Introducing the trot. It isn’t colorful or flashy, but it’s guaranteed to add muscle strength and coordination to even the most “hopeless” of canines! No equipment or assembly required; just you, a pair of running shoes, a harness, and love. During presentations this sales pitch usually goes over like a lead balloon. Half the audience turns into obstinate teenagers with the big exasperated eye roll and folded arms against their chest. My response? Can you hear the smile in my voice? “If you can walk your dog you can trot your dog.” I know, you’re thinking it too, but I’m not talking miles at a time, although what a great goal. How about a block at a time? A smooth walk-to-trot-to-walk transition is priceless or better yet for those agility poodles out there how about a canter-to-trot-to-walk-to-canter guaranteed to take seconds off your time. And not once did I say the R-U-N word. Some poodles can pull off a trot with just a fast walk from their owner required. Others, like mine, might require a full out sprint to make the miracle happen, but that’s a story for yet another post.
Why the trot? Here are just a few reasons:
- It improves core strength by fostering weight bearing of alternating diagonal limbs together. For example, the right front and left rear strike the ground together which requires the entire core (flexor and extensor muscles simultaneously engage and maintain spinal extension) to stay turned on the entire time. You can’t do that on a ball!
- It improves coordination between the front and rear legs. This is very important for a poodle with angulation issues. For example, for a balanced trot the right front and left rear move forward together followed by the left front and right rear. Poor “communication” between the limbs will produce inefficient movement, limit your dog’s gait repertoire, and produce gait transition errors, which can occur anytime there is a change in speed or direction. An efficient trot should have little to no vertical or lateral movement.
- Because it’s fun. Just kidding. All medium to large size dog breeds, especially the standard poodle needs to master the trot for dogwalk safety in agility. It’s the only gait pattern that facilitates single tracking, which means that the foot falls under the dog’s midline. The trot narrows the dog’s base of support by reducing side-to-side weight shifting. I would say that poor timing of gait transitions when going into the trot causes most dogwalk falls. Smooth and efficient gait transitions, like a teenager learning to drive a manual car, are tough for some dogs to learn. For a standard poodle, the dogwalk can require up to three gait transitions if you use a 2-on-2-off or two gait transitions with running contacts in agility.
Although the trot is a natural gait pattern for most dogs, like swimming, not all poodles know how. And like swimming, if they can’t it’s a red flag for structural imbalance, and/or core weakness, or injury. Assessing a dog’s trot tells me a lot about it’s coordination and structural balance and it is also an important part of my puppy selection criteria.
Now, why a harness and not a collar? Well, research has shown that a collar during exertion puts pressure on the jugular veins and comprises blood flow. Think running in a necktie. Ok, your dog is not going to pass out, but there was a “significant difference”, which in the research world means something. I personally like the harnesses made by Ruff Wear as it allows freedom of movement for my buxom poodle’s chest and also adjusts around her petite waist so she won’t slip out of it. It also provided great center of gravity control, (leash attaches behind her shoulder blades) which is important because you just never know when that cute adorable bunny might run across your path and cause your 60 pound poodle to turn on a dime and nearly pull you off your feet mid-stride. I personally can vouch that this does happen and the harness plus bungee leash was responsible on many occasions for keeping both of us on our feet and allowed the bunnies, squirrels, mice, wounded birds, and taunting cats of my neighborhood to live yet another day. Five years ago they didn’t have many harness choices so Tess continues to uses the one that came with detachable dual packs. Let’s just say that those packs really brought out the autistic-like behaviors in her and I was the one carrying the packs on that hike. Yet another story.
I also have a no-headphone policy during trotting adventures. Trotting is for your dog and shouldn’t be confused with your personal fitness time. I must admit that occasionally I have been tempted on our 3-mile trots to use my Nano, but I am reminded of a time about a year ago when a man ran by me with his radio on so loud that he didn’t notice his overweight Labrador panting. The dog was panting so loud that I could hear it from across the street. The owner was oblivious. Poor pup.
So, what do you think? For the cost of maybe a harness, a bungee leash (highly recommended, read bunny scenario above), and a pair of running shoes your dog will become a more proficient and efficient mover, guaranteed or your money back. Now, unfold those arms and go give it a try.