Crossing Over to the Dark Side
I have spent many hours at dog events. Be it dog shows, agility, obedience and herding trials, flyball competitions or family fun days. As a result I have watched a lot of dogs move, in all sorts of different situations. This has exposed me to the great, the mediocre and the crippled. I’ve spotted a lot of canine movement that is worth talking about, and we will start off at the trot. Specifically, this point in the trot.
Trotting is a moderate gait where the dog brings alternate legs forward at the same time (eg. the front left and back right legs move forward together). It is very economical and a great work out for the dog as it requires even balance between the left and right sides of the body to stop the dog face planting.
In many breeds, dogs will bring their legs closer to the midline as they increase speed, giving them increased balance called single tracking. This gives them the vague outline of an ice-cream conewhen they are coming toward you. With the legs tracking closer together on their contact with the ground.
This means that in many dogs, as the front left foot comes off the ground, the back left foot drops into the same place, creating a V-shape from the side, like this.
This means that the feet do not interfere with each other while the distance traveled is maximised. The dog uses the biggest stride possible without getting itself tangled. In balanced dogs that understand and know how to trot this is what happens. As a photographer these dogs made my job easy. Every photo I took looked amazing.
Other dogs however bring their back feet around and down in-front of their front foot, causing them to cross over. This is often missed, undervalued and not well understood. It looks like this:
The dog is doing this because the angulation between its front and rear is unbalanced. I am referring to the angulation of the shoulder compared to the angulation of the hind legs. This leads to the rear legs being effectively ‘too long’, forcing the dogs to move the rear legs out of the same track as the front foot to allow it to swing forward unimpeded to its full reach. It is very common in puppies who are going through random growth spurts and this is the time when I start to train them how to trot, to ensure that they mature and learn to move correctly. Some dogs who have uneven angulation do not learn how to trot at all, because their back foot is impeded by the front leg. These dogs may avoid trotting, look uncoordinated or resort to pacing.
Long term crossing over puts stress on the back and spine. Over years of repetitive stress it is likely to cause compensation. This can lead to complications and pain later in life. For canine athletes this is especially a problem as they are often under higher stress. Happily this is a condition that can be both prevented, if puppies are taught to trot properly, or managed with conditions exercises if your dog is older and has already developed a bad habit.
Knowing and understanding canine structure is essential to treating problems and getting great outcomes. So I consider my time at the side of a show ring well spent and apply it to get the best results for your dog.
You can learn more about trotting in the next article: Trotting- Just Two Beats