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For training and perfecting a free stack, it is extremely beneficial to use a clicker. A clicker is also called a marker or a bridge. The marker tells the dog the exact moment that he was doing the behavior that earned him a reinforcer. If he hears the click it signals that exactly at that moment he made the correct choice and a reinforcer (treat) is coming.

Some people also use a verbal marker instead of a clicker, so rather than clicking and treating they use a spoken word such as “Yes!” or “Good!” said in a distinct tone that also signals to the dog that a treat is coming because of the behavior they were doing when they heard the marker.

Markers give you the opportunity to not have to deliver the food at the exact moment that the behavior happens because the marker told him what he did correctly. That said, when you deliver the food can also reinforce further, so always be sure if you click to deliver the food in the position that you would like the dog in. My dogs understand both a clicker and a verbal marker which allows me to mark in the ring as well as in training sessions.

While I nearly always recommend using a clicker for free stack training, I do not use them for hand stacking. I use a verbal marker for hand stacking because 1) I just don’t have enough hands to manage setting the dog, holding the collar, clicking the clicker and delivering the reinforcer and 2) I don’t want to click anywhere near a dog’s heads.


  • Decide if you want to use a clicker or a verbal marker
  • If you are using a clicker, you will click it when I say “mark”
  • If you are using a verbal marker, you will say “YES!” when I say “mark”
  • Get your marker (clicker or verbal word) and a handful of good treats
  • Mark (either click the clicker or say “YES!”), then give the dog a treat
  • Repeat this until when you click or say “YES!” the dog looks at you with anticipation
  • From this point on, ONLY mark if you can pay the dog with a treat


Vicki Ronchette is the founder of Show Dog Prep School and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Vicki has been working with dogs professionally for over 30 years as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, groomer and veterinary assistant. She is the author of Positive Training for Show Dogs, From Shy to Showy and Ready? Set. SHOW! Vicki presents workshops and seminars all over the country on how training show dogs.