Training a puppy for show can easily start on a table or other elevated flat surface. Gently pick the puppy up, one hand under his chest and the other supporting his rear, and place him deliberately on the table. Extend him out to his full length, letting his front legs dangle for just a moment before placing his paws on the table. Follow that with his rear legs. Continue to hold him in place and wait for his reaction. If he seems to be calm, slowly release your hold, talking to him quietly and pet him lightly. Encourage him to hold his head up by lightly grasping him at the throat with your right hand. Do not hold him by the throat as that could choke him. You can maneuver his hindquarters by using your fingers between his legs to adjust them to the appropriate width. Ease his tail into the correct position per breed protocol. When he relaxes, return him to the floor. Quiet praise at this time will help to keep him calm, as too much exuberance will wind him up.
Do not allow the puppy to flop over or cower on the table. Keep the experience positive and quietly upbeat. Hold him in place firmly for a few seconds, then let him relax. Don’t push him, otherwise he will fight you and become more apprehensive. Also, do not punish him but encourage him, as to do otherwise will make matters worse.
Gradually extend the time you ask him to stay quietly in his show stance by a few seconds. By slowly building up the time, you will allow him to become used to what you are asking of him and to become comfortable with it. Remember, above all, to be patient. There is always tomorrow if either of you are having a bad day.
For those puppies who do not want to stand still on the table, even for a few short seconds, you will have to be a little more firm with them. Gently, but firmly, hold the puppy by the muzzle to prevent him from bouncing around. If he stands with both ends stretched out, called bridging, pull his tail backwards lightly. This will encourage him to lean forward as he braces himself against the backwards pull.
To work with a large breed puppy, create a platform with a small sheet of thick plywood set upon concrete blocks, or a training bench such as you would find with the hunting breeds. To begin with, encourage him to jump up on the board or bench until he is comfortable being on it. Then ask him to stand or stay. Let him relax, then start to place him in position. Start with the front first, working towards the rear. Do a little at a time, remembering to keep the experience positive. Close is good enough at this stage of training, as the puppy will improve over time as he gains understanding of what you are asking.
Patiently place his legs in position by lifting him up just off the table, allowing his legs to dangle mostly in the right position, then place him on the table. This should be done quickly. There is no need to let your dog dangle for more than a few seconds. You may have to adjust his legs individually to get them in the correct position. Make sure his head remains still, as if he moves it, the body will likely follow.
Practice stacking your puppy once or twice a day. Don’t overdo it. Keep it simple, enjoyable and a positive experience. Remember to work on both sides so that he is used to being worked with you on his right or his left. Use small pieces of bait to reward him once he is standing still and in place. Do not work with him if you are having an off day or are feeling impatient or irritable. This will work down the leash and you will both have a bad experience. With patience and persistence, by the time your puppy is old enough to enter the show ring, he’ll have a solid understanding of what you are asking of him and will do well in the ring.
Learn more about Show Dog Handling from Peter Green and Mario Migliorini’s book New Secrets of Successful Show Dog Handling.