Dog Handlers (Heel) Strike Again at Westminster

While some form experts frown upon heel striking, running this way proves fetching to dog show judges.

Westminster Kennel Club Hosts Its Annual Dog Show In New York
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Runners who tune into the Westminster Dog Show might take note of the extreme heel striking form dog handlers use. But as it turns out, running this way is an important tactic.

To avoid being a distraction to the judges, handlers try to move in unison with their dogs when running around the ring—a process formally known as “gaiting the dog.” To accomplish this, handlers have to make adjustments to their stride based on the size of the dog they’re showing.

“It’s really important that the handler tries to match the pace of the dog,” said Gina DiNardo, vice president of the American Kennel Club and a dog-handling veteran. “For a little dog, you want to walk, or walk quickly. For a big dog, you want to match your stride width with the distance of the [dog’s stride].”

Thus, the heel strike is most often seen when handlers are gaiting larger, more athletic dogs like C.J., the German Short-Haired Pointer who won Best in Show in 2016.

According to DiNardo, C.J.’s handler “had a fast-moving athletic dog and she did that large, slower, heel-to-toe stride to keep up with the dog but to not distract.”

In other words, she had perfect running form—by dog show standards.

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