Wednesday, April 8, 2015

G -- Gait

A word you'll hear a lot around a dog show is "gait." Gait simply refers to a dog's movement -- it could be a walk, a run or a trot. However, how a dog moves is very important. And it's important that you know the difference.

When a dog is walking three feet are on the ground at all times, as each foot is moved individually.

Photo courtesy of WiseGeek.com

When a dog is pacing the feet on the same side of the body move in unison. Under closer inspection you'll notice that the left front leg and the left rear leg stay the same distance apart, moving forward and backwards together.

photo courtesy of Photobucket

When a dog is trotting the legs on the same side move in opposite directions. For example, the dog moves the left front leg and right rear leg forward. The dog's entire body will be airborne momentarily, then the it will move the right front leg and left rear leg forward. It looks like this:

Jedi's father in a beautiful flying trot

Galloping starts with the dog’s two rear feet on the ground. The dog pushes off from the back feet and stretches its front feet forward, causing all four feet to be off the ground. The front feet hit the ground with one foot slightly ahead of the other. The dog then flexes the spine to bring the rear feet forward to start the cycle again. It looks something like this:

Photo courtesy of CorbisImages.com

When showing a dog it's important that you move at the right speed to get the proper movement for your dog. This varies from breed to breed, as well as from dog to dog. German shepherds are supposed to trot around the ring, which means the handler has to move pretty quickly.

A judge will have a handler run a dog "up and back" (away from and directly towards the judge) to see a dog's movement from the rear and front. A judge will also have the handler run the dog around the ring to view the gait from the side (aka side gait). The breed standard dictates what the judge is looking for. In German shepherds the standard states that:
The gait is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps.
The GSD standard is very specific about forward reach, backwards thrust, drive, foot placement and musculature.

Other terms you might hear as a dog goes around the ring are:
  • Crabbing -- this is a side winding gait
  • Drive -- the thrust from the hind quarters
  • Lumbering -- a heavy, ungainly gait (normal for English bulldogs, bad for German shepherds)
  • Reach -- the length of a dog's forward stride
Next time you're out with your dog, take a look at his movement. Is he walking? Trotting? Does he move in a straight line? What happens if you speed up or slow down? You didn't know there was so much involved in simply running around the ring, did you? Trust me, it's not as easy as it looks! But once you "get it" it's awesome. -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Handlers