The Bunny Years
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The Bunny Years

The pacing dog

Pace is the gait between Walk and Trot. In a Pace, the two legs on either side move synchronously. The two legs on the left side move together, and the same goes for the right side. This is different from the Trot, where the front left leg moves together with the rear right, and vice versa. If you can’t imagine this, click on the link at the top. It is really helpful to see it. Pace and Trot are two-beat gaits, where two legs always move together. Whereas the Trot looks stable and natural in a dog, the Pace always looks slightly impossible. I have never seen a dog pacing for more than a few steps. Dogs are not supposed to pace anyway. Most of them don’t. But now I have a pacer.

Six km/h is approximately the upper limit of my walking speed. I can go a tiny bit faster, but not for long. I can go six km/h for a while, but not endlessly. My comfort speed is four to five km/h. Sadly, six km/h is also about the lower limit for my dog’s Trot. He can trot much faster than this, ten, fifteen km/h, without any trouble, over miles and miles, relentlessly. He is a fierce trotter. The Malamute trot is effortless, smooth, and almost arrogant. It goes on and on and on. (Unless they switch to galopp, but that’s a whole new ballgame.)

The glorious Malamute trot

On the other hand, his Walk is very slow. Walking is a four beat gait, setting one foot at a time. Most dogs walk, when they walk on the leash. My dog only walks for sniffing, for exploring, at home, and when I make him go extremely slow. But the moment we kick it up a notch and walk faster than one or two km/h, he switches gears and starts to trot. Once in Trot, he accelerates and pushes forward, until he hits the end of the leash. Or the end of my patience. Or the end of the world.

It is this in-between range that makes him a Pacer. It is the need to adopt to the slow human being who cannot go faster than six km/h, at least not for long. In the zone that is too fast for Walk and too slow for Trot, my dog switches to a Pace. A comfortable, lazy, arrogant Pace.

It is really a switch, and it always happens from Trot downwards. It looks like he has to re-organise his legs. It looks like a glitch in the matrix. His back goes up for a split second, the legs hang in mid-air, and then come down in a different pattern. Sometimes it is imperceptible. Sometimes I miss it and praise him for a ‘nice trot’ before I realise that he is not trotting anymore. But once he is pacing, he is pacing. The only way to get him out of the Pace is to stop him and start from scratch. Walk, Trot, then Pace. That’s Bunny’s way of moving around with me.

There are different opinions about the Pace among dog experts. One is that it is unhealthy, that it should be discouraged, or that it points to some structural issues with muscles or bones or anything. It is also not allowed during dog shows. The way to discourage the Pace is to either speed up, slow down, or to pull the dog sideways so that he gets out of balance. During the Pace, the weight of the dog is always on one side, for a moment, then shifts to the other side. It does not take much to ruin that kind of fragile equilibrium. The other opinion is that some dogs are just pacers and there is nothing you can do about it. I’m not sure what I can do anyway — it is a speed that is comfortable for me. Should I always walk too slow, or too fast? Should I knock him out of balance the moment he has finally decided to walk next to me? That seems unnecessary.

But it also is strange to me that my dog has no other options to walk at a normal human walking speed. Rarely, occasionally, he slips into a Slow Trot that matches my speed very well. But it looks almost like an accident, like it’s not supposed to be. Sometimes we meet in that sweetspot where my speed is at maximum and his Trot is at minimum. Those are good moments. He spends a lot of time in the air when he is trotting slowly. On the other hand, when he is doing the Walk next to me, he spends a lot of time on the ground. Neither of these options seem to be comfortable for him. He wants to hover, and hovering is what the Pace gives him.

It is also weird that his Trot does not slow down. Ever. It only goes faster. Everything makes his Trot faster. Distractions, lack of distractions, does not matter, he trots faster and faster. The only way to slow the Trot down is to stop it entirely, which he does every time an interesting smell comes along. Then it’s a Walk for a while. Or, the alternative, if I ask him to slow it down, either with a cue or, more often, with pressure on the leash. Then he switches to the Pace. First the glitch, then the Pace.

He is now almost four years old. The concept of walking with a human is still alien to him. I’m not sure if it will ever be different. Don’t tell me about loose leash walking methods, I’ve done them all. He has done the all. He knows what I want, he knows that pulling does not get him anywhere. But he is not ready to give up yet. The leash is an abstraction to him, and its existence is only acknowledged when he has reached the end of it. Every time he starts again after a sniff or a pee, he seems to hope that the leash has vanished, or that I, finally, have come to my senses, have decided to match his insane speed. Then moments later the realisation that the leash is an actual thing. This is a dog who is practically never off leash, and who gets frequent reminders about the existence of the leash. And still. Trot until braked by the leash, then Pace.

The Pace seems to be his only way of coping with the slow people he has to deal with. It is just strange.

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