When was the last time you paid attention to the way your dog walked, trotted or ran? If you are like most dog owners, probably not often, if ever. But understanding your dog’s locomotive process can tell you much about how your dog is feeling. It can also help you develop a program that promotes strength and wellness.
Dog movement involves every organ system in the body; up to 99% of the skeletal muscles and their bony structures. Just how well the organ and muscle systems are working together (or lack therof) is often seen in your dog’s gait… Understanding proper gait form can help you develop a good exercise program for your dog and identify weaknesses.
Dog Walk Gait – is your easiest and least tiring gait. It also has the longest stance-time; therefore a balanced walk-only workout will strengthen and challenge more of the loading/stabilizing muscles of the Shoulders, Loin and Hind Quarter.
Walking Strength Exercise: Only have a few minutes? Turn just a walk into a strengthening workout. Start with a quiet stand (1min) – (Most dogs will option to sit or lay-down rather than just quietly hold a stance posture – encourage them to hold their stance). Slow walk (15-20 human steps) ; hold stance quietly (1min); slow walk (10 human steps) – brisk walk (10 human steps)- slow walk (10 human steps); Hold stance quietly (1min) and Release! Observe weaknesses that your dog may display – leaning to one side, continually trying to sit instead of holding a stand.
A Trot Gait –is the gait with the longest suspension time, this is what gives that smooth floating/gliding appearance when a dog moves. A balanced trot-only workout is the ideal gait for strengthening the top-line/back muscles and is endurance building. While there are many ways to improve your dog’s trot gait, one way is with a dog treadmill. A well-designed dog treadmill allows you to monitor and maintain consistent and continuous speed. A low-profile dog treadmill design will allow you to easily watch for inconsistent movements. For each dog the speed to maintain a trot-gait may be slightly different.
Trot Conditioning Exercise: 20 minutes, continuously, at an extended trot is the best overall conditioning exercise that you can do for your dog. An extended trot is when the front and rear limbs are at their maximum stride length; long fluid movements where the front limbs are reaching and the back limbs are extending. A dog will tire/fatigue more easily at this gait until properly conditioned so only start with 3-5 minutes and slowly build up to a 20 minutes. Be advised some breeds may be better suited for 10 minutes max.
A Pace Gait – is not an ideal performance gait and is often termed a lazy gait as it does not work a dog’s body to its full potential. It falls in between a walk and a trot gait. Identifying this gait can help direct changes to establish a better workout. Generally this gait is seen when an animal is uncomfortable, unsteady or out of balance. The discomfort can be caused environmentally, or by physical discomfort (tired, out of shape or may be indicative of an orthopedic problem). The pace gait is also seen in dog breeds that have long legs and short bodies – they use this gait instead of a trot to keep from interfering with their limbs as they come together. Developing puppies will pace often during different phases of their growth. They lack the strength and balance to hold a good trot gait. It is advisable to wait until your dog has developed the necessary strength to achieve a proper trot gait; otherwise you will risk reinforcing a lazy pace gait that may make your puppy muscularly unsound.
During the pace gait, the hindlimb and forelimb of the same side will swing and land in unison while bearing weight on the other side in the same manner. Movement will seem choppy, rough. The dog’s body will move from side-to-side, this movement pattern is laterally strengthening, but not beneficial for developing core strength. Furthermore, a dog that paces more than trots will be muscularly unsound and may be predisposed to arthritis early in life. A pacing gaited dog will often display topline weakness and have instability of the knees that can lead to more serious lameness overtime. If you see this gait consistently in your dog – consider more core strengthening activities or see a professional, more may be at play under the skin.
A Run Gait – is your gait of propulsion, therefore a balanced run-only workout (like fetching), will be strengthening more the muscles of propulsion; Pelvic and Hip Flexors, Hamstrings, Gluteal and the Pectorals. It is not a sustainable gait but rather a sprint-like gait.
Run Interval Exercise: Practice controlled fetch and retrieve to ignite and develop your dogs fast twitch muscles. Use a run gait on the out for retrieval and a trot on the return. Watch for abnormality of the gait such as inability to run, lameness, unsteadiness.
Gait abnormalities can be associated with a variety of conditions under the skin – neurological and joint conditions associated with gait could be seen as inability to gait properly, lameness, development of a visibly protective mode of walking, arching of the back, lowering of the head. Be vigilant and watch your dogs gait for any signs of unusual patterning.
If you have questions about the quality of your dog’s movement, how to avoid pacing or other questions about gait send us an email email@example.com. Our DogTread experts can help evaluate and develop a plan to enhance your dog’s movement and performance.
About the Authors:
As a dedicated lifestyle athlete and co-inventor of the award winning DogTread® Dog Treadmill, K9FIT Vest™ and the StayBall® Balance Ball, Krista Wickens has a unique understanding of the mechanics of fitness for both the human and canine body. As a former fitness product manager, Krista created best-selling products used by the biggest names in Human Fitness for such iconic brands as Reebok, Gold’s Gym and NordicTrack. Her love for animals, particularly dogs started on a Montana Cattle Ranch where she was raised. She trained her first dog Bear at the age of 7. These experiences have led to the development of a unique line of canine fitness products that are designed from a dog’s perspective and take into account the unique aspects of canine behavior and anatomy. Krista is also the co-author and producer of Treading for Dogs DVD and 30-day Dog Treadmill Training Program, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Erika McElwey, EqCnTPM is a member of DogTread’s Expert Coaching Team and owner of Change Your Range. Erika has been working in the Animal Rehabilitation and Fitness Field for 14 years. She certified in Trigger Point Myotherapy in 1999; Obtained a Bachelors of Science in Animal Science PreVeterinary Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2001. During her studies Erika worked as a veterinary technician at a small animal hospital local to her home in western Massachusetts. Upon graduation she started working for Dr. Michael W. Stewart, DVM in Windsor CT managing the Animal Rehabilitation Center for 7 years. As part of this Vet/Therapist Rehab Team, she provided Hydrotherapy Rehabilitation and Strengthening Programs for both Horses and Dogs, which included canine gait retraining and stride enhancement. Now as owner of Change Your Range, she designs safe and effective home strengthening programs for pet owners nationwide. She works with all breeds performing in Show, Agility, Dock Diving, Herding, Schutzhund, K-9 Police, Search & Rescue, K-9 Veterans and more.