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Understanding and Monitoring Your Dog’s Gait

What is gait?

Gait is defined as the repetitive movement pattern of the dog’s limbs during locomotion. It is made up of a series of repeated strides. It describes the quality of a dog’s gallop

Gait patterns differ between the breeds, and vary over time. Reasons for differences in gait include breed, conformation, training, experience, health or emotional status, terrain, or fatigue level. Dogs always choose the most convenient gait variation based on these factors.

What are the common gaits for dogs?

  • Walk. The least tiring and most efficient form of movement, this is a pattern where 3 legs are in support of the body at all times, each foot lifting from the ground one at a time sequentially.
  • Amble. Usually used as a transition between a normal walk and a trot. In this gait, both legs on either side move almost as a pair.
  • Pace. Considered an abnormal gait in most dogs. This gait is a faster version of the amble, where both legs on either side are moving in unison. It can be an indication of a conformation issue.
  • Trot. A 2 beat symmetrical gait where diagonal pairs of legs (1 front and 1 rear) move almost simultaneously together. This gait is used for traveling distances at a fair rate of speed.
  • Canter. A 3 beat asymmetrical gait used for traveling distances because it is smooth and conserves energy. The pattern is the hind foot, the opposite hind foot, and it’s front diagonal, followed by the other front foot. In this gait, a dog is either “right lead” or “left lead” depending on which front leg leads.
  • Gallop. A 4 beat asymmetrical gait where each leg contacts the ground independent of each other. It also has a suspension phase where all 4 legs are off the ground. It is the fastest gait but can only be performed in short canter

Why pay attention to your dog’s gait?

The most important reason is because it allows you to be aware of any changes in his gait. Gait changes that are not normal for your dog are an indication that something’s wrong. For example, if your dog suddenly starts pacing, it’s a warning sign that you shouldn’t ignore.

Regularly watching your dog walk from all angles, and becoming familiar with how he walks will also tell you quickly if something is wrong. .

Dogs in pain change how they walk to minimize pain. They may shift their weight forward or backward or put less weight on the affected leg.

Dogs with potential neurological problems may scuff or drag a paw.

Dogs with arthritis may appear stiff in their gait.

Dogs with spinal problems or hip dysplasia may start pacing.

Something as simple as nails that are too long can affect gait.

Understanding normal gait patterns and watching your dog move can tell you many things, from something as simpldog trote as your dog is getting tired, to something more serious.

On the plus side, it can also tell you if your dog would be a good candidate to participate in sports activities such as agility.

The best 2 gaits to observe are the walk and the trot. Have another person lead your dog on leash in a walk and trot gait while you watch. You must be careful that your “handler” isn’t moving either too fast or too slow to affect how your dog moves. Many dogs will try to match the human’s gait which can lead them to perform an abnormal gait.

So the question is “Have you ever thought about your dog’s gaits?” Have you paid attention to the way he moves? If not, I encourage you to do so. You’ll be doing your 4-legged friend a big favor!