The calendar flips to June, kids get out of school and the dog show calendar goes completely nuts. It’s the same every year and always makes me think of the “dog days of summer.”

With a crazy schedule for everyone and shows on each new horizon, we’re going to spend the month of June going back to basics here. I recently volunteered my time to present a one-day handling seminar as a fund-raiser and educational opportunity for my local kennel club. Our next few columns will address some of those same topics.

Hand Stack

Every show dog and handler needs this skill. I treat it as a straight-forward obedience training exercise. The theory that shoving food in a dog’s mouth while placing its feet is an acceptable solution makes my head spin right off my body. I’m also not as big a fan of stacking blocks as some people are, although they can have a place.

We start with puppies on a table, standing them up for evaluation, and it keeps going from there. Every interaction with a dog is an opportunity for training and this is no exception. No matter the age of the dog or the experience of the handler, there are three basic requirements for teaching a dog to stand up.

photo credit Mike McCallum

The head controls the body.

This is simple dynamics and often the most difficult for novices to understand. Whether you use the collar or the chin, simply keeping the head still and looking forward is the first step to teaching a dog to stand. I start with the puppy or dog on leash, walking toward my right hand. The hand does not contain a treat, but it’s position should indicate it might. The dog learns to walk to the hand as a marker position.

Using the right hand, to hold the dog’s muzzle or collar, you can keep the dog still while simply patting it. Remember to give a stay command and a release command. So, the dog is on your left side, your right hand is held to the front. The dog walks up to the hand and you hold the head and say “Stay.” You keep the head still and eventually the body will quit wiggling and waggling. You quietly stroke the dog. The instant it’s still, just even a pause, you say “ok” along with a tap on the head or the side as you like. Lots of praise and silliness ensues. Then you do it again, looking for the dog to be still a little bit longer.

Elbows and Hocks

Once the concept of stillness is established, we can worry about where the feet go. This is when I add the stand command. When placing the feet in position, you will always grasp the elbow to place the front and the hock to place the back ones. The front feet normally need to come straight down from the shoulders. Be sure the front legs are well under the dog and aren’t pushing back in a “rocking horse” maneuver. The back feet generally should come down with the hocks perpendicular to the ground and the back toes just behind the hip bone. (NOTE: Clearly, different breeds have different requirements for proper foot placement. Know what is correct for your breed.)

This is essential knowledge. Placing a dogs’ legs correctly, or incorrectly, can change the dog’s appearance drastically, both for better and for worse!

Five Second Rule

After we have established Stand, Stay and OK as basic commands the dog understands, then I start teaching “5 second” drills. This is a system that instills muscle memory in dog and handler for stacking the dog in a precise and efficient manner.

As the name implies, the goal of the drill is to be able to stack and present your dog in five seconds flat. Each leg is numbered. With the head held by the right hand, you place the front left— 1, rear left — 2 (in other words, always get the judge’s side set first), right rear — 3, switch hands on the head/collar, place the right front — 4 — with the right hand and — 5 is presentation, i.e. tail, stand up straight etc. It may sound daunting, but even my youngest junior handlers can do this.

This drill also helps prevent the “fidgets,” as I dub them. Keep the dog’s weight evenly balanced, with its head pointing forward, place the legs gently and without horsing the dog around and the feet should stay in position and not require resetting.

Practicing this technique gives you confidence to set the dog up quickly and smoothly, thereby maximizing your time in the ring and offering your very best first impression. Having taught the dog to “walk up” into the stack by targeting your right hand, you should have lightened the load considerably. A dog will naturally put its feet where they are most comfortable. If the dog is correctly put together, the handler will have very little work to do. There is nothing more impressive than a dog that steps right up into a stack and a handler who just stands there looking proud.

Caveat, these tips are less applicable to some of the toy and coated breeds. In a future column, we can talk about methods for improving table manners and making a fabulous picture on the exam.

Feel free to make this an interactive space and ask questions as we go.

As always, this is JMHO.