How the Judge Sees You Showing Your Dog, Part V – A Moving Picture
Posted on 01/03/2013 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
It seems just about everyone watches at least one of the TV dance shows nowadays - ”Dancing With the Stars,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” or “All the Right Moves.” I watch in awe as to what the professionals are capable of doing with their bodies and what they are able to teach the beginner.
I’ve watched so many of the dance shows that I’m getting to the point where I’m noticing the mistakes and even the more nuanced aspects, like how much coordination there is between the partners, and how each really takes command of his part. There is a leader and a follower, and if one or the other is not living up to their part of the team effort, it just doesn’t work.
I want you to think of you and your dog as a dance team, and never lose sight of the fact that it is teamwork that wins the prize. Like the dancers rehearsing leads to success, you may have the waltz down to a tee but if your partner, your dog, is doing a rumba you aren’t going to wind up on top of the scoreboard.
All of us who judge know it our responsibility to find the best dog, but it is also our responsibility to get all the dogs judged fairly and accurately and still get done according to schedule or as close to it as possible (hopefully before midnight!). There is no way on God’s green earth that we are going to be able to do so spending twenty minutes trying to figure out if your dog is simply hopeless in the movement department, or if it is your complete ineptness that makes him come off like a Whirling Dervish.
This Is Not A Race
Every dog that is shown is going to have to move at a trot for the judge. I don’t care if yours is a racing breed, a jumping breed, or breed that has a worldwide reputation as a couch potato; he is going to have to trot properly for the judge.
Your dog, your breed, may be the fastest in the line-up, or he may be the slowest. The important thing to remember is that every dog has one rate of speed at which he will look his best. If you are going to try and get your French Bulldog to fly around the ring like an Afghan Hound, the result is going to be anything but pretty I assure you.
On the cover of your “How to Show My Dog” notebook, I want you to print “THIS IS NOT A RACE” in big black capital letters! Whoever it was that came up with the idea that faster is better should be hung from the nearest yardarm! (It was probably some clever exhibitor who hoped his competition would take the advice!)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told an exhibitor to take his dog down and back or around, and the person takes off like the prize will be awarded to the team that gets all the way there and back in the shortest length of time. Wrong!
The exhibitor doesn’t even look down to notice that his dog is galloping around the ring rather that trotting. This tells absolutely nothing about the very thing that is supposed to be evaluated at the moment. In other words, the point score for movement is a big fat goose egg.
You have to learn the speed that best suits your dog at a trot. Like in posing your dog, it will take time and practice before you are able to look down at him and know that he is doing the right thing. There are ways to help you do that.
The best way to do this is to have a friend who knows how to properly move a dog of your breed do so with your dog. Watch him move the dog quickly, slowly, and at a moderate pace. He will be able to see the difference and advise you on which rate of speed suits your dog best.
The friend must then observe you moving your dog at those different speeds so that you can begin to feel the difference up through your lead and looking down at what you see is going on. You then must learn to match your own stride to the speed at which your dog looks best. Have your observer tell you when you are exceeding or falling behind the speed that you must learn to maintain.
To complicate matters a bit for you, there may be different speeds within “correct” that will assist your dog in looking his best.
• Profile. This is what the judge will see as your dog goes around the ring. He will be looking to see how much reach your dog has in front, and how much drive, and how the dog carries his head and tail. A tad faster or slower can sometimes make a difference in the moving picture you are trying to maintain.
• Going Away. The judge will be observing what your dog does with his hindquarters as he moves away. Is the dog moving away cowhocked (hind legs in which the hocks incline inwards toward each other instead of being parallel), too close, or too wide? Watching someone else take your dog away will reveal just what is going on, but if you aren’t able to spot the fault, ask for help and the person who sees what the dog is doing can also advise you if going a little (a little that is) faster, or slower might help the problem.
• Coming Back To The Judge. What does your dog do with his front? Is he moving too close, too wide, elbows out, or crossing over? These are just a few of the problems that can be helped somewhat by adjusting the gait or by tightening up letting down on the lead.
• Sidewinding. This is forward movement in which the spinal column is not pointed in the direction of travel, but deviates at an angle. In many cases this can be corrected by moving the dog to the other side on which the handler normally gaits the dog. Here again, practice and careful observation is what is needed.
There is a whole host of problems that can occur in a dog’s gait, and a beginning handler is hardly able to recognize or know what to do about every one of them. It takes time and good input from mentors to know the best way to move a dog and to correct or at least help disguise problems.
Getting a good book or, better yet, a CD or video on correct movement can help identify some of the things that may be holding a dog back from the winner’s circle. Looking under “canine movement” online will usually take you to the books and audiovisual material that can help most.
Cardinal Sins Of Movement
You notice I haven’t said a word about showmanship. The reason is that I see far too many exhibitors confuse movement with showmanship. They are thrilled that their dog has gone around the ring happy as a clam, wagging its tail and having a high old time. That’s great; we all want our dogs to exude good temperament and enthusiasm. This has nothing to do with correct movement. Showmanship tells us the dog is happy (or unhappy), correct movement is the proof of proper construction.
I can’t tell you how many times a disappointed exhibitor will come to me after placing lower than expected and say, “But my dog out-moved the dog that won.”
I have to explain that the dog in question may well have had a bit more showmanship than the winning dog, but when it came to movement it was faulty in general and, in some cases, entirely wrong for the breed.
Read all you can about canine movement, but understand that while the principles of canine locomotion remain the same, they produce different kinds of movement depending upon the construction of the breed. Your dog must move correctly for its breed.
Why is correct and breed specific movement so important? Because changing movement changes type. The only way that you are ever going to get a Bulldog to move like a German Shepherd is to change the Bulldog’s construction. Trying to get Shepherd movement on your properly constructed Bulldog will only lead to disaster.
If you want a German Shepherd, get one. Don’t expect a Spaniel, a Terrier, or a myriad of other breeds to do what the Shepherd does. It will only ruin your dog’s chances of coming out on top.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.