It’s Enough to Make You Crabby


It’s easy to spot in a moving dog.  In “dog speak,” crabbing is when a dog should be moving in a straight line, but instead, he seems to be moving at an angle to the line of travel much like a crab (for this reason, this movement is also called “sidewinding).  

This kind of gait can come from muscle strain, spinal injury, habit, or bad handling,  but it can also occur when a dog wants to avoids “collisions” between his front legs and his rear legs, and that’s a structural issue. 

Normally, a dog’s legs move diagonally in two beats with legs working as a pair  First, the right front and left
rear are lifted while the other two feet are touching the ground, and then, the left front, right rear are lifted while the other two are on the ground. The feet need to land without hitting each other, and this means that the dog has to have enough reach in his front to move his front legs out of the way so there’s enough space for his rear legs to move forward without the dog stepping on himself.  This is called  “moving in the same planes, ” or as Dr. Carmen Battaglia has described it, it’s like the front and rear tires of a Jeep leaving behind only two trails in snow even though the Jeep has four wheels. It’s because the Jeep’s front and rear wheels are moving on the same plane.

Crabbing can be due to there being more angulation in a dog’s rear than in his front, and it often occurs in combination with a short, stifled back in which the spinal column isn’t pointing in the direction of travel. When a dog takes longer strides with his back legs than with his front legs, he can avoid hitting those front feet by swinging his back legs off to the side.   Sometimes it’s due to a young dog’s stage of development and they haven’t yet grown into their feet or legs. It can be due to orthopedic issues, nutritional deficits – even anal gland problems.

Does it even matter to a dog that never sees the inside of a show ring?  Answer your own question by moving to your refrigerator sideways instead of with a forward stride. Did it take you longer? Did it frustrate you? 
As for the dog that is being shown, crabbing can be a frustrating habit to break. There are things to try to retrain the dog: Take the dog for walks along a low but narrow wall. If the dog tries to crab, she’ll falls off.  In a show ring, you can gait the dog on your other side (there’s no rule that say your dog has to be shown on your left side).  This works pretty well if for no other reason than that it throws the dog off his usual bad habit.
Some handlers feel that the direction in which the dog “crabs” also reveals why it might be crabbing. If the dog’s front is moving towards you as you gait, but her rear is further out, try increasing your speed. If it’s the other way around, and the dog’s front is moving away from you, but the rear is close, “pop” the leash with a short jerk to break the stride (and do it when the judge isn’t looking).


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