Movement in Dogs by Marianne Sullivan

One of the advantages of ‘doing’ performance is observing dogs in motion first hand. While I haven’t participated in agility in a long time, I’ve had the opportunity to watch and it’s fascinating. In herding at the eastern regionals recently, I got to see a lot of dogs trotting, galloping, walking, running. You can learn a lot by being out here “in the field.” It’s very different from watching ringside at a conformation show.

Back in the early agility days, I remember watching Collies jump at our National. I was pretty appalled. They were running up to the jump, taking a couple of bunny hops and then catapulting themselves over the jumps. It was painful to watch. I’ve seen other breeds like Dobermans and Dalmations jump effortlessly over a high jump and make it look good, dogs with no training, just a natural gift.
I’ve witnessed Collies here at my place unwilling to herd, who were structurally so unbalanced, that I think the effort was simply too much for them, and they didn’t have the drive to overcome the hard work of getting around.

Fortunately, training has improved jumping tremendously, as Collies are not natural jumpers, in my opinion. I’ve always maintained that our standard makes a very clear blueprint for how important structure and movement are to our herding breed. By following the standard, we have the ingredients for what makes a performance Collie. With proper training that can be improved upon even more.

Mary Valentine provided me with some wonderful photographs of her dogs jumping to illustrate GOOD jumping form. The tuck up of front legs, the lift off the ground, the sheer momentum up and over are all aspects to consider. First and foremost a dog must have proper structure to get over the jumps. Straight fronts or rears, bodies too long or too short, neck set improperly, flat feet or weak pasterns can all affect how a dog handles the obstacle in front of him. Proper conditioning is important too. Horse people have studied jumping to a fine art, and I think some good dog handlers have taken that information and applied it to dogs. Mary gave me a link on horses that has a nice explanation.

Any athletic endeavor by our dogs, if done correctly, should look effortless. I talk a lot about forward motion in gaiting, but forward motion is also important in jumping. Anything that looks awkward or “up and down” is a clue to too much effort and some structural impediment. There are those far more schooled in this agility-wise, but just something I was thinking about lately.

Marianne Sullivan
Collie Breeder
AKC Judge

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