E301: Chris Zink, DVM - "What Your Dog's Gait Can Tell You"

Why is trotting the most important gait to teach your dog? Dr. Chris Zink and I talk about why understanding gaiting is critical for the dog sports handler. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy–an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Dr. Chris Zink here with me to talk about gaiting. Hi Chris. Welcome back to the podcast.

Chris Zink: Welcome everyone. And hello Melissa. I'm so glad to join you for this podcast. I love this topic.

Melissa Breau: Cool. I'm super excited to learn a little more about it. To start us off, you wanna just remind everybody a little bit about you, your current crew, maybe what you're working on with them? Yeah, so I'm a sports medicine veterinarian and I am passionate about helping people improve their dogs' health and longevity.

I have put over 200 titles on TW in from 12 different venues of dog sports on dogs from five different groups. I've been doing it for a long, long time and absolutely love it. It's my number one hobby. And speaking of hobbies, I have two dogs. One is a golden retriever named Hobby, and the other one is a Norwich Terrier named Helix. It's kind of like having the sublime and the ridiculous.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. What are you working on with them at the moment?

Chris Zink: So Hobby and Helix both have their mocks and Hobby has a couple of other championships. So right now I'm kind of concentrating on nosework with both dogs in all of the venues that I can get to in that. I find that really, really fascinating. And then with Hobby, we are working on his master hunter in hunting tests.

Melissa Breau: Very cool, fun stuff. So much for diversity, Chris. Like you just do a little bit of everything. Makes it fun. Yeah. So I think most people, even probably non horse people right, are familiar with horse gait. Is it the same with dogs? What, what gaits do dogs have?

Chris Zink: So it's really true, actually a little bit of a conundrum because horse gaits and dog gaits have some similarities and some differences and people get confused about the differences. And in fact, even sometimes when you go online, what you'll see is that someone has taken, let's say a cartoon or a stick figure of a horse gaiting and they drew a dog around it implying that the dog does gait exactly the same way, which wouldn't be right. So it turns out that horses have five main gaits, one of which–the pace is an abnormal gate for dogs when you wanna train dogs not to move that way for a variety of reasons. And then dogs do use the remaining four horse gaits, but two of them, the canter and the gallop, the way that the dog uses them is very different from how the horse uses them. And so it creates a lot of confusion when people that are familiar with horse gaits and even, you know, even veterinarians, we never learned anything about dog gaits in veterinary school. We learn about horse gaits because of the need to identify horse lamenesses and everything. Well, there's just as much need to identify dog lamenesses.

So I don't know why we don't really learn that. But oftentimes what I experience is that someone sees, their dog believes it's gaiting abnormally, they will bring the dog to me and I can give them the good news that the dog's actually moving exactly like dogs do. But they were thinking it was abnormal because they were borrowing from what they knew about horse gates.

Can you just go through them one more time, which are, what are the actual gaits that dogs have? So the five gaits that horses use are the walk, the trot, the cantor and the gallop and the pace. Dogs have a walk and a trot, a canter and a gallop, but they should not pace. And of those four gates dogs, when they're walking and trotting look similar to horses in terms of the order of their footfall, but their canter and gallop dogs actually have two kinds of canters and two kinds of gallops, one of which is the same as the horse uses and the other of which is not. And the one that is not the same as horses is the more correct one for dogs and the dog, the one that dogs use about 95% of the time. So it does make it kind of Interesting.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, that's super interesting. I had no idea. Talk me through some of those differences there. What distinguishes one gait from another in dogs?

Chris Zink: So you're gonna make me give away what I'm presenting in the webinar, aren't you?

Melissa Breau: Well, give us a little bit.

Chris Zink: It's actually kind of complex and that's why the webinar is really important because I show you not, I show you diagrams of the order of the dog's footfall and also videos so that you can see the dogs actually moving in slow motion in that way.

And I do compare how the dog moves to how the horses move. So it's kind of, it's kind of hard to explain without those visuals. But very briefly, we're gonna talk about a concept called lead legs. And that's something that people are very confused about oftentimes, and I was even confused about it for a long time before I really figured it out.

And so when we're talking about lead legs, we can talk about front lead legs or rear lead legs, and it's when the two legs come down on the ground and one strikes the ground first. But because the animal is moving forward, the second foot to strike the ground actually is ahead of the other, and that's the lead leg, the second of the two front legs or the second of the two rear legs that strike the ground.

And so in the gallop and the canter, you don't have a lead leg in the walk or the trot. You only have them in the canter and gallop. And in those two gates, dogs use the opposite lead leg in the front as to the rear. But in horses they would always use the same lead leg in the front and the rear. Okay. That's the complicated part of it. That's the part where it's really helpful to see the order of footfall, which foot strikes the ground first, second, third, fourth.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, very cool. So you mentioned the webinar and I know that it kind of focuses on the trot. So if a trot is a natural gait for our dogs, why is it something that we have to train?

Chris Zink: You know, no one has ever asked me that question before and I think it's a great question. So actually we call, you call it a natural gait for dogs, and I would call it a natural gait for dogs. But surprisingly, a fairly large percentage of dogs never actually learn to trot at all. And instead they do an amble or a pace. The amble is a transitional gate we're gonna talk about that's transitional between a walk and a trot. It's not a desirable gate, but it's okay to use temporarily. And then another large percentage of dogs never learn to try efficiently. So they actually need to be shown how to use their body more effectively.

Essentially, most people just let their dogs do whatever gait they're doing, right? And a trot ends up being one of those, but not always the most efficient way. And the other thing is that there are differences in how dogs trot. So for example, there are dogs for which the trot is not their working gate. So if you look at a whippet or a Greyhound or any of the sighthounds, you know, their working gate is a gallop. And so they have variations in their structure such as an arched spine that makes them trot differently than a dog, like a golden retriever or a laboratory retriever for which the trot is their working gate. And, and then the other, there are other things like for example, Border Collies do not trot like a golden retriever or a laborador retriever because their job is different and it's, it's really not their working gait either. And so I'm gonna be discussing the ways in which different dogs have different variations on the trot, but there are actually a variety of advantages to teaching our dogs to trot properly. And that's another thing that I'm gonna discuss. So one is if you have a dog in conformation, well that's the gait that's being used in the ring and, you know, sometimes you have a big dog and you have a ring that's maybe, I don't know, 25 or 35 feet long. And how are you supposed, how, you know, the dog takes two strides doing some sort of other gait, and then you never actually get trotting. And so this method shows you how to get your dog trotting from that very first step.

So you have the best opportunity for showing your dog the way, the way that it should be shown to advantage. And it also allows you to teach the dog in conformation the dog that's gonna do conformation to teach them the type of trot that that judges want to see a really efficient trot with, with good reach and drive. But actually for dogs that are competing or training in absolutely any performance event, what do we want? We want them to know where to put their feet and how to move in the most efficient way because if they're inefficient, they're wasting energy, they're not gonna perform as well. And then if they're wasting energy, they could injure themselves either by repetitively moving in an incorrect way or getting themselves into a situation like falling off the dog walk, for example, where they can't recover themselves because they weren't using the gait correctly or because they didn't have the strength to do so.

And that leads me to the next reason why the trot is such an important gait. And that is because it's the best gait for conditioning the dog. If you're going to, if you're gonna, for example, take your dog for a walk. And why is that? Because it's the only gait that a dog ever uses where each front leg and each rear leg has to bare the weight of the dog and drive the dog forward all on its own without any help from the from the opposite leg. So there's never two front legs down at the ground together. There's never two rear legs down on the ground together. And so if the dog would be, you know, the dog can't help, can't use the assistance of the opposite front or rear leg if to to help it move. And so what happens is, you know, dogs like humans are sided. For example, we have some dogs that are right sided and left sided laterality is what we call that.

Well the trot doesn't have any laterality. And so if you teach the trot as a conditioning gait as well, you reverse some of that laterality. And so that a dog that has to work turning in both directions really has an advantage that way. You know, like to think about agility, your dog can't just be better at turning in one direction than the other other, or they're going to, their performance is gonna be uneven, you know, and the trot does that. The trot knowing the trot really does that. And so I refer to it as, you know, it's the foundational gait for training all of the others. And there's a very simple way to train it that that, that I'm gonna go over with some videos and some still pictures.

Melissa Breau: Is that why it's so often what we're using if we're doing like canine fitness exercises is you typically want the dog kind of moving at a trot? Is that the same logic?

Chris Zink: Correct. Okay. Right, because it cannot, it cannot favor one leg over the other or one side over the other. Very cool. So you kind of mentioned in your description that it can help detect lameness.

Melissa Breau: I have a feeling that's kind of tied into what you just said, but can you talk a little more kinda what you mean by that?

Chris Zink: It is, because here you have a dog that can never share the weight on the lame leg by putting the non leg lame down at the same time. And so it does actually allow us to detect lameness, which is in and of itself a great reason to have a dog know how to trot. It's always amazing to me how many top flight performance dogs come to me and they've got all these very high level titles and everything, but they can't trot or they can't trot in an, in a way that would allow us trot, trot for a length of time that would allow us to really detect a lameness and so it's even important just from that point of view. And so it is the gait that's used to detect lameness or actually subtle lamenesses. I mean, some lamenesses are so obvious you don't need to trot the dog. But if a person comes to me and says, you know, I just think there's something odd about the way my dog is moving or whatever, then I can look for things like is the, not only, we all look for a head knot. So if the dogs, if the dog comes head, head, head lifts up on one leg and goes down on the other leg, it's usually when that other, we're only talking about a front leg laying this right now when that when the leg is on the ground, when the head comes down, that dog is bearing more weight on that leg. And then if the head comes up on the other leg, that's because they're trying to take weight off of that other leg. And that's probably the one that's, that's lame and, or, or painful. I mean, you know, and, but the other thing is you can look at other things.

So for example, if it's a rear leg lameness, I'll often look at the height of the pelvis. Is the pelvis raising up the same amount when each leg goes forward? There are other things to detect lameness to, but really the trot is that foundational gate that allows us to, to detect lameness. So for that reason alone, it's great.

Melissa Breau: Okay, so this wasn't in my prepped question, so I've kind of got a question for you anyway, it's a follow up on that. So one of the things that I've heard talked about a little bit is the idea of when your dog is healthy, taking like a video of your dog trotting if you can. So you have a baseline video, so if anything goes wrong, you have a video to compare it to. If we were gonna do that, how, like you, you mentioned that they can't try for long enough for it to be useful, right? Like how much trotting are we looking for, I guess Okay, to like, for that to be useful? Does that make sense?

Chris Zink: It's important to have those parameters. So let's say you're teaching your dog, you're gonna teach your dog to be able to trot in a way that will allow us to detect lameness. So first of all, you want to have the dog on a collar, not a harness. You want the leash to be coming up from the back of the collar up in a straight line to your hand, you're gonna hold the leash. That leash should be vertical coming up to your hand and you're gonna hold it in a way that it's not tight, but if the dog were to move out of position, it would become tight. So it stays loose as long as the dog stays at your side. And then you're gonna start off, depending on the size of the dog, you might need to run or you might only need to walk for a smaller dog and you're gonna start off with a great big stride. Like, do you remember as a kid you played that, that game giant? I don't know, can I take one giant step mother, may I, or whatever it was, I don't know, something like that.

So you're gonna take one giant step to start off with, which really helps the dog to get going into a trot. And then you're going to have them trot about 50 feet or at least six to seven good steps in the middle after taking one or two to get going. And so, you know, you know, for a small dog it might only be 30 feet, but for a bigger dog it would be 50 feet and you should practice with the dog trotting on both sides of you. There's another really important key that I have to tell clients all the time, but it, and, and they're always surprised that this works. We don't want the dog looking at the person. And so many dogs have taught to been taught to do that.

So what I tell people to do is just look straight ahead and it's really funny because after you do about three trots facing straight ahead, the dog's like, what? I'm not gonna look at you anymore. There's nothing happening here. And I'm obviously not eating food or anything. And so the dog absolutely starts looking straight ahead. People are always amazed at that.

There are very few dogs that won't, won't do that. Sometimes you have to put, you know, something like a toy or something out for the dog to look at. But generally not. They'll generally if you just stop looking at them and it's such our, our habit, you know, to look down at our dog all the time, but if you just stop doing that, they're like, oh, well nothing happening here.

Melissa Breau: So, so that's, I like that. I like that a lot. Yeah. So about 50 feet for a big dog, about 30 feet maybe for a small dog, is that right?

Chris Zink: Okay. And when, so when you're videoing you, you can know what that distance is because after doing it a few times, if you look for, you delete the first two steps and you delete the last couple when you're slowing down. And actually you probably shouldn't, you should try and stay at a constant speed throughout, but if you, if you can get five to seven really good steps in there in the middle, that's long enough.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And ideally probably from the side and the front and the back.

Chris Zink: Correct. Forgot to mention that. And it should be on a hard surface because you don't wanna do it on grass for several reasons. You can't see the feet if you do it on grass and you really wanna see the feet because how they place the foot might tell you something about lameness. But also lots of times little dogs won't trot on grass. I don't know if you've ever noticed in conformation rings.

I always used to think, I always used to think they were just favoring the toy dogs by giving them an indoor site and all the other dogs had to be outdoors. But no, it, and now that I have a small dog, I know the grass is actually really hard for them to trot on. They're really tiny dogs because it's, just think about it.

I mean, they're sinking down into it all the time. It's tickling their tummy and it's just giving them a nice flat surface, like your driveway or whatever sidewalks. Awesome. That's a fantastic tip. I'm so excited that we talked about that. Alright, so we talked a little bit about the webinar, but let's go a little deeper.

Melissa Breau: So do you mind just sharing a little more kind of on what you're covering the webinar and maybe who should consider signing up?

Chris Zink: Well, everybody should consider signing up because this is so critical to dog health. But anyway, so I'm gonna, I'm gonna cover six specific topics. I'm gonna first briefly talk about why train dogs to trot, just like we talked about a little bit.

And I might actually revise it to add some of the things that I've mentioned here that I didn't mention before. And then what gaits are used in performance. So we're gonna look at, you know, different performance events like agility and obedience and rally and conformation, et cetera. And look at what are the most common, the second most common et cetera gaits that dogs use.

And then we're gonna discuss the four or actually six gaits that dogs use as I described just a little bit earlier. We're gonna talk about the transitional gait, the amble, and why dogs do that and why we don't really want them to do that or when it is okay for them to do that. There are sometimes when it's an okay gait. And then we're gonna talk about abnormal gates and I'm gonna talk about five abnormal gaits that dogs use. And then abnormal good or abnormal bad.

Yeah, gaits that they shouldn't use, but that they're using oftentimes to compensate for structural. Some things that are less than ideal structurally. And some of them you can fix, most of them you can fix the ones that, even the ones that are are related to, there are four gaits, four gait abnormalities that are related to an, to differences in the amount of limb angulation between the front and the rear. So usually that would be a dog that has a relatively straight front and an over angulated rear. And you can correct them to some extent. Not all of them, but you can correct them to some extent. And then we're gonna go into exactly how to train your dog to gate and using videos of me with a demo dog outside. I'll show you many, many clips of the sort of the progress that goes through that.

Melissa Breau: That sounds awesome. So you said kind of everybody can benefit from it. It sounds like there are, cuz specific sports you're talking about though, agility, obedience, conformation, and what else am I missing here? I know you said one more in there, didn't you say one more?

Chris Zink: Well Rally, but you know, any performance event, like for example, let's talk about dock diving. You want, you want your dog to, you got a certain distance that your dog can run over and then they have to take off. You want your dog to know exactly where to take off at the very edge of the dock so that they can get the maximum length.

And how does the dog figure that out? They figure that out by knowing exactly how to collect and extend their strides so that they will land at the best place. And that's part of the gallop. And then the other thing you want is you don't want your dog starting off at a slower speed, like trotting a couple of steps and then going into a canter and then going into a gallop, you've already wasted how many feet doing that. You want the dog to start right away in a gallop thing. And, and Fast Cat, same thing. You don't want the dog to start off slowly, but you also don't want them, for example, to slip and slide at the beginning because they put too much force into too much horizontal force and now they're slipping or whatever.

And oftentimes dogs do because that beginning section, oftentimes the grass is kind of stirred up or if it's been wet it can be kind of slippery. So all of that really, I'm talking about absolutely any performance event because there's all of that knowledge that we want the dog to take in and establish about how to do it most efficiently. And actually dogs love to do things efficiently.

They're really geared to do things the most efficient way because they're essentially lazy. I mean, you know, they I don't know, they innately know to go for the best way to do it, but you just have to show them that. And once they sense it, let me give you an example. I have had some dogs that paste all the time and actually I've had a number of dogs that I never, ever could make them trot no matter how hard I tried, no matter whether I did all those things about holding the leash the right way and looking straight ahead and moving, they wouldn't trot because habitually they had learned to pace. And we'll talk about why that happens, but once you teach them to trot, they're like, oh my God, this is so good.

This is exactly how to do it. I never realized this. You know, you can just see them and they take it on and then they never pace again because they innately know that now they're moving in a way that feels right and, you know, so, so I think that's kind of cool. They are gonna go for the best way if you just show them how.

Melissa Breau: That's so neat. I love that you can kind of almost see that light bulb go off, it sounds like, really?

Chris Zink: Yep. This is the thing You do. And you know, it does feel, it's very gratifying to the person and to me to see the way that the dog adopts it. But I'll tell you that it sometimes takes, I mean the retraining process takes about five minutes a day, but maybe even less, maybe three minutes a day. But it does require a lot of repetition. Sometimes it can take up to eight or 10 weeks of doing this before the dog really is perfect. And so I think a lot of people give up. But you know, you can have, it's an, it's a cheap setup. It costs you about $10 worth of equipment and you can have it set up in your yard and just go out and do it really quickly in the morning before you go to work or whatever. And just to remind the dog how to do it. And I'll tell you why it takes so long because there are neurological pathways in the dog for automatic movement.

So when you're walking, you're not thinking I'm gonna move my left leg forward, then I'm gonna move my right leg forward, right? That's an automatic process. And if you're, if the dog has learned to gate incorrectly, they have an automatic process in their neurological system, that's incorrect. And so what you have to do is you have to kind of, you have to change those neurological pathways and that takes time. A neuro, you know, the neuro the neurological system doesn't change in a day or two or even in a week. It's kind of like, you know, if I had a $200,000 Lamborghini Kush in lime green, which I would love to have, but anyway, I'm driving it down a muddy country road, which who knows why I would do that. Cause I only have a four inch clearance and the, and the hump in the middle of the road is rubbing the bottom of my car. And I am not very happy about that. What am I gonna do? I'm going to steer off to the side. So one set of tires is on the, on the side of the road, the other set of tires is on the hump. And if I were to drive that way down the road, it would take me quite a few passes before I had made a new pathway. And now there's a rut where the hump used to be, and there's a rut where the side of the road was. And, changing the neurological pathways does take some time and some patience, which some of us don't have very, I'm on, I don't have very much. But once you learn the, once you see the importance of it, and once you see the dog really adopting that new way of moving it becomes really kind of exciting to see. And, people keep it up.

Melissa Breau: Very cool. I have plans and in the not too distant future to get some baseline videos of my dog. So that was super, super helpful to think through all that, you know what I mean? All right. So my final kind of question for you here is if we were to drill down everything we've been talking about and do a key piece of information or a takeaway or even kind of a concluding thought that you want people to walk away from this with, what would it be?

Chris Zink: So I'm gonna pull out one of the comments that you made and we're gonna talk about that. And that was, you said, you know, since this is like such a natural gait for dogs, why would we need to train them? And I would say, you know, the importance, it's so important to train the dog to gait properly, to have the flexibility to be able to pick the correct gate and use it when the time is right and in the optimum way. So many dogs miss out on that and people don't realize that. And the dog is less for it throughout their lives that are not on top of their game, no matter whether that's conformation or any other performance event. And,

and also because of that, they're often using their body in an abnormal way and they make themselves more susceptible to injury. So those are really important reasons. That's probably the most important reason why I think this is a critical component of one's bringing up a dog. Yeah. Just to help them be physically fit in their own bodies. Yes.

And knowledgeable in their own bodies. How do I move in this circumstance? How do I move, take my, you know, what do I do with my legs in that circumstance? And, and that's, that's, that's critical. And so many dogs never get that.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Well thank you so much Chris for doing this. This is fantastic. I feel like we got a lot of information in here and I know that you were intentional about not sharing everything you're gonna share on the webinar. So I think that bodes well for the webinar. So thank you. You're welcome. I really enjoyed it. This is always fun to talk about this. Yeah, me too. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com.

The track featured here is called Body Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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