Handle with care: The free stood or stacked debate

By: Lisa Moir


Olivia Busby demonstrating a stacked stance with her Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier at National Terrier junior handling semi-finals.

Some lively discussion has taken place on the DOG WORLD Paws Facebook page recently, and one of the topics I wanted to pick up on was that which asked if handlers with free-stood dogs should be given more credit over those with stacked breeds.

  Part of the original post read: “When it comes to junior handling, surely it’s easier to get your dog straight/in line/parallel to the judge when you are able to physically put them into that position? Maybe handlers of free stood dogs should be given more credit?”


Stacked or free standing

It was interesting to read the viewpoints of both seasoned and newbie handlers and parents, many of whom had strong opinions on the topic. What seemed to stand out the most was that neither stacked or free stood should be given more credit and junior handling should be judged on ability, performance and rapport. The general consensus was that neither free stood or stacked breeds are easier than the other, and the ‘ease’ is actually all dependent on the work and training that has gone on in the background.

  To look at some of the viewpoints, Sophie Wildig, winner of the JHA Junior of the Year utility semi-final at BUBA commented that in the past year she has enjoyed success with stacked breeds and prefers using them in handling competitions now, more so than her original free stood breed.

  Conversely, Kerry Roberts remarked that having gone from a free standing small breed into a large stacked breed, she would take a free standing dog all day long, and that stacking is definitely not easier. Rachel Cumberland commented that having handled both free standing and stacked breeds, that neither was easier than the other, although she does prefer to handle stacked breeds in junior handling and finds when shadowing she has more control. 

  The shadowing was a point I could empathise with having recently taken Libbi in an adult handling class. As she had never been used as a ‘handling’ dog, she was never taught to stand and wait while I walk round her. Undeniably a training issue, which looked very messy in the handling class when she followed me round rather than standing still for the judge to view. Perhaps had she been a ‘stacked’ breed then I may have been able to hold her in position.

  Having, traditionally handled free standing breeds (though I have dabbled with stacked breeds), I am admittedly, more comfortable with a free standing dog, as this is what I have most experience with. However, that said, I readily adapt my handling approach and positioning to suit the breed I am charged with and I think that is the key factor. It goes back to rapport and relationship, understanding not only the breed, but the specific dog you are handling, to ensure you can be the best partnership.

  When it comes to any dog, training is the foundation for success. In my experience, German Spitz are quite forward puppies so I start teaching them to stand from around the four-week mark, and carry on consistently from there, before beginning to work at (low) height to ensure the puppy is happier and more comfortable when it comes to table work. Kind show training, little and often, from a young age pays dividends in the long run and helps ensure you have a dog that knows its job and won’t let you down.

Nine-year-old Lauren Bridges demonstrates an impressive free stand with Samoyed Stryker at Crufts 2016. 
photo onEdition

  I wholeheartedly agree with James Newton who very sensibly suggested that show dogs should be taught both elements of free standing and stacking to ensure they are comfortable being directed by their handler, whether by hand or by voice.

  Going back to the original question though, whether handlers of free stood dogs should be given more credit over others, the answer is definitely no. There are definitely elements that can help a handler stand out more than their counterparts and I do think there are some breeds that can look flashier and perhaps add that extra edge, making them a good choice for handling competitions. However, handling should be judged on ability and performance. The breed choice in these competitions is up to the handler. There should be no expectation that credit should be given for handling free-stood over stacked. Likewise a handler shouldn’t expect to obtain credit for handling a more ‘difficult’ dog. For example, a small child with a big dog shouldn’t be looked on favourably – all handling competitions should be judged against handling criteria.


Exciting training day

Youngsters in the south east are in for a treat with the arrival of a YKC training day next month. Young dog owners are invited to boost their canine training skills and try out different activities by attending the fun training day in Chichester, Sussex.

  The training day, aimed at beginners, will take place at Sussex County dog training at the Dog Barn on Aug 6. All YKC members aged six-24 years are welcome and they will be able to experience a range of activities such as obedience, agility and flyball, as well as a session in scent work, for the first time. 

  The day will offer members access to top trainers within each activity. Miranda Batterbee will be leading the obedience and flyball sessions, having been involved with dogs all her adult working life and has been a trainer for several different dog training organisations, but now concentrates her time working at Sussex County DTC, where she teaches obedience, flyball and agility. For agility, members will be taught by Josie Spurling, who has been training for Sussex County for three years as a qualified agility first instructor. She competes at agility with her Sprocker Eva and has just qualified for the UKA Finals. For the scent training session, members will be taught by Anna Coyne, who has been working for SCDT for nine years and currently teaches obedience classes, recall and scent work.

  Philip Slade, YKC membership development co-ordinator, said: “The Sussex dog training day is perfect for any young person who wishes to try out agility, flyball and obedience for the first time. Our training days are a must for any young dog lovers who want to start competing in dog activities; it’s the perfect way of discovering what you enjoy doing the most. It’s also a fantastic way to meet like-minded people and life-long friendships are often formed along the way.”

  To find out more about the Sussex training day, please contact the YKC team at YKC@thekennelclub.org.uk. The day costs £15 per member, and is open to 20 members, though spaces are limited. Any breed of dog, providing it is fit and healthy, can take part. However due to the nature of the training, the YKC cannot accept dogs under 12 calendar months onto the course.

 Please get in touch if there is something you wish to share lisamoir83@googlemail.com