Over the course of the summer, a huge focus for me has been teaching people about gait analysis. This is something I always do one-on-one with clients but noticed a desire from the general public to know more. I have been so impressed with the amount of people who have grasped the concept and put some of it to use with their own dogs. You are amazing and are influencing the discussions and methods around training equipment, gait analysis and dog sports.
My fascination with structure and gait started years ago when I actively started competing in Agility. I had an amazing training partner who had a great eye for gait. She identified inconsistencies in my dog’s gait that needed to be addressed. I found an extremely knowledgeable canine chiropractor who was able to help me and my dog. I was angry at myself for not seeing this and continuing to do Agility with a dog who was in discomfort.
Was she Q’ing? Yes
Was she titling? Yes
Was she avoiding obstacles or knocking bars? No
And yes, she seemed to be enjoying herself.
By my standards, at the time, my dog was fine…and yet she wasn’t. I had no idea and was horrified when I learned I was being unfair to my incredibly talented and hardworking dog. This series of events created a desire and drive in me to learn more, for the benefit of not only this dog but for my other dogs as well as clients dogs. I wanted to be as worthy of a friend and partner to her as she is to me.
Knowledge is power and when people understand what their dogs are trying to tell them, they can make decisions that benefit their dog. Too often I hear the excuse that dogs are stoic and aren’t whimpering or refusing to train, so they must be fine. The reality is that the dogs are communicating their discomfort but the majority of humans don’t understand the language. This miscommunication, combined with the dog’s work ethic and built in CER (Conditioned Emotional Response), has consequences for the dogs. They struggle to do the things we ask of them so we assume it’s training and spend more time training those things. They keep wanting to herd because it’s their natural instinct, so we assume they are sound enough to herd. They knock bars on jumps and so we do more jump grids. They bring their heads down to pull weight off their rears in when heeling, so we spend more time teaching them to keep their head up. They can still walk, so we don’t bother seeking care options that would make their walk more comfortable.
We use their ability to compensate and our inability to assess their gait and structure, against them and they are the ones who pay the price.
We can do better. Our dogs deserve better.
So what’s the solution? Education and normalizing honest discussions about gait and structure, with the understanding that, “it’s not about you. It’s about your dog”.
Education means that we don’t just give face value to the phrase, “It’s the journey that counts, not the destination”.
Education gives a coach the confidence to call out to a student in the middle of a run to stop because her dog is limping.
Education encourages a handler to adapt their handling style to support their dog instead of expecting their dog to adapt to them.
Education allows us to advocate for the dog and help make decisions that benefit them.
Gait and structure analysis is a starting point, not an ending point. When you identify an issue, it’s not the end of a dog’s career or life, it’s the start of a problem solving process so that your dog can live, train and compete without discomfort.
It should be at the forefront of every training session and trial or activity. It should be discussed in puppy classes and sports classes and at vet’s offices. We should celebrate and support the people who make the hard but correct decisions for their dog just as much or more than we celebrate ribbons and titles. And we should talk about resources that are available to help when there’s an issue.
Change is happening in the world of dogs. We are having conversations about early altering that were unimaginable 10 years ago. We are seeing Agility equipment, training methods and courses that focus on safety instead of focusing on the level of challenge. We are seeing harnesses being remodeled because the general public is starting to understand the impact of gait altering harnesses. We are seeing trick training take on a safer more thoughtful approach with an emphasis on safety rather than the “cool factor”. All of these changes are happening because a few brave souls fought against the tide and started questioning, searching educating and advocating.
It will be the same with gait and structure analysis and hopefully, 5 years from now, the average person will be able to identify the early signs of compensation in their dog and be able to advocate for them.
What an amazing gift that would be!
Leave me a comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how your dog’s gait looks.