Will The Real Show Stack Please Stand Up?

Preparing Puppies for the Breed Ring

Jane Messineo Lindquist, Puppy Culture

18 Jul 2015 | 5 minute read

Let's Put This To Bed

It's an old discussion that has been going on for as long as I can remember and I don't understand why it won’t die. Allowing/teaching your dog to sit will not ruin his show stack. The whole "sit" vs. "stack" thing is a red herring. It's just not an issue, and I'm going to show you why.


We show all of our dogs in conformation, agility and rally at the same time with excellent results in all three venues. What it boils down to is this. There are two ways to prepare a dog for the show ring:

  1. The traditional approach is a reductive one - all behaviors other than standing are corrected until the dog is left with only one option - to stand. So the finished behavior is "not sitting or moving," which is very different from "stacking" but on some level it achieves the same thing - the dog does not sit or move.

  2. Our approach is to actually teach the behavior of "stack" - done in the way I demonstrate with a 5 week old puppy in the video below. The finished behavior is that the dog WANTS to stack, looks for opportunities to stack, and has a pleasant conditioned emotional response to stacking. In our experience and observation, this is the easiest way to get a sparkling and confident performance from a dog.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

The "stacking" and "not sitting" behaviors are an example of what I call behavior homophones. The two behaviors look similar as the dogs are both "standing," but in reality they could not be more different. One is “Not Moving For Fear of Correction” and the other is “Stacking.” Apples and oranges. And “Stacking” is a MUCH more direct route to a dog who shows as if he owns the ground he stands on.

Once the dog understands "stack" as a behavior, the fact that he also happens to know the behavior "sit" is not going to make him any more or less likely to "stack" when cued to do so.   

Baby Steps

It just breaks my heart to see people bring puppies to show handling classes and dog shows and correct them for sitting or moving. There's no reason for it, ever. I think people should relax more with puppies, understand that they're not going to show like adults, and be patient with the process.  

Consider this video of Daphne (the bitch taking BOV at Montgomery in the above video) showing in sweepstakes at 6 months old:

You'll notice that I can't really free stack her much and I'm falling back to hard stacking her a lot. And I'm constantly touching, stroking, and baiting her. As you saw in the first video, she grew up to show like a pro, so it all worked out. My point is that building a show dog is a process and you have to make an investment in patience and do what it takes for that puppy to succeed at that moment in time.

It’s Not a Moral Issue

When you think about it, the actual behaviors required for a show dog are ridiculously simple - stand still and then trot on a leash. Just about any dog can be taught that at any time. But what makes a “show dog” is that attitude that just dares the judge not to put him up. Teaching that confidence is your primary goal with a puppy, because that’s the thing that’s hardest to teach. The rest of it - all the “must stand,” “can’t sit,” “must gait” and “can’t jump”- is just window dressing that you can add later.

As wild as puppies may act, their egos are very fragile. They need a lot of reinforcement to keep them showing like a house on fire, and that's what you need for the show ring. So when I let small imperfections (such as an occasional sit) in my puppies’ performances go in favor of building up their love for showing, it’s not because I'm a “nice” person. It’s because I want to win ;o).

In our Puppy Culture video set we teach a manding behavior of sitting to our puppies when they're four weeks old. The question comes up again and again on our Facebook discussion group of whether this is confusing for puppies destined for the show ring. Not only is there not confusion with sitting and show stacking, the Puppy Culture Communication Trinity (which includes a chapter on Manding) creates incredibly focused and operant show dogs with rock-solid attitude. It's that sureness that comes from very early reinforcement (4 weeks, in our case) that brings the fire to their performance in the breed ring. 

Again, some of the confusion is that Manding is not “sit on command,” nor is it a “rule” that you hand down to the puppy. It's a forward communication from the puppy to you. Every minute you're in the show ring, it's a dialog with your dog. The more you open up lines of communications and teach puppies to be operant, the less they're going to "speak" out of turn by offering a behavior that you don't want. It's counterintuitive for most people, but teaching our puppies to be creative and reach out to us with many different behaviors will lead to a better and more reliable his show stack. 

If you are not familiar with Manding and the Puppy Culture program, you can see more video and information about Puppy Culture HERE.  

Seeing Is Believing

So many people asked for detailed direction on how to teach a puppy a show stack that we did live broadcasts of show stack training with our last litter. The live sessions were so well received that we made them available on DVD or Streaming. Here is a little clip from those sessions, taken when the puppies were 5 and 6 weeks old:

We're running on a few puppies from this litter so we hope to continue to bring out more live broadcasts of training our puppies for the show ring. Our goal is to show the entire process of training a show dog from 5 weeks old through finished champion. This means lots of fun broadcasts over the coming years, so sign up HERE if you'd like to notified when the next broadcast is aired!

UPDATE: October 2016 - our original "Killer Free Stack" puppies are now 14 months old and we've done two more live training broadcasts called "Stack and Deliver" with them, now available in DVD or Streaming.The puppies exceeded even our expectations at the Bull Terrier specialties this summer/fall - Bijou finished her championship and Naboo (the white puppy in the above video) has both her majors and went up over all the "big dogs" at Montgomery to be Best of Variety! Mina and Catfish made their debut and also picked up majors, so four of our Killer Free Stack puppies are rocking it out already! They all definitely Stacked and Delivered! Here's a clip from Stack and Deliver:

This article was originally updated on puppyculture.com in 2015

1 comment

Great videos and tips for show stacking. Much appreciated.

Bruce MacPherson

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About the Author

Jane Messineo Lindquist (Killion) is the director of "Puppy Culture the Powerful First Twelve Weeks That Can Shape Your Puppies' Future" as well as the author of "When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs" and founder of Madcap University.

Jane has had Bull Terriers since 1982 and she and her husband, Mark Lindquist, breed Bull Terriers under the Madcap kennel name.

Her interests include dog shows, dog agility, gardening, and any cocktail that involves an infused simple syrup.

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