The Mechanics of the Hand Stack
By Fran Hellman, CPDT-KA
Whether you call it posing, setting up, hand stacking or hard stacking, stacking is the process of correctly presenting a show dog to its best advantage in the show ring. In order to know how your dog should be hand stacked you will need to know its breed standard. Once you have that knowledge you will have a mental picture of where to set the dogs legs. For most breeds the front legs are set directly under its shoulders. If you take a plumb line from the top of the shoulders, also called withers, and drop it straight down to the surface that the dog is standing on that is where the front legs should be. The rear legs are placed slightly wider apart than the front for better stability and with the rear pasterns being at a 90-degree angle to the surface.
Now for the mechanics: Firstly the dog needs to be standing with his body in a straight line parallel to the handlers left side. The dog’s head is facing forward. The handler must keep control of the dog’s head throughout the hand stacking. This is done by holding the collar and/or the dog’s head. Then set the front legs first. Ideally, you want to walk your dog into the stack so he’s in a good position already, then set whichever leg needs to be set, however from a teaching standpoint we will go through the steps. The same applies to dogs that are hand stacked on examination tables and ramps. Always set the front legs first. Before lifting the front leg help your dog shift his weight off the leg you are going to lift by moving his head in the opposite direction. To set the front legs gently grasp the dog’s elbow and lift slightly up and into position. Another way is to cup your hand onto the dog’s upper arm and position the leg. The opposite hand controls the dog’s head. The rear leg is slightly lifted either by the hock joint or the stifle and placed gently down.
Up for debate: Some people differ in their methods of setting up all four legs. Some will say to set up the front left leg first, then the front right leg, then the left rear leg, and then the right rear leg. The reason for setting the front left leg first is because that is the judge’s side; therefore that is what the judge sees. This makes a lot of sense, however, for more efficiency of movement and time you would set the right front leg first since the left hand is already holding the lead. Then you would switch the collar into the right hand and set the other three legs. The left hand always sets three legs while the right hand only sets the front right leg. If you use the former method then you would have to switch hands under the collar an extra time.
In reality: When your dog walks into the stand in preparation for being hand stacked place the front leg that is farthest forward back to meet the one under the body first, then position the left rear, then right rear.
Whichever of these methods you choose to use the most important thing to remember is to be methodical, deliberate and systematic. Therefore, both you and your dog will develop muscle memory, which will enable the hand stack to become automatic. This will convey good control, confidence and professionalism, which will give you the winning edge!
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