Handling Tips Part One: Stacking

This is a really nice overall picture from this angle. His front and expression look fantastic, he is relaxed but standing upright, and my body language mirrors that. Note how my hands are relaxed. My spacing from him is good here. This does not give the judge the best picture of him, though, as he is twisted away from her and looking at me. This was after she had stopped looking at him, but I could have moved in front of him here and free baited him straight forward in case she glanced back at him.

Disclaimer: most of these tips are specific to Siberians, although they apply to a lot of other breeds as well.

So I am far from the best handler in the world, but I am always striving to improve, and I’m pretty good at observing and imitating others, so I thought I’d share some of my handling tips as well as pet peeves. A few months ago, I was taking a win photo with a friendly judge who loved my puppy but was also very insistent that I was doing her a disservice by showing like an “amateur”, in his words. It was a little harsh, but it was great constructive feedback. You do have to have thick skin in this world! I put a positive spin on it in my head…logically, it followed that he was saying I wasn’t an amateur. Just that I was showing like one. Lol. Anyway, his point was that I was standing way too far back from the dog while stacking. And he was right — it did make me stand out, and not in a good way.

I started out showing a dog that I didn’t start show training until he was 6 months old, and by that time he didn’t like to be hand stacked. He was a very balanced and showy dog, though, and he excelled at free stacking. So I free stacked him 100% of the way to his championship. The problem was that I never really learned to hand stack well. Eventually, I got to the point where I was pretty good at hand stacking the dog quickly, but my own posture was not the best. It’s my natural inclination to put some space between myself and the dog, just so I can see and double-check my work, and because it feels like the dog has more room to show off. As opposed to being right next to the dog and your legs getting in the way of his silhouette. The way I was doing it though, by leaning over super awkwardly, wasn’t it. The dog looked good, but I looked amateur. And the worst thing you can do as a handler is carry yourself in a way that distracts or detracts from the dog.

I’m always at a loss for what to do with puppies. I think I should just kneel with him honestly, especially in a short skirt. He looks fabulous here, his head position is ideal and his stack is perfect. He’s standing really strong, with just a little bit of support from the collar. But I look like I’m about to throw up or something 😂

When you are stacking your dog for the lineup, you have a few different options. You can kneel next to the dog, which is the easiest, because you can easily have good posture but also lean back and take peeks at the dog and make quick adjustments as needed. You can easily bait the dog’s head downwards, which is how most dogs look their best. You give the dog a lot of support with your body language, and they usually stay put better, especially when they are young, wiggly puppies. I’ve always felt awkward kneeling, though, and I know some pros and judges have strong opinions on never kneeling. You rarely see the top handlers on their knees, but then again, they are mostly showing polished specials. I never kneel with boys, even puppies, but sometimes I kneel with female puppies. It doesn’t bother me when other handlers do it, but it obviously doesn’t look as good or polished as staying upright. Sometimes, though, I think it’s a necessary evil.

That being said, I really hate option #2 and always have, which is why I kind of refused to do it. Option #2 is you stand right next to the dog’s head and start doing the splits. The degree of the splits depends on how short the dog is and how tall you are, as well as how long your arms are. So you just kind of start doing the splits and leaning towards one side to get your hands down lower, to the level of the dog, while keeping your upper body upright. It’s my personal pet peeve, but I hate the look of this. You do stay upright, but you don’t look confident or elegant, and the “dancing” feet to me are really distracting from the silhouette of the dog. Plus you are typically not low enough to bait the dog’s head downwards.

Unfortunately, those two options are the only realistic ones you have until or unless you have a well trained and structurally stable dog who has the physical and mental strength to hold himself in position. Once you do have that, though, you can do fancier things. Option #3 you switch the hand holding the collar from the left to right hand, and you stand next to but behind the head of the dog, in line with the body. This is a totally hands off position, you can’t bait the dog unless you toss food, and you can’t reach down and fix anything either. An advanced variation of this is when you hold the lead taut and high over the dog’s head and you stand even farther back, towards the rear. From here you can’t fix the front, but you can fix the rear.

Option #4 you stand directly in front of the dog and free bait the dog. One variation is you hold the lead tight and high over his head, which gives you a little more control and helps him stand a bit more upright, and you can use a visual bait downwards at your side. I prefer a really subtle hand motion here — I absolutely hate it when handlers use this forceful motion like they are gesturing to slash someone’s throat. The other variation is you stand very far away and you use a completely slack lead, but from this position you can only bait upwards, and most dogs do not look their best when they are looking up. I would recommend to use this variation sparingly. Only attempt if you have a dog with a perfect free stack, nice long neck, and strong topline. The shorter you are and the farther away you stand, the better and more natural this will look.

My personal advice is: whatever you do while stacking, do not lean over and do not spread your legs more than shoulder’s width apart. In general, stand with your shoulders square and both feet pointing forwards. My personal preference is if you can’t accomplish that without your dog falling apart, then kneel. Also, working in front of a mirror is amazing to help you trust your feel and your dog. One last tip: make sure the dog’s head is pointing slightly downwards and straight (perpendicular to the judge) as much as possible. Especially in young dogs, if the head is turned away from the judge or twisting to get to bait, it really messes up the whole stack.

In Part Two, we will discuss posing for win photos, both dog and human, and how to avoid looking like an amateur handler in a win photo.

Adventures In Choosing Stud Dogs

I’m a planner, and I like to have my breedings planned out as far in advance as possible. Of course, most planned breedings don’t work out, as I typically change my mind about 1000 times. Sometimes, though, I just know from the start — I picked Valley for Serena when she was 3 months old and he was 2 months. On the other hand, I cycled through many a stud dog, and was turned down quite a few times, when I was looking for Cece’s mate. She wasn’t even two, but like I said, I do like to plan ahead! People often retire or neuter their stud dogs, and I wanted to make sure they knew I was interested. One of them declined due to the stud having produced oversize, and I’ll never know if that was the real story, or if they just weren’t sure about Cece, but that comes with the territory when you have a pedigree people are not familiar with. I got incredibly lucky that the stud dog I ultimately chose for Cece was not only available but was a near-perfect fit for her.

Now, a generation down from that breeding, I’m thrilled with how much progress we’ve made in just two breedings. Unlike in Serena’s case, I really struggled with picking a stud for Lillie. Lillie had quite a few faults that I wanted to fix, and I was greedy in wanting to fix them all, while not ruining her many strengths. She is also a top of the standard bitch, and I didn’t want to risk producing oversized pups. Blaze was actually the first dog I had my eye on, from the time I saw him around six months or so. I absolutely loved his pedigree, and I thought that it would be very complementary to Lillie’s pedigree. But I was also hesitant, because he was young and I wanted to wait to see how he matured, as well as how he produced. Lillie had a good amount of bone, and I didn’t want to get anything overdone. While Blaze was on the taller side, he had a lot of smaller relatives and quite moderate ones as well, so I was definitely still interested in him. Over the next year or so until Lillie turned two, I went through a long list of other studs. There were two in particular that I really might have used if not for various obstacles — one was in the middle of nowhere in Canada, and one had a heavy family history of hemangiosarcoma. Both were older (one was dead, in fact!) so they did have that going for them, and I liked what they had previously produced. Alas, I decided to pass on them.

So, process of elimination brought me back to Blaze. Then, when I inquired about him, I learned he would soon be going overseas! So that sealed the deal, since I knew I wanted the chance to use him live cover. At first, it seemed that Lillie was going to be amazingly cooperative and go into heat just in time to do the breeding when she and Blaze were both going to be at the September National. Nope, no such luck. She decides to go into heat super late, so late that we had to drive out to a dog show to meet Blaze, three days before he was scheduled to board his flight to the Philippines. We had to leave after only registering 2 point something in progesterone, since it was a weekend and we wouldn’t have results back until Monday. The 2 reading was a Thursday, and we left Saturday morning to hopefully get a tie that evening and maybe one more Sunday. Well, we couldn’t get the deed done on Saturday, despite walking them all around the romantic Finger Lakes. I was left wondering that night if perhaps my instincts were wrong and Lillie had not yet ovulated or was stalling.

The following day, I was more hopeful, but it became clear that it still wasn’t happening. But we had a backup plan. At the end of the show day, we whisked the lovers away for the type of clandestine rendezvous that only dog people will understand, involving plastic bags and skilled hands. The person who “helped” us out, so to speak, who shall remain unnamed, boasted a 95% success rate.

Stud dog rendezvous road trips are the best kind, not nearly as stressful as dog show road trips! Lol.

That weekend, we felt relaxed enough to continue with our original planned detour at a nice resort, where we hung out with the pups and went horseback riding in the Hudson Valley. On Monday, we got the call from our repro vet. Lillie’s progesterone on Saturday morning had been a 5. We all breathed a sigh of relief and crossed our fingers. I noticed immediately, literally hours after she’d been bred, that Lillie was acting differently. She was noticeably quieter, more protective of herself. This obviously doesn’t make sense from a biological perspective, but there are plenty of things we don’t understand — it’s possible her body knew. Next thing we knew, she was sleeping like a baby, starving to death, and had gained several inches around her ribcage (the lungs expand in early pregnancy to increase blood oxygen).

About a month after Blaze arrived in the Philippines, we hopped in the car with Lillie to our repro vet and found six beautiful fetal sacs. Those were the same six babies she had another month later, although one of them wasn’t meant to be. Looking at those pups now, at four months old, I feel so incredibly lucky that it all worked out. And so incredibly fortunate that yet again, we nailed the stud dog search. This is our nicest litter so far, one that completely exceeded my expectations and initial goals with the breeding. They are not perfect, but they are an improvement on their parents in almost every way. These puppies have retained the best qualities of Cece and her working line traits, kept the type and structure that made Lillie easily a top 20 dog in limited showing, and added the showiness, angulation, and balance that made the sire line consistent group and BIS winners. We are dreaming big dreams for them, and we feel that the sky is the limit.

My pick of the litter at 16 weeks.


Gracie getting a huge 5 point major at the biggest dog show in America! Just 7 months old.

Goodbye, 2022! This was a huge year for us in terms of milestones. So much happened that it’s difficult to believe it all happened in such a short amount of time. It will take a while for me to process everything. There were a lot of hard times as well, even traumatic losses, which we are still grieving. It was a year that taught us what it means to breed, challenged our commitment to the breed, and also rewarded us for sticking with it. Although I’ve never written down specific goals, if I had, then this past year we certainly would have checked off a whole bunch of them.

We have been so blessed with the two lovely litters we had in 2022, although the first is only eight months old and the second four weeks old, so they have plenty of growing up to do. But there is so much to love about them already, so many things that we have been able to improve on in our second generation of dogs, from structure to temperament to training. It is so encouraging to see, and I feel secure and content with what we have in our kennel in a way that I never have before. As a preservation breeder, you are always racing against the clock, against time. Lines, dogs, and breeders are dying out by the second. Even great judges are passing or retiring. Your girls have a limited number of reproductive years, and I have always felt an urgency to breed my girls as soon as possible. Now that we have enough promising youngsters, I feel that I can slow down a bit, especially since we plan to keep quite a few of Lillie’s babies.

I think he’s a keeper!

I truly feel like I have been able to “preserve” the best qualities of our foundation dogs, Juno and Cece, and have vastly improved upon them in just two generations of breeding. A lot of that was careful planning, and a lot of it was also luck. If I could give a piece of advice to a new breeder, it would be this: pick the right stud dog the first time around. It saves you so much time and energy, and you are able to move forward with every breeding. Of course, that’s much easier said than done. I agonized over Lillie’s suitor for years — I had my eye on Blaze early on, but he was a young, unproven stud. I wasn’t sure if I would like him once he matured, and I wanted to see how he would produce. When I heard that he was soon going overseas, though, I decided that he was the one. I felt confident in his pedigree, and I felt that he was the best I could do for Lillie. Although the litter is only four weeks old, I have been extremely impressed with them so far. I’m so pleased we got some nice boys in this litter — finding a good stud dog is practically impossible these days, so it’s much better to have one at home.

Without further ado, here are some of our 2022 highlights:

  1. Our first grand champion. Lillie got her grand championship in the blink of an eye. She did it in style, going breed her second day as a move-up in a huge, competitive entry on a specialty weekend.
  2. Our first group placement. When I saw that the only other specials entered that weekend were RBIS, group-winning, top 10, etc., I did not have any expectations for Lillie’s first weekend out as a special. She proceeded to take 3 out of 4 breeds and got a group fourth the first day. The one day she lost the breed, the group judge gave the breed winner the group win. After seeing that, and knowing the same judge was judging breed the next day, I thought for sure we would lose to the group winning dog. To my shock, Lillie took the breed over that dog, and the judge made sure to let us know that she would’ve been her working group winner! That was a working group that included a National winning Doberman. To be honest, when we had Lillie out, I was so often surprised by her results, I think on the whole the judges appreciated her more than I did! I had to learn to see her through their eyes.
  3. Our first ranked special. Lillie was top 25 both breed and all-breed after only a month of being specialed. For half of that she was out of coat too. Then she hit another awkward phase around 2 years old, so we decided to keep her home and breed her. Even now, she is still ranked in breed!
  4. Our first second generation bred-by champion. With each generation that you breed, if you are lucky enough to maintain a line, the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the newest generation just grow exponentially. So many lines fizzle out in the first generation; it’s so incredibly hard to keep quality going for more than one generation. To improve on that quality two generations in a row is truly unusual and requires both skill and luck. Gracie is everything that we wanted from her parents, and we couldn’t be prouder to have her representing us as our first second generation bred-by.
  5. Our first competitive 6-9 puppy. It is every breeder’s dream to breed a dog that is competitive at every age, from the puppy class to the veteran class. We have had some nice puppies, but not the type of puppy that wins breed from the classes or is consistently competitive against older dogs. Gracie is pretty much that – her head is the only part that looks a little awkward. I wasn’t sure if the judges would see what I loved about Gracie, but enough of them did, and she became our youngest champion ever at just 7 months old. She took back-to-back 5 point majors (another first for us) in stiff competition to finish.
  6. Our first stud dog service. It was such an honor to get our first stud dog recommendation from a longtime breeder who had seen Valley at last year’s National and told us he should’ve won his huge and competitive open dog class! It’s been a whole new experience navigating these waters as a stud dog owner, writing up a stud contract, and really thinking about the responsibilities of this new role. We have decided that we wouldn’t stud our dog out to anyone who we wouldn’t sell a puppy to, and while this decision certainly upset people, it’s something we’ve decided to stick to, if only for our own peace of mind. The fact that Valley is about to have puppies on the other side of the country is hard to comprehend!
  7. Our first time rehoming a retired dog. We have always kept our kennel small (we do not actually have a physical kennel) so that we would never need to rehome dogs upon retirement. I always said, though, that if the perfect home came along, I would be willing to do it. All of our dogs are very happy in our home, but some of them I know would be even happier having more one-on-one attention. So the perfect home ended up coming along for one of our retired girls, our second show dog who we decided not to breed, and we thought we would give it a try. This home already had one of Gracie’s sisters, and they were doing a great job with her as first-time Siberian owners. It turned out to be a perfect match, and we are absolutely thrilled!

Summer Update

We said goodbye to our last puppy from the Serena x Valley litter last week, so we are enjoying more one-on-one time with the dogs. Although, of course, Gracie still takes up most of our time! She is growing up so fast and learning so much each day. This litter was very developmentally advanced from day one, and Gracie continues to exceed our expectations. She learned to be quiet while crated in the car in one day. She goes on 40-minute car rides without a peep at 9 weeks old!

We have started taking her hiking at a trail near our house. She loved it and walked most of the way, although we put her in a carrier when she seemed tired. She also went to her first puppy class and she was the best behaved puppy there! She loved all the people and played nicely with all the other puppies. During breaks, she sat quietly at Dan’s feet. She received many pets and compliments!

Other than socializing Gracie, we have been trying out our Firepaw slatmill with a few of our dogs. I can’t tell if they are enjoying it yet, but it sure is cool to watch them run while I sit on the couch!

We are also taking advantage of our new patio space with outdoor outlets to groom our dogs. Lillie is pictured enjoying her spa day!


It is currently 90 degrees outside, so this video is definitely not recent! But this hot summer weather has me reminiscing of my last time skijoring two winters ago with Valley and Serena. This past winter we spent moving and my skis were still in storage the one time we had good snow. We are hoping to find some good skijoring trails this winter now that we moved to a more rural part of Fairfield County. We recently went hiking with our 9-week-old baby Gracie for the first time and she loved it! Didn’t see a single off-leash dog the whole time until the very end, at the parking lot. That is the biggest challenge with finding a good mushing trail in Connecticut. There are off-leash dogs everywhere. I am paranoid about them, so I usually have Dan follow us when we mush in case I need help with off-leash dogs. This doesn’t work too great when I’m racing down a trail skijoring and Dan is trying to keep up jogging.