The competition usually starts with all dogs in the same class going around the ring (which is really a square) in unison. This way the judge gets a quick look as to how each dog moves in relation to the others in the same class. Does one dog stand out as great mover? Does anyone look awkward or ungainly? Your job as handler is to move your dog at the right pace to get the ideal trot -- the bigger the dog, the faster you'll have to move. You also need to make sure that you're not running your dog up into the dog in front of you. This is bad ring etiquette.
The judge will also have all the dogs run individually. There are several patterns used to show the dog's movement from all angles. Each judge has a personal preference. You may be told:
- Down and Back: The judge will point to a corner and you run the dog -- at the best pace for your dog -- straight to the corner and back. The judge is looking at how your dog moves coming and going. Are the feet straight? Is your dog bowlegged? Pigeon-toed? Does it move smoothly?
- Triangle: The judge will usually point to the corner in front of her. Run to that corner and make a sharp left turn. When you get to the next corner turn and run towards the judge. With this pattern the judge will see your dog from the rear, a side gait and then the front movement as you approach.
- An L: This is a skill junior handlers have to demonstrate. Most people hate this one and most judges don't ask for it -- but learn it anyway! This pattern starts like a triangle, but when you get to the second corner you have to switch hands and move the dog to your right side before coming back the way you came. The plus to this pattern is that the judge sees the dog from both sides. The drawback is that switching your dog from side-to-side is difficult to do smoothly and you risk the chance of appearing ungainly.
After the judge has examined all dogs, she'll usually have everybody run around the together again. She may switch dogs around (some dogs move better at the head of the line) and have you run again -- and again -- before making a final decision. Should you win your class, you’ll return to the ring and do it all over again to compete for winners dog. Stamina is a plus here. If you get tired and start lagging behind it'll make your dog look bad.
A few tips for running the ring:
- Ring running is different from regular running. You want to take long, gliding strides and try to limit the upper body movement. Try to avoid bouncing.
- Going from a stand to a run can make the dog look awkward. Start with three long, quick steps before breaking into a run.
- Stopping can be equally difficult. Start slowing down early, so that you can gracefully stop 3-4 feet in front of the judge. If you can get a free stack that would be awesome.
- U-turning at the corners on the Down and Back can be tricky. Learn to slow down so you don't squish your dog if turning clockwise. OR you can swing in and turn counter-clockwise, keeping your dog on the outside of the turn. Either way, you want it to appear smooth and effortless.
- Running around the ring requires a bunch of left turns. Teach your dog turn smoothly so you don't run into him.
- Make sure that as you approach, the dog is centered in front of the judge -- not you!
- Ideally, you have found the prefect speed for your dog. If you haven't, top handler Peter Frost says that too fast is better than too slow. He states:
If asked by a judge to show your dog on the move and you move too slowly to achieve your dog’s optimum gait, then it is very likely the judge will not ask you to move again but faster, instead interpreting that your dog lacks attitude. On the other hand, if you move your dog too fast and the judge likes your dog, then it is quite likely that you’ll be asked to move again – this time a little slower – precisely because your dog has shown exuberance. (Full article here.)
- Learn where your breed is suppose to be positioned when gaiting. It's not the same for everybody.
Small dogs go around the ring parallel to the handler's leg like this:
|2015 Westminster winner, Miss P|
Whereas German shepherds are expected to pull out like this:
|unknown dog at Westminster, handled by Jimmy Moses|
Running a dog around the ring isn't as easy as it looks on TV (much to my dismay) but when done right it's beautiful. Running a dog properly around the ring takes practice -- LOTS of practice. And maybe a bit of coordination. And if you think this is hard, wait until you see tomorrow's topic. *sigh* -- K
Tomorrow's Topic: Stacking