Dogs can be very erratic movers depending on how the mood takes them. The zoomies are a classic example. But there’s one movement that can send alarm bells ringing in even the most laidback of owners: a dog with a twisting body when walking. It can also be described as your dog walking in a c shape, sideways, sidewinding, or like a crab.
But why do dogs run sideways or start the crabbing walk? I asked a vet and compiled the best online research to give the most comprehensive answer below, followed by an in-depth analysis.
Why does my dog walk sideways? You dog could have a twisted body and be walking sideways for reasons such as hip dysplasia, having one dominant leg, excitement, an ear infection, or even just pins and needles after waking up.
Why your dog has a twisting body when walking
Essentially, this bizarre form of behavior that causes dogs to walk or run sideways whilst still moving forward, will give them an off-kilter kind of appearance. It’s been compared to walking like a crab, or in a c shape.
You will often their bodies becoming curved and twisted, with their back legs a bit off to the side from their front legs.
If you have noticed your dog has a twisted body when walking, then you might be concerned. After all, crabbing can sometimes resemble an injury and give owners the impression that there could be something amiss with their dog’s body or legs.
Likewise, you might wonder if it is related to your dog’s balance or coordination and if there are any steps you can take to treat it. If you have come across this article whilst searching for an answer, you have come to the right place – let me explain all of your questions and more.
Before I start though, please appreciate I am not a vet and this information on why dogs run sideways is purely based on my online research. Nothing can substitute for expert advice, so please call a vet if you are worried about your dog walking sideways suddenly.
Why is my dog walking sideways?
There are many reasons why your dog could be running sideways, most of which I have detailed below.
1. Walking sideways might be their natural gait
For some dogs, running sideways or crabbing is just the way that they naturally move. Similar to humans, dogs have different styles of walking and running.
For example, you probably know someone who is light on their feet and someone who walks around with heavy steps, often stomping the ground and waking the people downstairs.
The same can be true for our canine companions, some dogs walk with small and rapid steps, whilst others walk with long laborious, and heavy strides. Some will also walk in circles when they get excited.
The good news is that if you are the owner of a dog who has been running at a sideways angle for years, then you probably have little to worry about.
2. Walking sideways due to one dominant leg
Another reason that dogs can walk in c shape like a crab can be due to them having one leg that is more dominant than the other legs. Sidestepping, crabbing and other unusual movements are common in dogs with one dominant back leg.
This is particularly evident in puppies and younger dogs, which are often clumsy and unsure on their feet until they have reached adulthood. Interestingly, this strange form of behavior can sometimes persist in adult dogs, accounting for the odd way they move.
However, the majority of dogs grow out of any habits picked up as puppies, so this is not always the case.
3. Walking sideways due to an ear infection
Ear infections can also affect your dog’s balance and make them walk sideways or with a twisted body. Commonly these infections are bacterial, however, fungal infections are not unheard of and can occur from time to time.
Similarly, other conditions, such as ear mites, or polyps, can play a role in the likelihood of your dog developing ear infections.
Unfortunately, breeds of dogs who have longer ears, like Bloodhounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Basset Hounds are particularly susceptible to ear infections.
4. Walking sideways all of a sudden
Most of the time, crabbing is nothing serious. However, there are some instances where it can be a sign of a medical condition or structural and proportional discrepancy.
For example, if you own an older dog or if your dog has started walking sideways all of a sudden, consult your vet, and get your pooch examined. It is always better to be on the safe side, and sometimes being cautious can save your dog from going through a lot of pain.
My dog recently hurt his back leg jumping up, and this caused him to walk like a crab in a c shape for a few days.
5. Old or elderly dog walking sideways
When it comes to old dogs walking sideways, hip dysplasia is one of the more common reasons for crabbing and twisted walking. This nasty skeletal condition, often seen in large or giant breed dogs, causes the ball and socket located in the hip to rub and grind instead of sliding smoothly.
Over time this condition can cause deterioration and a loss of function in the joint, something that is incredibly painful for any dog, regardless of age, to go through.
Thankfully there are several treatment options for this condition, ranging from physical therapy, joint supplements, and anti-inflammatory medications.
6. Walking and running sideways when excited
This is one I’ve seen my brother’s dog do a lot. I can’t find any veterinarian opinion on why dogs walk sideways when excited but do have my own theory… their tail.
It could be that where they are so excited, they are wagging their tail ferociously, and this then starts to put their body out of balance into a twisted position like a crab.
7. Walking sideways due to pins and needles
If the sideways walk happens after your dog gets up from a sleep, then it could be pins and needles. Dogs do get this just like us humans do, and I’ve explained this in more detail here.
How dogs move (or how they should move)
To understand what causes sideways crab walking in dogs, we will first have to look at how the average dog moves. Although this article is predominantly about dogs running sideways, this behavior is often seen in a variety of different movements.
There are mainly four different stages of dog walking movements (called gaits, each has its own name), these start with walking and lead to full-on running.
Hopefully, with this knowledge in mind, you will be better equipped to spot if your dog is starting to move strangely or with a twisted body.
When a dog walks normally, it will lift each foot one at a time in a regular timed sequence. For example, its back foot will lift first, followed by its front foot that lines up with the back foot, then its opposite back foot, and lastly its corresponding front foot, and so on, repeated over and over again.
Interestingly, if you were to observe a random dog walking down the road (preferably one that does not walk sideways), you would probably notice how three of its legs are in support of its body at all times, which enables it to keep its balance and remain steady.
Slightly faster than the walk, the trot involves a dog’s legs moving diagonally in two beats.
First, both the right front foot and the back left foot are lifted (the other two feet stay planted on the ground), then the opposite legs swap, with the left front foot and the back right foot lifted off the ground (the other feet now staying planted on the ground).
However, unlike walking, there is a brief moment in the trot in which all the dog’s feet are lifted off the ground (if you were to take a photo, they would look like they were floating).
Next up is the canter. Although slower than the trot, dogs can easily shift into a faster pace when moving this way.
Separating this movement from a gallop can be tricky for the inexperienced eye, however, it is easy to spot once you know the 1-2-1 pattern. first, one back foot will hit the ground, followed by the other back foot and its corresponding front foot, then lastly, the other front foot (following a pattern of 1-2-1).
Finally, the gallop is the fastest gait of them all. It follows a four-beat rhythm and is known to make dogs look like they are flying, due to the way they are suspended with their feet off the ground whilst in mid-gallop.
The front legs extend forward in mid-air while the back legs extend backward, the front feet then land first, and the back feet land shortly after, almost touching each other in the process.
When it comes to crabbing, knowing these different gaits can be useful. For example, it is much more common for dogs to walk or trot sideways than it is for them to run sideways, and when this sort of behavior is seen in faster gaits it may be a signal that there is a problem with the dog’s balance.
Furthermore, in a gallop, most dog’s feet will move in a parallel pattern, with their spine causing them to straighten, making it almost impossible for them to run sideways.
However, crabbing can still be observed in running from time to time, especially in slower paced gaits. Additionally, (unlike galloping) walking, trotting, or cantering naturally causes dogs to move their feet diagonally – leading to the appearance that your dog has a sideways walk.
In certain dogs, these diagonal movements can cause issues, resulting in them having to move sideways to avoid falling over.
Strange movements like sideway walks in dogs are not all that uncommon. Our canine companions can be born with a variety of traits, some seemingly unique to them – and the way that they move is no different.
If you have ever visited a pup-friendly park teeming with canines of all shapes and sizes, then you have probably seen this in action with your own eyes.
Although occasionally subtle, it is often quite easy to pick out your pooch by the way they move, even when they are at a distance or if they are with similar-looking dogs.
This is especially easy if your dog has a unique way of running that sets them apart from others. Additionally, there is no telling how your dog may act when excited, with strange-looking zoomies and weird jumps into the air being a common occurrence for multiple breeds.
However, if your dog has started to walk sideways all of a sudden, please do get it checked out by a professional vet to rule out any serious health issue.
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