All-Breed Judge, Sieger/Schutzhund,
Now, don’t get your hackles up—the myth of which I speak is that which is held primarily by German Shepherd fanciers; namely, that it is a trait peculiar to that breed.
It is not, as you will see when you study these stop-action photos. Even dwarf (short-legged) dogs can trot at sufficient speed such that twice in every full stride, all four feet will be off the ground, thus the term suspended trot. Mostly, it is a matter of training plus structure, although even dogs with unbalanced front-to-rear angulation can accomplish this eye-catching gait as shown in the photos of dogs in the flying trot. But note AKC-typical GSD and how much higher the “other” three feet are off the ground in this less-balanced dog.
The Flying Trot topic has become of more interest and attention recently in the United Kingdom, where The Kennel Club (note the capitalization of the word “the”) has decided to get tough on the excessive emphasis on this flashy gait that has long been practiced by handlers. But the flying trot controversy is not new. Several years ago, when Peter Messler was president and chief judge of the Shaferhund Verein (the original parent club for the GSD breed), he tried to deemphasize the practice, as well as require that the standing exam include a natural (not hand-set) pose.
Even earlier, many excellent judges made their decisions during more natural gaiting speeds, those more like what the sheep-tending shepherd dog would usually employ in circling or driving members of the flock.
I remember a very good GSD specialty judge in the late 1960s, Fraser Anderson, requiring that handlers walk instead of run during his final determination on placings. Fortunately, I have long legs and was handling a beautifully-balanced bitch and the combination of both of us more easily being able to cover much ground without running and galloping led to our winning the show.
So, why is the side gait practice of looking for suspended trot still seen? There is more than one reason. Firstly, there are many judges who have “not yet gotten the word” and are still under the impression that the flying trot is a necessary gait, to be used to make the final decision between one super dog and the next.
If you are exhibiting under one of these judges, I wish you luck. Plus long legs and a large ring.
Secondly, the concept of the flying trot is popular and what show chairman or judge wishes to be unpopular? Thirdly, some national show organizations, such as AKC, are more interested in what a judge wears or how he fills out the paperwork or how he follows other guidelines than whether he selects animals that are best for the breed.
Giving a nod to that second reason, we should acknowledge that dog shows are supposed to be not only educational and breed-serving, but also fun events. Otherwise, why bother? Only a small percentage of those involved in the game are going to break even or make money. Fun, plus possibly the accolades from our co-sportsmen, are why there are (a relatively) few of us still showing dogs.
At all-breed events, where rings and class entry sizes are smaller, there is no opportunity to show off the flashy flying trot. But at specialty shows, is there any harm in giving the ringside a spectacle? And the handler an excuse for earning his big fee? My solution (shared by several other specialist judges) is simple: I do my evaluating during the “stand for exam” and the normal gaiting speeds both individually and after placing the dogs in order of descending quality, and then bring the whole class together again for “once around at speed” to give the crowd and the handlers a chance to use up some of their adrenaline. My having already made up my mind, this part is for the crowd and handlers, not for the decision process.
Of course, when judging at “The Kennel Club” events, where the powers-that-be forbid the speeds that would show off the GSD’s flying trot, I have to bow to their recently strengthened rules. This spectacular gait can however still be seen in the smaller breeds that can accomplish it while the handler appears to be moving at a slow trot or fast walk.
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AKC judge explains how the dog’s front and rear angulation dictates movement.