Training the Show Dog To Gait
By Michael Russell
To the casual observer it does not appear that a Show Dog needs to know a lot in order to show. It is easy to believe that all the dog does is run around and stand still and let the judge examine him. In reality, a polished Show Dog has been well trained and it has taken a number of years and/or a lot of practice to get to the point where he presents a flawless picture to the judge.
The dog often gaits naturally but sometimes the dog wants to pace instead. A dog who paces does not present a smooth flowing picture to the judge and furthermore it is often more difficult to discern whether he is moving straight in the front. A judge does not want the dog to run around for no reason. While the dog moves, the judge wants to view his movement from the front, from the rear and from the side. During the movement, he needs to ascertain whether the dog has a good front (relative to the dog’s breed) and whether he has a good reach and drive, whether he is covering the ground correctly with the least wasted motion and proving that his structure is sound. If the dog looks up at the handler or skittishly prances or does not maintain a straight line while gaiting, no matter how beautifully he might move or how well he is balanced, the judge will not see this for his movement will be thrown out of balance with these behaviors.
Therefore the dog must be trained to move in balance and at the correct speed and also to change speed from slow to fast without being choppy in his movement. The dog must also be taught to break into a trot rather than pacing. This is easiest to accomplish by first teaching the dog the heel, which is a walk at the left side of the handler so that his head is on a parallel with the handler’s knee. The handler should speed up the pace and see to it that the dog is gradually breaking into an easy trot. If the dog begins to pace or it is a more natural movement for him than the trot, the handler usually will execute a turn that will bring the dog into a correct position to break into a trot. The dog must also be taught not to look anywhere except straight ahead while he is heeling, as this will throw off the movement of the front. So the handler needs to be quite aware of the motions of the dogs head and reward the dog when he is looking straight to the front. Furthermore, he needs to practice a lot with the dog heeling, alternately speeding up and slowing down and maintaining an easy trot rather than a walk while the dog is in the heel position. This can be accomplished with clicker training, or voice control by praising the dog at the exact moment that he is performing correctly.
A knowledgeable handler also needs to learn to walk well himself, with a longer stride when he wants the dog to speed up and a slower stride (but not shorter steps) when he wants the dog to trot with a slower action. If the handler breaks into shorter steps himself, he will throw the dog into a shorter and choppier movement. So it is important that the handler practice also, to walk and to run so as not to detract from the natural and balanced movement of the dog.
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