How to Keep a Dog's Head Up When Gaiting

by Ann Compton
    Teach a dog to gait with its head up by making it fun and the ribbons will follow.

    Teach a dog to gait with its head up by making it fun and the ribbons will follow.

    Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images

    The picture your dog presents to the judge gaiting around the show ring can make the difference between winning and losing. Gaiting shows the dog's movement, which tells the judge a great deal about its conformation -- the basis for judging in the breed ring.The dog must move smoothly and fluidly to present the best outline. A dog who gaits with its head down will shorten the length of its stride and round the appearance of its topline, making movement look choppy.

    Step 1

    Attach a small container to the end of a stick. Use a plastic top, cup or container. Place a piece of bait or a high-value treat in the container. The container must hold the treat as you move around the ring.

    Step 2

    Hold the stick in front of the dog's head with the dog off leash in an enclosed space. Lower the container enough so the dog knows there's a treat inside. Flip the treat out onto the floor in front of the dog.

    Step 3

    Walk ahead of the dog with the stick and a treat inside the container. The dog will follow the container, watching it. Hold the container in front of the dog as you move. Continue to flip a treat to the floor every few feet. Praise the dog when its head is up.

    Step 4

    Walk in a large circle around the perimeter of the space with the container in front of the dog. Walk fast enough so the dog is trotting beside you. Extend the length of time between reinforcing with a treat.

    Step 5

    Gait the distance of the ring in a complete circle with the dog trotting beside you. Continue to hold the container in front of him, but not so high that the dog is looking up. The dog should be looking straight ahead. Treat the dog at the end of the circle when you stop.

    Step 6

    Place the show collar on the dog and attach the lead. Gait the ring once with the stick and container, then repeat without the stick. Hold the treat in your right hand and treat him when you stop.

    Items You Will Need

    • Stick, about 24 inches
    • Small plastic container
    • High-value treats
    • Show collar
    • Show leash

    Tips

    • Repeat the exercise with the stick, container and treat for several days at the start of each training session before working with the dog on leash to reinforce the dog's interest in looking for the treat.
    • Practice patterns with this method as well. Down-and-back, triangles and L-patterns can all be done with the stick.
    • Add a clicker to training if your dog does not respond right away to the stick and treat. Start by clicking the first time the dog looks up and then each time you give the dog a treat. Then click whenever the dog's head is up.

    Warnings

    • Keep training sessions short and positive.
    • Never scold the dog while training. End sessions on a behavior he does correctly with praise.

    References

    Photo Credits

    • Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images

    About the Author

    With more than 25 years in journalism, Ann Compton has written for national newspapers, magazines and websites. She has covered the equestrian events in five Olympics as well as the Westminster Dog Show and specializes in animal topics. She breeds, trains and shows Shetland Sheepdogs.

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