We are used to seeing our dogs romping around, but we often fail to pay close attention to canine gaits.
The way a dog moves is of great importance when it comes to the show ring as moving flawlessly at a certain gait is required in certain breed standards.
From a health standpoint, getting familiar with a dog’s normal gait is also helpful so dog owners can recognize any early signs of fatigue or possible lameness so they can report their findings to their vet.
Last but not least, learning more about canine gaits is simply fascinating so to better get acquainted with our canine companions. So let’s take a stroll into the world of canine gaits.
What exactly are canine gaits? A gait is a pattern of foot steps that take place at various speeds. Canine gaits can be
symmetrical or asymmetrical. What does this mean?
In a symmetrical gait, the leg movements on one side are repeated on the opposite side. In an asymmetrical gait, instead the leg movements on one side are not repeated on the other side.
Gaits are often referred to as 2-beat gaits, 3-beat gaits, 4-beat gaits. The beats, as in music, give an idea of the rhythm of the gait, they’re used to depict the times the feet touch the floor within a cycle.
Dogs can show six different gaits, the familiar walk, trot and gallop, and the less less familiar amble, pace and canter.
The walk is a symmetrical gait, in four beats, meaning that each foot touches the ground in a sequence, one at a time.
In this gait, three legs are generally always on the ground, while one is lifted. Sometimes, very briefly, you can see though two legs on the ground when the legs being lifted and lowered slightly overlap.
The pattern is left rear, left front, right rear, right front. Among all canine gaits, the walk is the slowest and less tiring.
If we take a close look at a walking dog, we will notice how the head and neck lower when the front leg is lifted and rise when the leg is put down.
By paying attention to this head movement, we can notice when it’s more pronounced, which may be indicative of discomfort or pain.
When dogs are pulling a load, the walking changes slightly. The steps tend to become shorter and the head will be lowered more so that the dog’s center of gravity is shifted forward allowing the rear legs to help in propulsion.
This is a relaxed, often transitory gait that may be seen when a dog is speeding up in walking and about to break in a trot.
This gait is symmetrical and similar to the pace, but just a tad bit slower. This gait is faster than the walk, but it’s slower than the canter and gallop, but, it’s rarely seen in dogs other than during the transition between one gait and another.
This gait is more often seen in camels, elephants and horses. In this gait, just like the pace, two legs on the same side are lifted while the two other legs remain always on the ground, however if one looks carefully, it can be noticed that unlike the pace, the rear leg of the pair gets off the ground just a split second sooner than the front foot, and that the rear leg is also touches the ground a little earlier.