treat every couple of seconds that he holds the position. Over time, gradually space out your treat rewards, so that he has to hold the position for longer before being given a treat.
Place front feet
When he will hold his head correctly, then carefully pick up one of his front legs by the elbow, and place it back down into the correct position. As soon as you place his leg, tell him "Yes!" and give him a treat. Repeat this with the other leg also.
Practice with front legs
Practice placing both legs until he becomes comfortable with having his legs placed. When he is comfortable, then reward him every couple of seconds that he keeps his legs where you placed them. As he improves, gradually increase the amount of time between your rewards, so that he has to hold the position for longer before he receives a treat.
Teach the back legs
When your pup has learned to hold his head and his front legs in the position that you placed them in, then move onto the back legs. Gently lift one of his back legs up and place that leg into the correct position, which is likely further back than how he had it on his own. As soon as you place the leg into the correct position, tell him "Yes!" and give him a treat. Repeat this with the other leg also.
Repeat with back legs
Practice placing his back legs until he is comfortable having them placed. Be sure to give him a second to shift his weight to his other legs when you start to pick up a leg. When he is comfortable having his legs placed, then reward him every couple of seconds that he remains in that position. Over time, increase the amount of time between the rewards, until he can hold the position for at least one minute between rewards.
Put it all together
Now, practice putting all of the placements together, starting with his head, then his front legs, and then his rear legs. Reward him for holding the entire position for longer and longer periods of time.
The Lure Method
To begin, grab some soft, small treats, such as real chicken or dried liver, then go to a calm location with your Doberman.
Start at the head
Show your pup the treat and then carefully move the treat so that your dog's head follows it. As soon as he moves his head into the correct position, tell him "Yes!" and then give him the treat. Practice this until he begins to move his head into the correct position more quickly.
When your buddy will move his head, then teach him to keep his head in the correct position. To do this, get him to move his head into the correct position, but then continue to reward him with additional treats every two seconds that he keeps his head there. When he moves his head, do not say anything, simply stop giving him treats. Practice this until he begins to learn that keeping his head still is beneficial and he will keep it still after you help him move it.
Move the feet
When your dog will keep his head still, then focus on the front feet. Hold a piece of food on the left side of his nose and very slowly move the treat towards the left. Watch his right foot while you do this, and as soon as his right foot begins to lift off of the ground, tell him "Yes!" and give him the treat. Repeat this with the other side also, until both legs are straightened up underneath him.
When your pup gets the hang of moving his feet into the correct position, then teach him to keep them there by giving him additional treats every couple of seconds that he holds the position. Over time, gradually increase the amount of time between rewards, until he can hold the position for at least one minute.
When your pup will respond to your treat movement with minor adjustments to his paws, then teach him to shift his weight forward and to stretch out more so that he looks confident and well postured. To teach this, repeat placing the treat on the side of his nose and moving it sideways to get him to lift up his paw, but when you do it this time also move the treat forward at the same time, so that it forms an arch. This should encourage him to take a small step forward with one paw. When he moves that paw forward, then repeat it on the other side by placing the treat on the other side of his nose and moving it that direction until he lifts his second paw. As soon as he puts his paw back down, then praise him and give him the treat.
When your pup's weight is shifted forward after taking small steps forward with just his front legs, then increase the amount of time that he can hold the position for. To increase it, give him another treat every couple of seconds that he stays in that position. Stop giving him treats if he moves, and over time gradually increase the amount of time between treat rewards, until he can hold the position for at least one minute.
If Fido's back legs are not already in the correct position after doing the above steps, then you can either lure him into the correct position or place his paws for him and reward him for holding your placement. If you choose to lure him, then place a treat on his nose and then lower the treat down to his neck so that he backs up a step to get the treat. When he backs up, give him the treat. When his back paws are in position then readjust his front paws again by having him lift his paws or take small steps forward. To place your pup's paws, simply move each paw into the correct position, one at a time, and then reward him for the placement and for holding the position for longer and longer periods of time.
Make it look refined
After you have practiced luring his head's position, his front paws' position, where his weight is carried, and his back paws' position, then practice it all together. As he improves you can remove the treat from your hand and simply make the same motion with your empty hand as you did before. When he will respond to that, then make the motion even smaller, until you can give small, simple hand twitches and movements to show him how to move and make him look like a natural.
The Capture Method
Go somewhere spacious
To begin, grab a show leash, some soft, small, easy to eat treats, such as real chicken or freeze dried liver, and then go to a spacious location with your dog.
Reward correct stance
Next, walk your dog in a circle and after every few feet, stop. If his position and posture look good, then tell him "Yes!" and give him a treat. If his stance does not look good, then move him again and stop again. Repeat this until his posture looks decent and you can reward him. At this point do not look for perfection though.
Practicing walking your buddy around the ring, stopping, and rewarding him if his posture or position are good. Repeat this until his stance begins to look good most of the time that you stop.
Fine tune it
When his general posture and stance look good when you stop, then after you tell him "Yes!" and give him a treat, hold a treat in front of his nose and move the treat so that his head follows it. When his head is in the correct position, then tell him "Yes!" and give him the treat.
Center the legs
After you adjust his head, if his front legs need adjusting, reach down and gently lift the leg up by the elbow and place it into the correct position. When you put it back down, tell him "Yes!" and give him another treat. Repeat this with the other front leg, and then do the same thing with the back legs, one at a time. Always say "Yes!" and give him a treat as soon as you put his paw where it should go.
Practice rewarding your buddy's general position and showing him exactly where he should stand and look by adjusting his head and legs. After you have practiced that at least twenty times, then move him around your circle, but when you stop, if his paw is out of place significantly, wait to see if he will move it into the correct position on his own. If he does, then reward him with three treats, one at a time. If he does not, then move it for him and only give him one treat. Repeat this until he will adjust his paws when you stop and wait.
When your pup will move into the correct position when you stop, then practice having him stay there by hiding the treat behind your back. At first only hide the treat for three seconds before giving it to him for holding the position. As he improves, hold the treat behind your back for longer, until he can remain in the position for at least three minutes without moving. When you give the treat to him, at least part of the time, toss it to him, so that he will learn to stay focused on you even when you are standing several feet away from him.
Written by Caitlin Crittenden
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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