Friday, August 26, 2016

Holding a Stack with Distance and Duration by Andrea Stone

Your dog stacks and holds position at a distance from you
What it teaches
Impulse control, focus. And a really fancy stack!

Before beginning this exercise, your dog should already self-stack on cue, visual or verbal.
Because we are adding two separate criterion – adding distance and duration – to our dog’s stack, each must be taught separately before they are combined. Dogs (and people) learn best when the goal of the lesson is clear.


So first let’s discuss duration. This refers to the amount of time you expect your dog to hold a free stack without moving. It must be built slowly, adding time as your dog demonstrates fluency at the current level for success.

There are two ways to build duration. One is though delaying your click or marker word. Right now your dog will stack on cue, but may only hold it for a moment or two. Using this method once your dog stacks, silently count “one-Mississippi”, then click reward. During this exercise your bait is to remain in your pocket – no luring!

Alternatively, you may use the “1-2-3 game” to build duration. This option is a great one that is very helpful for young or easily distracted dogs because it makes use of a “keep going” signal – you counting! In the beginning stage of this exercise you will cue your dog to free stack, and then count aloud quickly, “Fifi, Stand. One, two, three,” rewarding the dog on “three”. Again your reward is to remain in your pocket. (For the rest of this exercise we will presume you are using the 1-2-3 game. It’s our favorite!)

Review of Action



During your session, if you have five successful repetitions in a row you are ready to progress. You will now count to “three” slightly more slowly, again rewarding on three. You may find you are able to progress rather quickly if you and your dog are really on a roll. YES!

Next time you train, or if you change locations or the distraction increases during your current session, you may have to go back to the beginning level. The point is to have your dog remain successful, slowly raising the bar as she demonstrates fluency. However each time you are likely to find that your dog progresses more quickly.

Do be aware of your own counting style as you will need to be able to keep track of what you’ve been doing. If you are detail oriented and/or have difficulty remembering how fast you were counting, using a metronome and noting your speed may help. (For you engineers in the crowd!) There are many free metronome apps available for smart phones.

You will really be rocking and rolling when you find yourself getting a bit silly,

“One….one and a half….one point six five…..Two….two and a quarter….two and seven twenty-fifths…”

Don’t try to jump ahead too quickly. It is worthwhile to build this skill slowly such that your dog has a good, solid free stack with duration. Moving a single foot is “breaking”, and means you need to get better at the previous level before moving on.

During the entirety of teaching duration  you are right at your dog’s side or right in front. Now we will discuss adding distance. The length of time you expect your dog to hold her free-stack goes back down to just one moment.


Distance is how far you are or can move from your dog and have her remain stacked. Using a platform may be helpful for some dogs during this exercise but is not necessary.  You will cue your dog to free-stack and then take a step away. Before your dog moves, click and lean or step back to offer her reward – this will help cement for your dog that moving is not needed. However if your dog moves before you reward but after you click, that’s fair – the click ends the behavior. This is where the platform may be of the most help, or for very wiggly dogs. It creates a slight deterrent of movement.

Review of Action




After five consecutive repetitions you are ready to take an additional small step backward. As with adding duration, you will need to be aware of changes in context – location and/or distraction – and account for it. If one element has changed all others must remain the same. Be ready to go back to just one step away from your dog if needed.

When you begin to take two or more steps away from your dog you will need to become the Wiggle Police. Any indication that your dog is about to move – a twitch of the ear, loss of focused eye contact, a shift in weight – means it is time to click and reward before the dog does in fact move. If this happens more than once you have either progressed too quickly or something in the environment has changed. Remember our dogs are far more sensitive to changes in the environment than we are. If you can’t figure it out or rectify it, go back to your previous level of success, get one or two reps and call it a night. Everyone will be happier that way!

Putting It Together

When you have reached at least your interim goal for each separate element – Duration and Distance – you are ready to start combining them.  Ten seconds of duration and three normal sized steps back are good goals to consider but each handler must decide for themselves. Adjusting for your dog’s age, ability and excitement level are key.

When you begin to combine the two, however, you are going to go back to “easy” levels. That is, you will take one step back and drop duration down to a quick, “One, two, three”. You will then build your duration to about ten seconds (A fun and silly, “One, two, three.”) before taking another step back. You are then back at square one for duration. Get it? Each phase must be built clearly and separately.

Review of Action




As the trainer, you will have to use finesse to gauge your dog’s ability on the day and in the moment. When you start adding distraction – such as a real show venue or the outdoors – you are likely to have to take everything back to square one again. Do train each element in different locations and levels of distraction before you attempt to “put it together” in a dog show environment.

Oh, and by the way you CAN do a distance stack on the ramp or table. And guess what – it’s impressive!