Training The Free Stack-The Stand Up Show Dog Look

by Ruth Darlene Stewart

 (This article was published in the 2006 Beagle Annual-reprinted with permission)

sweetieThe judge looks down the line of entries. Overall this has been a well balanced class.  Each exhibit has its outstanding points. He knows this is going to be a hard decision for winners;then his eyes fall upon one entry, standing alert at end of the handler's leash, looking proud and as if to say I am the one! Again the judge looks over the line-up, and still this one dog is standing, perfectly square, showing the world he is the one. The judge then points to that wonderful stand-up show dog and awards him the points.This scenario does happen and we all strive to have that attitude along with a properly built, sound moving dog. That attitude has to be developed and over the years I have found the following method helps to bring out the best in all dogs.

The first thing I do is watch temperaments as puppies.  Usually the first indication of a shy or strong temperament is when the ears  Some puppies will move away from sound while others will move toward the sounds.  The puppies that move away will need more attention than the other more secure puppies.  As the eyes open and the puppies finally start walking I continue to watch for signs of a soft temperament.  Each time I identify a soft tendency, that puppy gets more hands on attention. As weaning time starts I make a point to hand feed each puppy at least once a day.  I always feed with my right hand and slowly scratch the back, lift the tail, touch the feet, or in some way put my left hand on the puppy.  This is the very beginning stage for me in developing a stand up show dog.  I want that puppy to know--right hand for food-left hand may be touching me.

As the puppy gets comfortable with this daily routine, then I sort of place them in a stack position while feeding them.  I am telling them what a great puppy they are and really tickling the back side of the tail in an effort to get them to hold it up.  I will often do this on a grooming table-but be careful to have a small leash or something attached to the puppy in case it decides to try and jump off the table.  I try to teach my puppies that grooming tables can be fun, and not only just for the horrible nail trim. How many times have you seen a dog show well on the floor but when placed on the table they lose their exuberance; maybe because they think oh no, nail, ears or teeth cleaning time!  Try to do good things on the grooming table, like feeding or brushing.  If need be do the nails on another surface, different height and texture.

The next step is to continue this hand feeding but to also include other times during the day when you just visit the puppy pen and call them to you. As they come to you give each a treat with your right hand. If possible again use your left hand to touch them somewhere. This starts getting them used to you bending over them. You can do this standing up, kneeling or sitting down. If you have a couple puppies that are soft, doing this in a pack situation with other puppies competing for the treat may help give them confidence. Make sure you make this a playtime, not a work time.

When leash training starts again give the treats with your right hand decide on a command for free stacking. I use "let's go" for gaiting, the for when I am making a turn and then stand for when stopping. On a triangle pattern it would be let's go, turn and then stand. I always want my beagle to start looking for their bait after the word stand, and not before. This I learned the hard way; I had a very nice bitch that would look at me consistently on the way back to the judge; thus throwing her front movement off. I finally had to totally quit taking bait in the ring with me, so she would look ahead and not up at me. When you give the command "Stand" you want your beagle's attention completely on your right hand. Don't worry about how square they are standing initially but just that they are standing. As they become more solid in their standing then slowly with left hand reach on the off side of them and tickle the tail up. I whisper "tail"; as I tickle their tail up. At first they might move away, but if you have been doing this since a puppy they should soon hold their stand while you tickle the tail. You will have to bend over them to the off side; this is where all the prior conditioning will really pay off. To help keep their attention on your right hand I sometimes tap my bait with a finger. I try not to wave the bait around too much. My goal is to have that dog free stacking with as little obvious guidance from me.

Once the beagle is comfortable with you encouraging the tail up, the next step is to set the legs.  I find that I can set the legs in the proper stack position and this helps the beagle to learn where I want them. Slowly, overtime I see my beagles stacking like I want without my help. I always continue training the hard stack on the ground, but I find with using this method to train free stacking, the hard stacking comes as second nature. I am basically training a hard stack with me standing up. The next step it to teach them to place their feet with slight movement of the leash and verbal commands. AFTER the beagle has learned to free stack with tail up and allow you to place their feet, then start teaching them to move on command. I have my beagle stack in front of me on a loose lead; I then shuffle my feet towards them as if to play with them and say "back". Most of the time the beagle will respond by jumping back. I then quickly move away from them and ease them into a stand again. I use gentle pressure on the lead for one foot, or move them a couple of steps if they need to arrange all four feet. I say "come" to them as I do move them forward. I use the same commands consistently. As your beagle gets use to the feet movement and associate it with the "back" command, you will find that in response to a slight foot or knee movement and they will start stepping backwards. The same will hold true for them stepping forward. They will respond to just a slight pressure on leash and the come command. The goal is to be able to move just one foot forward or backward without having to hand set the leg.freestack

This method takes months and also ring time. Nothing compares to being able to do this in the ring. Matches are great as well as after show work in the ring. Many times I have been the only entry in my class and no points available, but I use the money I have spent for the entry to train my beagle. Often the classes are quick, but maybe you will have at least two times to practice. Even if you have the only class beagle, you will have the class and the BOV class to practice. You want your beagle ready when you do have majors available. Take every opportunity to train your beagle. The one most important rule is KEEP IT FUN.

Earning the points to a Championship is very rewarding, but the next level of breed competition and group competition is very competitive.  Those dogs with that extra stand out of the crowd attitude will excel above those without it. A good dog with great attitude will go far in the group ring.  A great dog that does not want to be in the ring will not, so it is your job as the handler to make sure that you train you dog and present your dog to its utmost best.    See you in the Group Ring!

Showing Your Beagle
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