Trotting - Just Two Beats
Dogs are amazing creatures who hide pain, discomfort and limitations, often for far longer and better than their owners. Since finding issues early results in quicker treatment, reduced chance of further issues and decreased costs of treatment. I aim to empower owners to pick up on the subtle signs of issues earlier.
Changes in how a dog trots is one of these early warning signs which is why I started this series, to break down a complex gait into tiny chunks.
I started off by talking about dog's crossing over, how to spot it, what it might mean and the long term consequences. In this post I will talk about the timing of the feet hitting the ground.
Once again my aim is to identify just one more aspect of the trot that can tell us about what is happening in your dog.
Trotting is a moderate gait where the dog brings alternate legs forward at the same time (eg. the front left and back right legs move forward together). It is very economical and a great work out for the dog as it requires even balance between the left and right sides of the body to stop the dog face planting.
To achieve just 2 beats it requires the front foot, and diagonal back foot to hit the ground at the same time.
This is relevant to me as one of the aspects that I look for when doing a lameness exam. A sound well balanced dog will achieve two beats.
Does a one off matter, nope. The dog may be off balance, may be transitioning between gaits or have stood on a prickle!
These two photos are of the same dog. The top photo shows the front foot well off the ground while the back foot is just starting to make contact with the ground. This is incorrect and will not result in a clear two beat gait. The picture below however, taken a few strides later, shows much more balanced and correct movement. Due to the timing of the picture its impossible to tell if they will hit at exactly the same time which is why I love video.
These two pictures show the back foot touching the ground, while the front foot is still in the air. These dogs would not have a clear two beat sound if they were trotting across a wooden floor.
To get an accurate idea of what is going on with my clients I use slow motion video and try to limit all the confounding factors. So flat ground, ensure the dog is looking straight ahead, lead not tight and make sure there is no visual distortion by only looking at the dog when it is perpendicular to the camera.
You will get to see something like this when the dog is moving freely and is balanced. *Unfortunately these pictures are both taken at an angle to allow the feet to be seen a little easier but it does show some visual distortion that can be created when you are not perpendicular to the dog- making them look like they are not evenly pushing off but this is another piece of the puzzle that I will talk about in a later post!
So why should we care if the feet are not hitting the ground at the same time? It is a sign that the dog is not balanced. As mentioned above, it might be the environment. If this is the case then modifying the environment to allow the dog to move in a balanced manner will ensure they are working their muscles evenly. If you're trotting your dog for strength and cardiovascular fitness, ensuring they are balanced will get you the most return on your time. It will also mean you're not actively training an imbalance that may later cause injury.
It may be that there is structural imbalance or muscular imbalance.
A time that this may often be seen is during obedience competitions. Taking the time outside training to encourage your dog to trot evenly is important to give their body a break and maintain correct musculature.
It may also be the sign of an injury. One that is so minor that this is the only change that is visible as the dog moves through its every day life. It can also assist in identifying the location of an injury/pain.
During treatment and recovery I also use this as a tool to assess pain without actually needing to touch a dog if they are wary of physical exam. I also use it to assess progress and ensure we are achieving our goal of return to normal function.
Taking the time to explore why the dog's trot is not a two beat gait is fun.You get to play with your dog, a camera and whatever you find is another step toward knowing your dog and looking after them to the highest possible standard.