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Do You Know How a Dog Walks?

A study found many experts are incorrect when it comes to a dog's gait.


In 2009, the journal Cell Biology published an interesting study, "Erroneous quadruped walking depictions in natural history museums" which sought to find out how well educational materials depict how a dog or other four-legged animal (quadruped) walks.

The study was done by a group of researchers from Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary and from the Hungarian Natural History Museum. They collected illustrations of dogs and other four-footed animals walking from a variety of sources including natural history museum displays and veterinary books from several countries in Europe. They were surprised to find that there was a high rate of error in these materials created by educated individuals and researchers. In 41.1% of the museum displays, the depictions of walking in quadrupeds was incorrect. In taxidermy catalogs, 43.1% were wrong and 63.6% of depictions in animal anatomy books were wrong!

What's particularly interesting is that it's well known how to correctly display how a four-footed animal walks since the late 1800's. It's surprising that based on the error rates they found, you have have about a 50% chance of visiting a museum or checking out an anatomy book with incorrect illustrations. They also studied children's toys and found a high rate of error as well.

So how does a dog or other quadruped walk? They step out with their left hind leg and then their left foreleg, followed by right hind leg and right fore leg. In other words, if you watch a dog, you can see that their body weight is supported by three legs while the fourth leg is in motion. Animals with four legs all move the same way when walking - the differences come with the timing and speed of their steps in the walking gait.

The study online includes some images of incorrect illustrations they found and more detailed information and visual aids on walking in quadrupeds. The article is open access and available online at the Current Biology website.

Sources: Horváth, Gábor et al. (2009). Erroneous quadruped walking depictions in natural history museums Current Biology, Volume 19 , Issue 2 , R61 - R62; and How Does A Dog Walk? Surprisingly, Many Of Us Don't Really Know. ScienceDaily. January 29, 2009.

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