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Teaching a dog how to free stack - by Amber Gates

You can teach any dog how to free stack using this method, I prefer working with younger puppies, but I have found great success using this method on older adolescents and adults. The one thing about dogs, is they live to please, so once you figure out what it is you want them to learn, and you are quick to give them praise, you will find success.

I will try to add a few pictures in the future.

I start with the front legs, the back legs seem to follow suit. I used my background in halter and showmanship showing with horses as my guidance and watching many of the dogs in the group rings as my inspiration...


This is what I do - start with hand stacking the dog. Once the dog has all of his feet in the proper position, I say the 1st keyword (stack, stand, stay...whatever). The dog will learn that the first keyword means to place all of the feet in this particular place. Then add in the 2nd keyword (wait, watch...whatever) to get the dog to stay put and watch the bait (food or toy)...start with 5 seconds and reward and extend to at least 30 seconds and reward. The reward is for watching and staying in place. The longer the dog does these the better, but start off slow and short.

Once the dog understands the stand and watch...then move on to the free stack. I do this at feeding time...a few minutes each day..., with bait, no collar, no lead, say the 1st keyword...(the stack, stand or stay)...the dog may stop moving, but likely won't have the feet properly, using the bait ..say the 2nd keyword (watch, wait..) keep their attention on the bait, while you lean over and place the feet, reminding them of the 2nd keyword (stay, stack, stand...)...stand erect, have the dog hold it for 5 seconds, praise and reward...again building up to longer periods of time. In order to teach them to move their feet themselves, you need to use the treat and your body language (stepping into them for a back up, stepping away for step forward, and using the treat left and right to move left and right)...Essentially they are following the food in the direction you want them to move...saying "step" to indicate a subtle foot movement.., obviously they won't move the foot into the right place the first few times, but they should be praised and rewarded for the attempt.

When you have multiple dogs you are trying to train...do one dog at a time...once they get the idea, then bring them together...I make it a "competition" between the dogs...whoever stacks faster (without my manipulating the feet), gets the treat first....and then whoever holds it longer gets the treat - gotta remind them to wait, stand, stay (...whatever). Amazing how fast they will realize the competition...my retired two males and my current bitch will be free stacking fools at dinner time. I have also been doing obedience with my males, so now they have to do sits, downs, and stand on commands (to their names only) - turns into a sort of Simon Sez game - while the bitch must hold a free stack during their "exercises"....works great in my house, and my dogs look forward to their meal time competitions.

The actual key that I have found is the hand stacking...the dog MUST understand what is the correct positioning in the first place, the longer they hold the stack the more the build muscle memory for the activity. I DO NOT advocate stacking a puppy or an adult dog for 30 minutes... a puppy should stack for a few seconds, building to a few minutes...really no longer then 5 minutes at a time. Stacking blocks (see my links page for the Happy Legs link) come in very handy for novice handlers, as you can rest relatively assured that you will put their feet in the correct position every time. The more times the dog is stacked the better end product you will have...a dog that is happy and confident that this is their job.







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