What’s the best position?

What’s the best position to leave my dog in at the start line: A sit, down or a stand?

This often-asked question was previously addressed as part of “Trainer’s Forum” in Clean Run December 2006. While the answer is not cut-and-dried, a study of videotapes by M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD suggests that a sit is usually the best positionfor moving a dog quickly into a canter on the course. Dr. Zink, well-known for her experience with canine health and sports, says that the canter is the gait dogs always use while jumping, so getting into a canter quickly can set a dog up for success right away. Zink reported in the article that dogs beginning in a stand usually took one or two walking steps before starting to canter. Dogs beginning from the down position moved directly into the canter, but did so slightly slower than those leaving from a sit.

Not every dog will fit into this pattern, however. “You also have to listen to each individual dog. Some are more comfortable in certain positions, and may prefer to start- and therefore might start better (faster)- from their preferred postitions,” says Zink. Sometimes a dog’s physical structure needs to be taken into account according to Zink: “Many dogs with docked tails are about 3” to 4” long (like some Dobermans and Schnauzers) are uncomfortable in a sit position, particularly when they are sitting indoors on ridged mats. Dogs with low tail sets like GSDs, Whippers, and Greyhounds also can find it uncomfortable to sit.”

In the same Trainer’s Forum article, Webb Anderson suggests that a stand might be better for some dogs that are slow and unsure at the start line. Running with the dog instead of having a stressed-out dog for a lead-out might work better in some cases. Both Anderson and Jean Lavalley point out some dogs that don’t have good start-line stays are less likely to break and start early from a down position. “Most dogs seem to respect the down more than a sit. Plus, it is more difficult for the dog to scoot his way toward the start line while in a down,” says Anderson. Chris Parker points out that the down can encourage sniffing and the stand can create stay problems if the dog creeps toward the first obstacle, so no position is perfect.

The best way to determine the starting position to use for your dog is to videotape your runs and analyze starting speed and any other factors you notice (for example, perhaps your dog starts faster from a sit but is more likely to hit a bar that way). Then you will know more about what works best with your dog.

But Dr. Zink has reservations about choosing one particular start-line position and sticking with it, no matter what: “Dogs might have physical problems such as hip dysplasia or a mild iliopsoas strain or other sublinical problems that make them more comfortable in one position or another, so it is important to listen to what your dog is telling you, rather than just deciding that one position is always superior.”

(C) clean run 2010