Dog walking sideways can be an unusual behavior that may catch an owner’s attention. While it may appear strange, there are various reasons why a dog might walk sideways. The most common reasons are either submissive signals or a fault in the way the dog is build (their Conformation).
However, if the dog is walking sideways excessively or in an unusual manner, it may be a sign of an underlying medical issue. This can either be a neurological or a musculoskeletal issue so your dog may need to see a vet and take quality joint support supplements.
To get into what you need to know about sideways walking or running in dogs, we’ve consulted a few expert sources, such as the Manual to Canine Movement, Dog Anatomy, and Natural Gaits of Purebred Dogs. We also looked at medical sources on canine muscular anatomy and neurological issues that can cause a strange gait or movement in dogs.
So, Why Is My Dog Walking Sideways?
Dogs walking sideways is usually called crabbing or sidewinding. This is when the hindlimbs drift to the side and don’t follow the front limbs in a straight line. This is typically a conformation issue. But it could also be a sign of submission, or medical issues such as injury, hip dysplasia, or a neurological issue like vestibular disease.
Among the many possible reasons for a dog to walk sideways is due to pain or discomfort. Dogs may walk sideways to avoid putting weight on a certain leg or to compensate for an injury. In some cases, walking sideways may be a sign of a neurological condition or a spinal cord injury. If a dog is walking sideways consistently or showing signs of pain or discomfort, it’s important to seek veterinary care to determine the underlying cause.
Recognizing Sideways Walking
Sideways walking in dogs can be recognized when the dog is walking with its body angled to the side, rather than straight ahead. The dog may also have a wobbly gait and appear unsteady on its feet. In some cases, the dog may also drag its paw or leg on the ground.
It’s important to pay attention to how your dog walks naturally, and even video it, so that you have something to compare to if you notice any change in your dog’s gait; that is, the way they walk, trot, or run. Now typically walking sideways has to do with how your dog moves, but it’s extremely important to notice any other symptoms, like weakness or tremors in the back legs, that could signal something more sinister.
Interpreting Body Language: When It’s Submissiveness
When a dog is walking sideways, it is important to observe its body language to understand the reason for the behavior. It’s quite common for a young dog or very submissive dog to walk sideways when they approach you. This is because they are trying to present their butt to you while still coming closer, to show they are friendly.
Their bodies are usually loose and wriggling, and as they approach, they will twist their bum in your direction, often with a wagging tail.
You can read more in our article on why dog’s press their bum against you.
Crabbing or Sidewinding In Dogs
By far the most common reason that healthy dogs move with their body at an angle is called crabbing, crab-walking or sidewinding. This is not an issue unless your dog is competing in conformation classes in the show ring. Then it is considered a fault.
In short, when dogs trot up and down, you’ll notice their back paws almost landing in the same spot the front one just left. It’s a bit like when a car drives through the snow, leaving only two tire tracks instead of four – the front and back wheels are moving in sync. But when this doesn’t happen, and the dog’s legs start wandering off course, we say they’re ‘crabbing’ or ‘sidewinding’. You can spot this when pups seem to trip over their own paws.
The video below is a perfect example of happy little Shiba Inu that crab walks.
In the video below is a much extreme case of crabbing or sidewinding. In this video it is unclear if the dog is moving their butt sideways because of how their body is built, if it’s a learned behavior, or if they instinctively move their butt to the side as friendly and submissive way of approaching their owner:
Crabbing is generally not a problem or anything to worry about. The only place it is really important is if you take part in showing. For context, the Poodles in the videos below need to run in a straight line, with their hindlimbs directly behind their front limbs.
Puppies with a sideways swagger often stumble and tumble, but by the time they’re adults, they’ve figured out a workaround – they shift their front paws to one side to avoid tripping, a quirky movement that gives crabbing its name. When dog show judges are on the lookout for this, they use specific techniques to spot it.
What causes crabbing or sidewinding in dogs?
Crabbing in dogs, or that peculiar sideways gait, can be the result of several factors. One common reason is a disproportion in the dog’s body structure, such as a length-to-height ratio that’s not quite balanced. Think of it like trying to balance on a pair of mismatched stilts – it just doesn’t work smoothly!
Another possible cause is the angulation of the rear legs. If the back legs are more angled than the front, the dog may sidestep, or ‘crab’, to avoid tripping over its own legs. You may see this in dogs like German Shepherds that often have overangulated back legs. Also, limitations in front leg extension due to a stiff back can lead to too much drive from the rear, resulting in crabbing.
Sometimes, pups with this issue might appear to trip over their own feet, but as they grow, they usually learn to adjust their gait to prevent falling. So crabbing is something you may see more often in puppies that do grow out of it.
Despite the cause, it’s essential to remember that each dog is unique and the cause of crabbing may vary. If you notice your dog crabbing, it’s a good idea to consult with a vet or a canine physiotherapist for an assessment.
More rarely, it can happen that a dog learns to walk sideways. It could be because of an old injury that started the habit, or it happens when dogs are put into badly fitting harnesses that force them to walk sideways or crab walk. Sometimes dogs are so busy pulling on the leash that they are always in a sideways position.
Health Concerns That May Cause A dog To Walk Sideways
Dogs can walk sideways for a variety of reasons, including health issues. Understanding the underlying health conditions that can affect a dog’s gait or legs can help owners identify and address problems early on.
In the next section we will look at some specific neurological issues or joint problems that may cause a dog to struggle to walk in a straight line or be unsteady on their feet.
Vestibular disease refers to a condition that affects the vestibular system, which is responsible for maintaining balance and coordination in dogs. It is characterized by a sudden onset of symptoms that may include loss of balance, head tilt, circling, and difficulty walking. The disease can affect dogs of all ages and breeds, but it is more common in older dogs.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) is a condition that affects the spinal cord of dogs. It is a degenerative disease that causes the intervertebral discs to lose their elasticity, leading to herniation or rupture. This can result in compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing pain, weakness, and even paralysis.
IVDD is more common in certain breeds such as Dachshunds, Beagles, and Shih Tzus, but can occur in any breed or mixed breed. It is more common in older dogs, but can occur in younger dogs as well.
Symptoms of IVDD can include:
- Back pain or stiffness
- Difficulty walking or standing
- Weakness or paralysis in the hind legs
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
The video below shows IVDD in a French Bulldog in the early stages:
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive disease that affects the spinal cord of dogs. It is a genetic disorder that is most commonly found in German Shepherds, but can also occur in other breeds such as Boxers, Pugs, Corgis, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. DM is caused by a mutation in the SOD1 gene, which leads to the degeneration of the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers in the spinal cord.
The symptoms of DM usually start to appear in dogs between the ages of 8 and 14. The first sign of DM is often a loss of coordination in the hind limbs, which can cause the dog to walk sideways or drag their feet. As the disease progresses, the dog may experience muscle weakness and atrophy, which can lead to difficulty standing, walking, and even breathing.
Cerebellar Hypoplasia is a condition that affects dogs and cats. It is a neurological disorder that occurs when the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for coordination and balance, is underdeveloped. This condition can cause a dog to walk sideways or have difficulty walking in a straight line.
Cerebellar Hypoplasia can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, infections, and malnutrition. Some breeds, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Doberman Pinscher, are more prone to this condition than others.
Symptoms of Cerebellar Hypoplasia can vary in severity. Some dogs may only have a slight wobble when they walk, while others may have difficulty standing or walking at all. In some cases, dogs may also have tremors or seizures.
When a dog walks sideways, it could be a sign of a medical condition such as a stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, either by a blood clot or a ruptured blood vessel. This can cause a range of symptoms, including difficulty walking, weakness on one side of the body, and loss of balance.
If a dog is walking sideways and displaying other symptoms such as a drooping face or loss of consciousness, it is important to seek veterinary attention immediately. Treatment for a stroke in dogs may include medication to dissolve blood clots, surgery to repair damaged blood vessels, and rehabilitation to help the dog regain mobility.
Wobbler Syndrome, also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy, is a condition that affects dogs, causing them to walk sideways. The condition is caused by compression of the spinal cord in the neck region, leading to neurological symptoms such as weakness, uncoordinated movements, and difficulty walking.
Wobbler Syndrome is more commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs such as Great Danes, Dobermans, and Irish Wolfhounds. The condition can be congenital or acquired, and is often seen in dogs over the age of six.
Symptoms of Wobbler Syndrome can include:
- Stiff neck
- Weakness in the hind legs
- Difficulty walking
- Uncoordinated movements
- Loss of balance
- Falling over
When a dog walks sideways, it could be a sign of a brain tumor. Brain tumors are abnormal growths in the brain that can cause various neurological symptoms, including changes in gait, balance, and coordination.
Symptoms of brain tumors in dogs can be subtle at first and may include changes in behavior, such as lethargy, disorientation, and loss of appetite. As the tumor grows, the symptoms can become more pronounced and include seizures, weakness, and difficulty walking.
Hypoglycemia is a medical condition that occurs when the blood sugar levels in a dog’s body drop below normal levels. This condition can cause a dog to walk sideways or have difficulty maintaining balance. Hypoglycemia can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Poor nutrition
- Insulin overdose
Hypoglycemia can be a serious condition and can lead to seizures, coma, and even death if left untreated. It is important to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia in dogs and seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect your dog is suffering from this condition.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia in dogs include:
Encephalitis or Meningitis
Encephalitis or meningitis can cause a dog to walk sideways. These conditions are inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, respectively. They may be caused by viruses, bacteria, or other pathogens.
Symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis may include:
- Stiff neck
- Head tilt
- Behavioral changes
In severe cases, these conditions can be life-threatening. Treatment may involve hospitalization, supportive care, and medication to reduce inflammation and control seizures.
It is important to note that encephalitis and meningitis are rare in dogs, but they can occur. If a dog is exhibiting symptoms of these conditions, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. Early treatment can improve the chances of a successful outcome.
When a dog is walking sideways, it could be a sign of a spinal stroke. A spinal stroke is a rare condition that occurs when the blood supply to the spinal cord is interrupted. This can cause damage to the spinal cord, resulting in a range of symptoms, including difficulty walking, loss of balance, and even paralysis.
The causes of spinal stroke are not fully understood, but they are thought to be related to factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. In some cases, spinal stroke may also be caused by trauma to the spinal cord, such as a fall or a car accident.
Injury & Muscle Atrophy
Dog walking sideways can cause injuries and muscle atrophy in dogs. When a dog walks sideways, it puts extra strain on their muscles and joints, which can lead to injuries. Over time, this strain can also cause muscle atrophy, which is the loss of muscle mass and strength.
Injuries can occur in various parts of the dog’s body, including the hips, knees, and ankles. Sideways walking can also cause muscle strains and sprains, which can be painful and limit a dog’s mobility. Injuries can be acute or chronic, and they can vary in severity depending on the dog’s age, breed, and overall health.
Muscle atrophy is a gradual process that occurs when muscles are not being used regularly. When a dog walks sideways, they are not using their muscles in the same way as they would when walking normally. This lack of use can cause the muscles to weaken and shrink over time. Muscle atrophy can make it difficult for dogs to perform everyday activities, such as walking, running, and jumping.
To prevent injuries and muscle atrophy, it is important to identify the underlying cause of sideways walking. In some cases, it may be due to an injury or medical condition that requires treatment. In other cases, it may be due to a lack of exercise or improper training. Providing regular exercise and training can help strengthen a dog’s muscles and prevent muscle atrophy.
In conclusion, dog walking sideways can cause injuries and muscle atrophy in dogs. It is important to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment and training to prevent these issues.
Arthritis & Musculoskeletal Issues
Arthritis is a common condition in dogs, especially as they age. It is a degenerative disease that affects the joints and can cause pain, stiffness, and difficulty in movement. Dogs with arthritis may find it challenging to walk, run, or play like they used to.
Symptoms of arthritis in dogs include limping, difficulty standing up or lying down, reluctance to move, and decreased activity levels. The condition can also cause dogs to walk sideways or with an abnormal gait, especially in early cases of hip dysplasia. The video below shows some of the many early outwards signs of hip dysplasia in dogs:
Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, but it is most commonly found in the hips, knees, elbows, and spine. It is essential to have a veterinarian diagnose arthritis in a dog, as it can be mistaken for other conditions.
Veterinary Assessment For Dogs Walking Sideways
When a dog presents with a sideways gait, a veterinary assessment is necessary to determine the underlying cause. The veterinarian will begin by taking a thorough medical history and conducting a physical examination. During the examination, the vet will observe the dog’s gait and look for any signs of pain or discomfort.
Additional tests may be necessary to determine the cause of the sideways gait. These tests may include blood work, X-rays, or an MRI. In some cases, a referral to a veterinary neurologist may be necessary.
The treatment for a sideways gait in dogs will depend on the underlying cause. In some cases, conservative management may be sufficient, such as rest and physical therapy. In other cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying issue.
If the sideways gait is caused by a neurological issue, medication may be prescribed to manage the symptoms. In some cases, a referral to a veterinary neurologist may be necessary for further management.
It is important to work closely with the veterinarian to determine the best treatment plan for the dog. Regular follow-up appointments may be necessary to monitor progress and adjust treatment as needed.
Overall, a sideways gait in dogs is a concerning symptom that requires a prompt veterinary assessment to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.
Preventing a dog from walking sideways requires a combination of strategies that address the underlying causes of the behavior. Here are some effective prevention strategies:
1. Proper Training
Training a dog to walk straight is essential to prevent sideways walking. A dog that walks properly on a leash is less likely to develop bad habits, such as walking sideways. Basic obedience training should include teaching the dog to walk on a loose leash, to sit, stay, and come on command.
2. Regular Exercise
Dogs that do not get enough exercise are more likely to develop behavior problems, including walking sideways. Regular exercise helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and boredom, which are common triggers for this behavior. A daily walk or run can help to burn off excess energy and keep the dog mentally and physically stimulated.
3. Proper Diet
A balanced diet is essential for maintaining a dog’s overall health and well-being. Feeding a high-quality diet that meets the dog’s nutritional needs can help to prevent health problems that may contribute to sideways walking. For example, hip dysplasia, arthritis, and other joint problems can cause discomfort and pain, which may lead to abnormal gait.
4. Consistent Routine
Dogs thrive on routine and consistency. A predictable routine can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for behavior problems. Consistency in training, feeding, and exercise can help to prevent sideways walking and other unwanted behaviors.
5. Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for shaping behavior. Rewarding a dog for walking straight on a leash can help to reinforce the desired behavior and discourage sideways walking. Treats, praise, and playtime can all be used as rewards for good behavior.
By implementing these prevention strategies, dog owners can reduce the likelihood of their dogs walking sideways. However, if the behavior persists or becomes a problem, it is important to consult with a veterinarian or professional dog trainer for further guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my senior dog walking sideways?
Senior dogs may walk sideways due to age-related conditions such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, or neurological issues like vestibular disease or IVDD. It is important to take your senior dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
What causes an old dog to walk sideways with back legs?
An old dog walking sideways with back legs may be experiencing weakness or pain in their hind legs. This can be caused by a variety of conditions, including spinal cord issues, hip dysplasia, or arthritis.
Why does my dog twist their body when walking?
A healthy dog will usually twist their body to the side when they are crabbing or sidewinding. This is usually a result of how they are built, and they may move their back legs to the side to keep them from hitting their front legs. Sometimes, it can be part of a submissive greeting, or an injury, musculoskeletal issues, or neurological problem that interferes with a dogs ability to walk normally.
What can cause a dog to walk sideways and fall down?
A dog walking sideways and falling down may be experiencing vestibular disease, a condition that affects the inner ear and balance. Other causes can include neurological issues, hip dysplasia, or arthritis. It is usually a sign of ataxia in dogs, which is uncoordinated movement that could signal a brain or nerve injury or condition.
Why is my dog suddenly wobbly?
Sudden wobbliness in dogs can be caused by a variety of conditions, including vestibular disease, neurological issues, wobbler syndrome, or spinal cord injuries. It is important to take your dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
In conclusion, dog walking sideways can be a normal behavior or a sign of an underlying medical condition. It is important for dog owners to observe their pets’ behavior and seek veterinary attention if they notice any abnormal gait or posture.
While some dogs may walk sideways due to breed-specific traits or training, others may do so as a result of hip dysplasia, spinal cord injuries, or neurological disorders. Therefore, it is crucial to rule out any medical causes before assuming that the behavior is harmless.
Dog owners can help their pets maintain healthy joints and muscles by providing them with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and appropriate supplements. Additionally, they can consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer to address any behavioral issues that may be contributing to the sideways walking.
Overall, dog walking sideways is a complex behavior that requires careful observation and evaluation. By taking proactive measures and seeking professional help when necessary, dog owners can ensure that their pets stay healthy and happy for years to come.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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