Can Dogs Walk Backward?

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Introduction

Our media screens are full of fun videos of dogs doing surprising things! There are dogs dancing the salsa, dogs flying through the air in jumping competitions, and even dogs who can climb trees! Sometimes you may find an account of dogs who are walking backward. 

The reasons for a dog walking can vary tremendously. Unless the dog has been trained to walk backwards, the behavior is actually symptomatic of a problem. It may be that the dog is afraid and the dog is walking backward to cope with the fearful situation. In other situations, it is possible that the dog has a medical problem and there is a need for a veterinarian consultation. If you find your dog walking backwards, you may want to pause to learn more about the possible causes for this unique behavior.

Signs Why Your Dog is Walking Backward

There are different reasons for a dog to take up backward walking. It is important to know your dog's typical habits and behaviors to assess the reasons why your dog is walking backward. Some dogs are fearful of features in their own homes. They may be fearful of a doorway or a slippery floor and they walk backward to make themselves feel safe. Some dogs are developing a neurological condition. You will need to watch the situations in which your dog walks backward to understand why the behavior is occurring.

When a dog is fearful, you will see signs of that anxiety in their body. A fearful pet appears tense. The dog may shake and cower. The tail may be tucked. Your dog may whimper and cry when confronted with the fear. The dog will look intimidated with their ears down and tail tucked. You may find your dog hiding and peering at you when having to face the source of fear. The behaviors listed here would be relevant if the backwards walking is related to a fear response.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if the behavior is due to a fear or a neurological problem because the signs in the dog are similar. In both situations, the dog may appear to be shaking, crying or head-shaking. Dogs will back up when they are afraid, have a hind quarter problem, or a neurological disorientation. Your dog may have pain and the movement of walking backward is providing a form of relief. Also, your dog may start just acting odd with loss of appetite, seeming disoriented and weak. These are serious signs and you may want to have your dog checked by the veterinarian.

Body Language

Some symptoms you should not ignore when paired with backward walking are:
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Ears drop
  • Whimpering
  • Tail tucking

Other Signs

Other things to watch for if a greater problem is present include:
  • Appearing disoriented
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Incoordination and paw dragging
  • Low head carriage
  • Easily fatigued

History of Dogs Walking

Do you know how your dog moves while walking forward? Your dog needs regular walks and it is the best part of the day for you both. If someone were to ask you to explain how your dog moves their forelegs and hind legs to travel, could you describe how the dog actually walks forward? 

Scientists report that the correct depictions of how four-legged animals walk first appeared 120 years ago in the works by Eadweard Muybridge, published in the 1880s. A recent study revealed that taxidermists, anatomists, and toy manufacturers are wrong in their depictions of how dogs walk about half the time. 

All four-legged animals walk this way: First, they step with their left hind leg. This step is followed by their left foreleg. Then they step with their right hind leg that is followed by the right foreleg. Got that? The body is always supported by three legs in a triangle base. It is the most stable way to travel. The only difference between species of four-legged animals is the timing of their steps. A horse may prance, a cat may prowl, a dog may strut but their legs are moving in this pattern. Four-legged animals walk this way because it provides the most stability!


The Science Behind the Way Dogs Walk

There is a science to understanding how dogs move, their physiology and when your dog's movements are telling you that something is wrong. The build of the dog makes it possible for them to move their body differently than other animals. The dog is distinct because of these three features:

1. Dogs have a flexible spine, long loin, and strong abdominal muscles. These features make it possible for the dog to stretch, like a running Greyhound.

2. Two of the lower bones in the front legs are separate and this allows the dog's legs to rotate, making them agile for turning, like turning a steering wheel.

3. Dogs have feet that can grip the ground, making it possible for them to feel the ground and be agiler.

Dogs have four basic gaits. The four main canine gaits are the walk, the trot, the rotary canter and the rotary gallop. Walking is the slowest gait. This is the only gait in which three feet are on the ground. It is said that wolves can travel 100 miles a day because they move in a trot. The "Trot" occurs when the diagonal feet are moving together. 

The "Canter" is a gait used in agility and only used by dogs ten percent of the time, if at all. The order of footfall would be either right rear, left rear-left front, right front or the reverse of this pattern. The canter allows the dog to be propelled more from the rear and have more agility. When you think of the "Gallop", picture the run of a Greyhound. With the flexible spine, the front lead foot stretches forward with the stretched spine and then the spine curves and the hind legs come forward to meet the front legs.

Training Your Dog to Walk Backward

It can be fun to train your dog to walk backward! There may be a situation in which you want to actually move the animal backward. Some believe that walking backward can give both you and your dog a chance to stretch and use different muscles. It is also used by professional trainers as a safety tactic when you do not trust someone who is behind you.

Start simple. You will need food, a leash, a clicker, and a calm environment. One method of doing this training is to use a narrow space, such as a hallway, to help focus the dog on the backward movement. 

To train your dog to walk backward, first, your dog will need to understand the "Stay" command. Face your dog and take a few steps away. Then walk forward to your dog. The dog should naturally step backward. When this occurs, provide a reinforcement, such as a treat or praise. Repeat and add your choice of a command word such as "Back" or "Rear". Repeat and practice, practice, practice!

How to React to Your Dog Walking Backward:

  • If your dog is fearful, determine what is frightening your dog.
  • Seek a behavior trainer for help with a desensitization plan.
  • Use gentle coaxing and praise with your dog.
  • Talk to your veterinarian - it could be a sign of a health problem.
  • Make notes on when and where you see the dog walking backward to help the professional diagnose the problem.
  • Be patient with your dog.