Canine Gait Assessment

Gait assessment for the dog requires a working knowledge of the various gaiting patterns that are normal for the dog. Each breed of dog is meant to do some type of work. The lap dog will have a structure that is suited for sitting in a lap and hopping up and down off of the couch or someones lap, the Greyhound is built for speed, a Rottweiler is built for pulling power and strength, a field dog is built to chase fox or flush out game etc. etc.. Function and form work hand in hand and must be balanced to meet the working needs of the dog in question. There are seven basic types of dogs:

1. Sporting dogs (For a list of Sporting dogs click here)

A. Rangers

B. Springers

C. Retrievers

2. Sporting Hounds

A. Scent trailers

B. Gaze trailers

C. Dogs that go to ground

3. Gazehounds (Hounds that hunt mainly by sight and rather then by scent. Click here)

A. Greyhounds

B. Saluki

C. Whippet

D. Borzoi

E. Afghan

4. Terriers (Used to hunt vermin like rabbits, foxes, mice and weasels) For a list of terriers click here.

5. Working dogs (For a list of working dogs click here)

6. Herding dogs (For a list of herding dogs click here)

7. Toy dogs (For a list of toy dogs click here)

Once we have checked the dogs conformation by posing them and checking the angles of the forelimb, hindlimb, pelvis and neck, checked the top line, pads, toes, face and other static structural features of the dog; we will want to see how these structural parts operate in kinetic motion. We will need a few tools to work with:

1. Video camera with tripod (Your cell phone will work if that is all you have)

2. Leash

3. A surface for the dog to walk on that is not to hot in the summer like an empty parking lot or the track at the high school football field. A long grassy short cut field would work as long as you can see the dogs foot strike. A long flat sandy beach would help show you the footfall patterns if you are near and uncrowded beach. It is best to pick a quiet time when there is not a lot of distraction for the dog. Pick a time of day when the dog is not to energetic if they are young and if they are old mid-morning would be best so that they have some time for their joints to warm up and they won’t be to tired.

4. A Chuck It or something for the dog to chase if they are full of energy and need to be calmed down a little. If you can get the dog to run and play around before checking the gait you will start to see the weak areas better when they get tired. For dogs that are older or don’t like chasing balls and running around you can check the gait right away.

5. A checklist of gait and conformation irregularities. Click here for a sample form.

6. A friend to help you walk the dog while you film the dog or someone who can film the dog while you walk them.

7. Some treats for the dog to keep them interested in doing what you want them to do.

Once you have the dogs energy settled down whoever is filming the dog should set up so that they are not filming into the sun or shade and the person who is handling the dog should walk away from the camera person while they are filming. The handler should not talk to the dog but should just walk calmly forward at a pace that will not rush the dog. The handler should walk far enough that the camera person can get a nice long shot of the dog walking away. The handler should them turn around and walk back to the camera person. Do this at least three times. The camera person should then set up to take film footage of each side of the dog as they are coming and going. The dog handler will have to switch sides so that they will not be in the way of the camera. Next we want to film the dog while it is chasing a ball or running without the handler if possible. If the dog is not a ball chaser the handler can run with the dog on the leash and the film person should set up for coming and going shots of both sides and both ends of the dog. It would be very helpful for the person who will be analyzing the gait to watch the dog without filming as well. It is easier sometimes to pick irregularities in the gait out without the camera. For dogs who are working dogs we can film them in the actions that they are bred for and get a better idea of what is and is not working correctly. For an agility dog we should film them during training, for a herding dog we should film them while they are herding etc. etc. Filming the dog while they are not distracted and to controlled will give us a clearer picture of how they are moving.

Once we have all the film we need and have finished noting what we are seeing on our checklist we should load the film onto a computer and look at it in full speed while taking notes of what we see and noting at what time in the timeline we see the gaiting irregularities. We can then start to look at these noted places in the timeline in slow motion to get a better picture of what is going on under the skin. Once we have all of our notes documented we should do some research on the breed of dog we are working with to make sure that the gaiting irregularities that we are seeing are not bred into this specific breed of dog to serve a functional purpose. At this point we could do an online search on Youtube and see if we can find a few videos to compare the dog we are examining to. The breed registries will also have some good information on what the breed should look like in motion and for those of you who are really motivated I suggest you buy Dog Steps by Rachel Page Elliot and Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis by Curtis Brown and study them more then once.

For mixed breed dogs we will have a harder time figuring out what is the correct conformation and gait of the dog but we should be able to see where things are not working correctly when we compare the different quadrants in motion and see what looks out of balance.

For a good look at the different gaits of the dog you should go to this website and study it as much as possible until you can see the gaiting patterns and can name them when you see the dog use them in the field. Kinesiology of the dog is a very large subject and obviously it can’t be covered in a single blog or class. Generally after we have gathered the information from static conformation and kinetic movement we should start to look at the bones, muscles, past pathological conditions, surgeries and repetitive use patterns that might be causing the gaiting irregularities. In the next blog we will look at the steps we should take to track down the causes of the problems and how to make a treatment plan to address these problems.


Canine Conformation Assessment

Whether you are a canine massage therapist, animal physical therapist, dog trainer, canine agility trainer or a canine caretaker you will want to know more about how the dog moves when they are healthy and how to determine when their gait and posture are out of balance. Structure and function go hand in hand so knowing the desired conformation of the dog you are examining is very important. This can be challenging when the dog you are examining is a mix of two or more breeds. When looking at a mixed breed dog we will have understand what the different breeds were bred for. What the dog breed was bred for in terms of desired working functions and how their structure lends itself to the desired function is important for us to examine. We can find the desired conformation for each breed of animal by doing a thorough online search of the breed registries and contacting reputable breeders when we can’t seem to find the information we need online. An classic example of what we are looking for is the English Bull Dog. An online search for this dogs conformation will bring us to this website that clearly shows the desired conformation of the English Bull Dog.We might not be so lucky when we dog a search for breed standards and breed conformation on other dogs though. Dog breed standards refers to the description of the traits and movement of the ideal specimen of a breed, generally based on form and function. Breed conformation refers to the structure and physical characteristics of a dog. What we will generally find is a written list of the breed standards and breed conformation on the AKC website or we might end up looking at the Canadian Kennel Club site and end up trying to figure out which of the seven groups this dog belongs to and then looking at the written descriptions.  Neither of the written breed standards on either of these sites has pictures integrated into the text to help the lay person see clearly what the standard actually looks like. Personally as a professional massage therapist I want more then written guidelines, I would like to see more pictures and videos. A lay person might not even understand the terminology used and could use even more information. Doing a search of the various dog breed clubs will not help us much either since most of them lead back to on of the various country centered breed clubs that are nearly as precise and information as the English Bull Dog website. The various clubs could certainly learn from the English Bull Dog website. If we look look at the Wikipedia page for a breed at least we get a page which is more easily navigated and laid out clearly. The Standard Poodle Wikipedia page is a good example. Another place we might want to look is on Youtube. A search on conformation of the German Shepard lead me to a video that would be helpful to the lay person or therapist. Where else can we look for up to date comprehensive information on the conformation and structure of the dog? A search on in the anatomy and gait section of the website leads us to several very good books on the conformation and gait of the dog and a few great videos of the canine gaiting patterns.

I require my canine massage students to watch Dog Steps and I personally have watched the video over thirty times with my animal massage classes and I get something new out of this DVD every time I watch it. If there is one resource that I would recommend that every professional and layperson get to learn more about the dogs conformation and gait it would be this DVD. Several of he books that are listed above are ebook versions so you can get going right away if you want to learn more about this subject. In the next blog we will dig deeper into how conformation of the dog affects the gait and we will learn how to chart and keep records of what we see for future reference. For professionals we will learn how to share this information with other allied professional health care practitioners and with the dogs caretaker.