A fantastic illustration of a dog at optimum speed. Handler is Grant Gibson.

A fantastic illustration of a dog at optimum speed.
Handler is Grant Gibson.

Why too fast is better than too slow.

One of the most frequent questions that I’m asked in handling training sessions is, “How do I know the right speed to run my dog?”  Every dog – regardless of breed – has its own optimum speed in the trot gait that best demonstrates its conformation while moving. When this speed is achieved, the dog will exhibit their maximum reach, drive, and ‘trueness’ of movement i.e. not overstepping; not to mention their most correct top line, head carriage and tail set.

My answer to this question is this: “Too fast is better than too slow, however, your dog’s optimum speed is always the best”.

Firstly, why is too fast better than too slow? My reasoning is this: If asked by a judge to show your dog on the move and you move too slowly to achieve your dog’s optimum gait, then it is very likely the judge will not ask you to move again but faster, instead interpreting that your dog lacks attitude. On the other hand, if you move your dog too fast and the judge likes your dog, then it is quite likely that you’ll be asked to move again – this time a little slower – precisely because your dog has shown exuberance.

That said, the best speed to move your dog at is the one that best showcases your dog’s natural attributes. The exact speed this is will vary between dogs, both within and between breeds. The key point to keep in mind is that every dog has its own optimum speed. So, how do you determine your dog’s optimum speed?

The answer becomes quite simple when you observe your dog in its trot movement at various speeds. To gain a mental image of your dog’s optimum gait speed, consider these combinations of observing your dog, when your dog is off the lead, on video or with the immediate feedback of a trusted observer.

If your dog is running beyond its optimum speed, you’ll notice one of two things:

  1. They will either lower their carriage to allow greater forward reach to cover more ground with each stride; or
  2. Should your dog manage to hold its carriage, then you may notice their front legs grabbing for the sky in order to gain that extra ground.

It’s that easy.

To adjust to the right gaiting speed, simply reduce your stride by about half. While on the move, you can do this by communicating this change to your dog with either or both of a calming voice signal or a gentle touch of the lead.

Along for the ride.

Along for the ride.

A tip, for the correction, resists the urge to stop and restart. Standing still does not indicate to your dog at what speed you require, by continuing to run at the required gait speed your dog will see what you require of them.

To maintain this optimum speed, be sure to move at a consistent pace. Speeding up then slowing down and speeding up again will only confuse your dog especially if you provide no explicit signal for the change.

One final tip: Once your dog is moving correctly at their own optimal speed, don’t do anything, don’t say anything; just let your dog do what it does best and enjoy the ride, until you need to provide a new signal for a new action.

As handlers, we need to be consciously aware of when and when not to issue or change signals that may be detrimental to the overall impression of our dog’s performance. The moment you make another movement or sound you will distract your dog and disrupt their concentration and continuity. At this point, any unnecessary correction that you make will only interrupt the judge’s impression of your dog’s smooth, quality movement.

One thought on “How Fast?

  1. Very helpful. Observing the professional handlers ringside, occasionally confuses me without an explanation of the partnership between the dog and the handler.

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