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Pet Behavior Articles - Canine Behavior
Dog Walking Mystery Solved
By Susan McCullough
Try a little experiment with your dog: Have it stand
perpendicular to you, with another person facing your
pet about 3 feet away. Ask the other person to call your
dog. As the dog moves toward that person, look at
which foot it moves first.
Chances are, you won’t be able to tell -- but you’re not
alone. According to a study recently published in the
science journal Cell Biology, experts who create museum
exhibits, veterinary textbooks and other visual
depictions of four-legged animal motion incorrectly
illustrate movement almost 50 percent of the time.
Which Foot First?
The study’s lead author, Gábor Horváth of Eötövos University in Budapest, Hungary, was
surprised by the widespread confusion. The mystery of four-legged walking was actually
solved way back in the 1880s, when photographer Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated
through still-shot images that all quadruped animals move by first moving their left hind
foot, then their left front foot, followed by the right hind foot and the right front foot.
But Maryna Ozuma, founder and practitioner of Canine Kinaesthetics and training director
of the Arizona Doggy Dude Ranch in Sierra Vista, Ariz., wasn’t surprised by the confusion
and how many people tend to forget Muybridge’s breakthrough. “To expect dog owners to
incorporate such acute visual assessment is expecting owners to see stuff that not one
veterinarian in 100 can see,” she says. It could simply be that dogs walk too quickly for
most of us, including veterinarians and other experts, to observe the detailed movements,
which Muybridge was able to capture with his camera.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t become more aware of how your dog walks
and moves. The benefits of such awareness are considerable. “Dogs live in their bodies
and any restrictions to…their bodies affect their ability to absorb information, process
information and respond to information,” Ozuma says.
In other words, even if you can’t tell which foot your dog moves first, you can still help
your furry pal to stride with greater comfort. Here are some ideas:
Ditch painful collars Your dog is more comfortable walking with you when it’s wearing
comfortable equipment. Most modern-day dog trainers strongly advise against using choke
chains and prong collars, even if that dog has a tendency to pull hard on its leash. Such
collars can lead to serious behavioral problems because of the discomfort they cause.
If your dog’s a puller, invest in a head collar or a no-pull harness. A professional, positive
reinforcement trainer can also help teach your dog that the sidewalk is no place to be a
sled dog wannabe.
Get the right leash Walking a dog is a lot easier for you both when using the right leash. A
6-foot leather leash is easier to hold than commonly used retractable leashes -- a handy
feature if your dog suddenly decides to chase a squirrel and you need to grasp the leash.
Hold the leash correctly To walk your dog comfortably, place the leash loop around your
wrist, and then grasp the leash with your looped hand just below the loop. With the
opposite hand, hold the leash about halfway down its length. Have your dog stand next to
you on the side opposite your looped hand so that the leash falls diagonally in front of
your body. This way, you can use both hands to exert greater control over your dog when
you walk together.
Watch for changes. One of the greatest benefits of paying attention to the way your dog
moves is that you can spot signs of trouble quickly. “Many times in my training classes, as I
watch a dog walk or work, I can see a subtle limp,” says trainer Liz Palika of Oceanside,
Calif. “The limp might be just a touch of soreness, but could turn worse if not paid
attention to.” In such cases, a dog needs to see a veterinarian, who should be able to
diagnose and fix the problem.
That was true for Palika, who found that a change in her Australian Shepherd’s gait
indicated a larger problem. Four years ago, she noticed that Riker had a problem because
he used his body to help move his rear legs forward. She took him in for X-rays and
discovered the problem: severe hip dysplasia. By keeping Riker’s weight under control,
giving him a baby aspirin every day and allowing for plenty of playtime, the now-10-year-
old Aussie remains happy, healthy and on the move.