Patricia Gail Burnham
When we are asked to Gait our dogs around the ring we are expected to move them at the trot. The AKC Glossary defines Gait as. ‘Gait The pattern of footsteps at various rates of speed, each pattern distinguished by a particular rhythm and footfall.’ While it defines Trot as “Trot A rhythmic two-beat diagonal gait in which the feet at diagonal opposite ends of the body strike the ground together; i.e., right hind with left front and left hind with right front.’ When they say “together” they don’t mean near each other. They mean that they strike the ground at the same time. So why do we race our dogs until they plant one back paw on the ground while the diagonal paw is still 6 to 8 inches in the air?
We do it because the feet on a trotting dog are moving so fast that a judge can’t see whether the diagonal paws strike the ground at the same time. The action is too fast. There are too many feet doing too many things at high speed. But the judge can see an out flung front leg which lets them think the dog has Tremendous Reach and Drive (TRAD) and they put it up. Since it wins, exhibitors and handlers breed for the slack tendons that allow this kind of gait until people come to think of it as a good thing instead of a fault. (It is a fault because it waste’s energy. The slack tenons also produce hip dysplasia, and gastric torsion.)
A Word About Energy Conservation:
A horse or dog changes gaits to a faster one (from a walk to a trot, or from a trot to a gallop when the energy needed to perform the slower gait really fast exceeds the energy to perform the next faster gait. This is why, when we train young dogs to gait, they keep trying to gallop. We are asking them to move so fast that galloping would require less energy than the fast trot. So we correct them for moving to the gallop when what we want is for them to trot really fast. We teach them to trot so fast that it expends more energy than galloping would.
Fortunately, while a judge cannot see if a dog’s diagonal feet strike the ground at the same time, a high speed camera can stop the action for us. Thus we see pictures of big winners that are over reaching six to eight inches. Or that have one rear paw planted on the ground to hold the dog up while the corresponding diagonal front paw is way up in the air. These dogs are, by definition, not trotting.
Dogs and horses walk, trot, pace, and gallop. In horses the trot is a bouncy and uncomfortable gait. So horse people have bred and trained horses to do a variety of artificial gaits like the single foot, the extended trot, the Tennessee Walking Horse’s running walk, the Saddlebred’s slow gait and rack and the Paso Fino’s fancy gaits.
And we don’t even have the excuse of wanting a smooth gait to ride. But even fanciers of horses that aren’t ridden want a flashy gait to catch the judge’s eye. Those out flung front legs do it. So they put weights on horse’s ankles to accustom them to lifting their front legs really hard. Then, when the weights are removed for show, the front legs lift really high to catch the judge’s eye. At least we don’t do that.
Instead we teach our dogs to not gallop, while we ask them to move really fast. When we do that, first they do the extended or flying trot. If we ask for still more speed, they have to adopt one of the pseudo trots and give up the two beat trot. This is why we see pictures of dogs over reaching and/or planting a back foot on the ground while the diagonal front paw is still up in the air.
The Flying Trot:
When we teach our dogs to not gallop while we ask them to move really fast, first they do the extended or flying trot. For this there is a period of suspension when all four paws are off the ground between each stride. This slightly lengthens the stride to allow for the time spent in the air.
At first this will still allow the diagonal paws to touch the ground at the same time. But when we increase the speed still further, it is no longer possible for the dog to do a true two beat trot. Either the dog will overreach by planting his rear paw farther forward than the paw print of the paw on the same side. Or he will change from a trot to a four beat gait to keep one paw on the ground at all times.
Ten years ago I went through the AKC Dog Book looking for standards that asked that their breed over reach. At that time there were only two standards that wanted overreaching. These were the Brittany and German Shepherd Dogs. In the last decade the AKC has added nearly 60 new breeds. I haven’t gone through those standards so that now there may be a couple of additional breeds that are asked to over reach.
What is the problem with over reaching? The founding dog exhibitors were often also horse people. And a horse that over reaches at the trot will strike the back of its front ankles with its rear hoof. And that will cripple the horse. So in horses it is a big time fault and that carried over into judging dogs.
The Pseudo Trot:
In order to have that flashy front leg extended without having the dog collapse a dog has to break up the timing of the trot to make it a four beat gait instead of a two beat gait. The dog plants its rear paw on the ground to hold his body up while the diagonal front leg is doing that German goose step to catch the judge’s eye. This dog is no longer trotting. He is performing one of the pseudo trotting gaits.
It would be really nice if the AKC during its judges exams would ask prospective judge to define the trot. For that matter, with what we see judges putting up it would be nice if they asked old judges to define the trot. Because many of the dogs in the ring are not doing a trot.
There are actually two natural gaits between the walk and the gallop. They are both two beat gaits. The difference depends on which legs move at the same time. In the trot the diagonal legs move at the same time. For the pace the two legs on the right side of the dog move together, followed by the two left legs moving together. Some dogs would rather pace than trot.
Advice from Corky Vroom on Pacing:
When I was showing Love who (loved to pace), Corky told me that in order for her to reliably start to gait in a trot instead of a pace, I should slap her gently on the chest to shift her weight back. Then when she accelerated to catch up with me she would break into a trot. It worked like a charm. (Pacing harness horses be the way are slightly faster than trotters because a pacer can over reach to lengthen his stride without damaging the back of his front legs.
And Corky’s Advice on Showing a Brace:
At about the same time he told Betty Lou Leibold how to have her multi BIS Greyhound brace start and move together. He told her to stack the boys and then move each right front paw back an inch or two. Then, when she asked them to move, they would both move the right front paw first so they would start in stride. And if she kept their shoulder touching they would stay in stride.