The world of canine locomotion
Posted in Chiropractic Treatments for Dogs

Welcome to the wonderful world of canine locomotion, where each foot fall tells a story.

From a leisurely stroll in the park to the energetic sprint while playing, dogs can move at an incredible range of speed, making them the ultimate athlete.

In this blog, I will begin to explore canine movement patterns, a topic which is so important in my everyday work. Locomotory patterns, biomechanics, kinematics and gait analysis are all different names for the study of canine movement patterns, usually called gaits.

Dogs are quadropeds, which means they have 4 legs, humans having a mere 2 legs are described as bipeds. We humans have a mere 5 different gaits; (walk, jog, skip, run and sprint), which means there is a limit to our speed and endurance. Man’s best friend with the benefit of 4 legs, has a total of 6 different gaits, let’s explore each one;

  1. The Walk

The walk is a 4 time pace, this means each leg comes off the ground at different times, it is symmetrical in nature and relies on the pendular swing of the shoulders and the hips, giving a  1 – 2 – 3 – 4, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 rhythm. There is very little propulsion to the walk, it is a slow pace, favoured by larger dogs, and rarely seen in smaller dogs, who will naturally go straight into a trot. The walking gait puts little pressure on the cardiovascular system, so it isn’t great for fitness.  Quite a lot of pressure though is put through the dogs joints, especially in the forelimbs so care must be taken not to overuse this pace while exercising your dogs as it can cause stiffness and soreness, especially in older dogs and may contribute to incorrect development in younger dogs.

  1. The Pace (or amble)

The pace or amble is often thought of as an incorrect gait pattern, and certainly, in the show ring, it would not be marked favourably. Common to popular belief though, the pace is a normal gait pattern for a dog. It is a symmetrical gait, with a 1 – 2, 1 – 2 pattern. The pace is a middle ground gait between a walk and a trot, but the front and back legs move in tandem on one side of the body, then the other. While pacing can be a sign of musculoskeletal pain, especially lumber pain, it is often a good option for a bigger dog whose owner isn’t quite moving quick enough for a dog to trot, but is asking the dog to move more briskly than is comfortable in walk.

  1. The Trot

The trot is the most energy efficient of all the gaits, in fact, observations of wild wolves in Russia, have shown a pack can easily cover 40 kilometres in a day across their territory in the trot.   It is a symmetrical gait, with a 1 – 2, 1 – 2 pattern. Unlike the pace though, the legs move in diagonal pairs, with the left foreleg and the right hindleg moving forwards and backwards together and the left foreleg and right hindlimb moving together. There should be a moment of suspension within each stride pattern where all 4 feet are off the ground at once. Unlike the walk and pace, the trot requires the use of all the dog’s muscle groups, and as a symmetrical pace, it is excellent for both conditioning the musculoskeletal and the cardiovascular system.


  1. The Canter

A cantering dog is in a 3 time pace, with the rhythm being 1 – 2 – 3, 1 – 2 – 3, 1 – 2 – 3. Things can get a bit complicated here because the canter can either be left side leading and right side leading. For example the dog will strike off into the canter on the right hind, then the left hind and right fore leg will move together, lastly the left fore will strike forwards, this would be left lead cantering, mostly it’s a directional gait, a dog moving in an ant-clockwise direction will usually be left leading, and yes you guessed it, a dog moving clockwise will be right leading in canter. The canter has a lovely rocking motion, it is a surprising relaxed looking gait to watch, but isn’t seen in all breeds and sizes.

  1. The Gallop (or lope)

With the dogs heavier but shorter forequarter, and superb spinal flexion coming from their lighter, longer, lumber spine and hindquarter, a dog’s ability to generate power to propel their bodies forwards and cover the ground efficiently and quickly is remarkable. The pace where the dog’s perfect build for speed is most noticeable is in the gallop.  The gallop or lope can be either transverse or rotary, it is a 4 time pace, with a moment of suspension where all 4 legs will be off the ground at once. In a transverse gallop the leg sequence would look like, left hind, right hind, left fore, right fore, with a rhythm of 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. The rotary gallop sequence is slightly different, with the pattern being left hind, right hind, right fore, left fore. We automatically think of a greyhound sprinting when we think of a gallop, but all dogs are capable of a galloping gait. The nature of the exercise or competition will often dictate the type of gallop you will see, for example a collie in the agility ring will often use the rotary gallop as it is easier for tight turns.


I  hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into the beauty and complexity of canine movement. Try and identify the different gaits on your next dog walk, and see how many different types you can spot.


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