While there are many different shapes and of dogs, all have the same structure and angulation in order for them to move and function efficiently. Of course, because of their structural differences not all dogs move in exactly the same way – some have different styles of walking and running. Read our Holidays4Dogs article for more information on canine movement.
When describing movement, (walking, or running ) we call this the ‘gait’. This is the pattern of movement in all animals during locomotion. Many people compare the gait of dogs to horses but, in fact, dogs have quite a unique gait. Dogs have much more flexibility in their spines than horses. They are also much better at turning tight corners and changing direction because they have more traction in their paws.
The overall appearance of the individual dog, must be symmetrical and proportioned correctly in relation to other parts of the body. Angulation generally refers to the bones at the front and the rear of the dog; in particular, the angles at the hip and shoulder joints. Without correct balance and angulation, a dog will move less efficiently, less smoothly and may suffer more injuries over the course of its life.
In the world of competition dogs such as agility, sled dog racing, or obedience, there is a growing interest in the way dogs move. Dogs that move correctly, shifting efficiently between gaits, will perform better. In addition, they will be much less likely to suffer injuries.
There are several main gaits of the dog – walk, amble, pace, trot, canter and gallop.
When a dog walks, he moves one rear leg forward followed by the front leg on the same side. Sometimes the dog will have only two feet on the ground at the same time.
As the dog speeds his walking up, he moves into a fast walk, or amble. His legs move in the same way as they do at walking pace, only slightly quicker. At times, it may look as if the two legs on one side of the dog’s body are moving in unison. The amble can appear to look as if the dog is moving rather awkwardly. It is usually only a brief gait as the dog moves from walk, to pace, or trot.
When a dog is pacing, only two feet, (on the same side) remain on the ground as the dog moves forward. Therefore, all of the dog’s weight is carried on one side, or the other, as his centre of balance shifts. The pace is most often seen in large breeds, or overweight dogs.
Dogs love to trot. This gait is the most efficient way for a dog to get around and a fit dog can cover long distances trotting. The desire to trot is the reason often cited by trainers when dogs pull on the lead. A dog’s natural pace is much faster than ours, so to walk at human pace can feel unnatural to some dogs. In the trot, the dog moves using his diagonal front and rear legs, leaving his body momentarily suspended in mid air.
There are two ways a dog will canter. The first, is in the same way a horse would canter. The dog moves forward with one rear foot, then the other rear foot moves at the same time as the diagonal front foot, after which the final front foot moves. The other variation of the dog’s canter is known as the rotary canter – this is where the feet will move right rear, left rear, left front, right front. The rotary canter is the most frequently used gait in canines and is seen most frequently in performance dogs such as those competing in agility. Dogs engaging in a rotary canter can make fast turns and drive forward effectively from the rear.
The gallop begins with both the dog’s rear feet on the ground, with one foot slightly ahead of the other. He then stretches his back and body forward with his front feet outstretched. One front foot will hit the ground a little before the other. Then the dog will use his back to spring the rear feet forward again. As with the canter, there are two variations of gallop; classical gallop which is seen in horses and the rotary gallop, which is the more natural and most used gait in dogs.
Getting accustomed to your dog’s natural gait can help you to detect when there might be something wrong. The trot is the gait in which it is often easier to see any faults in the dog’s movement. This is why the trot is most frequently employed in the world of show dogs.
Lameness can often be detected in a trotting dog, as he will tend to avoid putting weight on the affected limb and this can usually be noticed quite clearly. Other signs to watch out for are, lowering of the head and arching of the back. This can often happen as the dog is attempting to compensate his balance when feeling pain in his forelimbs. If the dog has pain, or discomfort, you may notice he drops his pelvis, or tilts it to the side. Intermittent skips, or a gait that looks as if the dog is ‘bunny hopping’, can also be signs of skeletal dysfunction.
Photographs kindly supplied courtesy of Alison Ingram of Osketra German Shepherds