Dogs walk sideways, also known as “crab walking,” for a variety of reasons. The good news is that, if your dog has always walked this way, it’s probably just how they walk! Of course, you might still wonder why.
In this article, we’ll discuss why dogs walk sideways, when it’s a problem, and what you can do about it.
Table of Contents:
- Your Dog has Long Legs
- Your Dog Isn’t Done Growing
- They have a Dominant Side
- They Feel Excited!
- Your Dog’s Leg is Asleep
- Some Breeds are more Likely to Walk Sideways
- Their Collar or Harness is Uncomfortable
- Your Dog has Hip Dysplasia
- They have an Injury
- They’re Feeling Off-Balance
- Anal Gland Problems
- Speak to Your Veterinarian
Your Dog has Long Legs
Dogs with long legs and short bodies can sometimes walk sideways so they don’t trip over their feet. Your dog might walk this way throughout their life or just during adolescence.
Walking sideways allows their feet to move without knocking into one another. Instead, the back legs swing to the sides of the front legs while they walk.
Your dog will still move forward while walking this way, but they’ll, of course, also move toward whichever side their rear is leaning.
Your Dog Isn’t Done Growing
Similar to what we discussed above, dogs in their adolescence can be very long and leggy. Until they grow into their legs, they might walk sideways so that they don’t trip over their feet or bang their hind legs into their front legs.
If your dog is in this phase, they’ll likely outgrow this gait once they’re fully grown. Enjoy this phase of puppyhood while it lasts!
They have a Dominant Side
If your dog seems to go sideways when they’re moving excitedly, especially while running, it might be because they have more strength on their right or left side.
Watch your dog to see if they’re typically preferring one side or the other.
Just like people can be right or left-handed and have one leg that’s stronger than the other, dogs can favor one side and use it more subconsciously.
If this is the case for your pup, they’ll go back to walking straight once they’re calm.
They Feel Excited!
Excitement can make a dog do silly things, including walking or running sideways! As we discussed above, this is often because they have a dominant side where the legs are stronger.
Note when your dog is walking sideways. Is it when you get home from work, at the beginning of a walk, or when they’re chasing their favorite ball in the backyard?
This behavior is completely normal, and, again, your dog will return to their normal walking style once their excitement dies down.
Your Dog’s Leg is Asleep
Like humans, dogs’ limbs can fall asleep and cause them to walk funny. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to sit on my legs, and sometimes I’ll just about fall over trying to stand up!
If your dog’s leg is asleep, they’re going to favor the other side until that awful tingling feeling subsides. It might feel weird or even hurt to put weight on the sleeping limb, causing some funny movements.
The good news is, this is nothing to worry about, and your dog should be back to normal within a few minutes.
Some Breeds are more Likely to Walk Sideways
As we discussed above, a certain body type can make dogs walk sideways. It should be no surprise, then, that some breeds are more likely to do so!
These breeds include:
- Border Collies
- Cocker Spaniels
- German Shepherds
Their Collar or Harness is Uncomfortable
Have you ever seen a video of a puppy flopping over in their new harness, or crouching like they can’t walk properly? Dogs can be very dramatic!
An uncomfortable harness or collar could also cause a dog to walk sideways. They might be attempting to take it off or just walking uncomfortably in it.
If wearing these things is new for your dog, take time to train them. Introduce the collar or harness slowly and keep the experience positive.
Use treats to slowly lure your dog to interact with the item. Start with touching, then sticking their head through, then buckling or putting their legs inside. Keep sessions short and try to end on a positive note each time.
For instance, praise your dog heavily for touching the harness with their nose. Give them a treat and end the training session. Later in the day, start again.
The more you can get your dog to interact voluntarily, the easier this process will be for them and you! It takes time, but it’s well worth it.
If your dog is used to wearing it, the collar or harness could be too tight-fitting or otherwise uncomfortable. In this case, it’s best to get another that fits differently or is a size larger.
Some things that might aggravate your dog include a harness brushing against their armpits or one that’s too tight around their tummy.
If a new item is bothering your dog, try finding one similar to their old style. If the old item seems to be irritating them out of nowhere, they may have gained or lost weight or have an injury that it’s brushing against.
Your Dog has Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint doesn’t grow properly. The joint becomes loose, which leads to degenerative joint disease or arthritis.
A dog with hip dysplasia will walk differently in an attempt to compensate for their hurt hip or hips, and this might cause them to move sideways.
Large dogs are most prone to hip dysplasia. Other links include genetics, overfeeding, and over-exercising as a puppy.
Hip dysplasia is most commonly diagnosed when a dog is one to two years old. The symptoms include:
- Trouble standing
- Refusal or difficulty climbing stairs or jumping onto furniture
If your dog has hip dysplasia, they need to be seen by a veterinarian. Your vet may offer pain killers and supplements to keep your dog more comfortable.
In more severe cases, surgery is done to fix the hip joint and alleviate the dog’s pain.
They have an Injury
If one or several of your dog’s legs are injured, they may walk sideways to compensate.
Think about what your dog has done recently. Have they taken any falls or slips? Have they been playing roughly with other dogs? Is there a way they could’ve been hurt without you knowing, such as when tumbling around in the living room with your other dog?
If you think your dog is injured, see your veterinarian. They can address the problem if necessary and offer pain relief for your pup.
They’re Feeling Off-Balance
When dogs feel off-balance, they might not walk completely straight. Coordination problems like this can be caused by several things but are commonly caused by ear infections.
Symptoms of ear infections include:
- Redness or swelling in the ear
- Abundance of earwax or other discharge
- Head shaking
- Crust or scabs in the ear
Ear infections cannot be treated at home. Your dog must be seen by a veterinarian. Otherwise, the infection can become worse and eventually lead to hearing loss.
Other ways to tell if your dog feels off-balance are a head tilt, walking in a circle, quick, uncoordinated eye movements, and vomiting.
Other, more worrying, reasons your dog may feel off-balance include trauma, cancer, and poisoning. If your dog is showing the above signs and seems disoriented, bring them to an emergency veterinarian.
Depending on how severe your dog’s lack of balance is, you may need to take measures to keep them safe. Keep them away from stairs, heights, pools, and corners they can bump into.
If possible, get your dog to rest until you can take them to the vet. This is the perfect time to put your crate-trained dog in their crate!
However, be sure to keep an eye on them to watch for further symptoms. A sick dog might become restless and agitated even if they’re completely crate trained, and you don’t want to create bad associations with the crate by keeping them confined.
You also don’t want them hurting themselves trying to get out or walking into the sides of the crate.
Anal Gland Problems
Lastly, your dog might walk sideways if their butt feels itchy or painful. This can be caused by anal gland issues.
Inside of your dog’s anus are two glands used to mark territory. Sometimes these glands can become infected or impacted.
Some dogs will go their whole lives without problems, while others will have them reoccur throughout their lives. Small breeds are most likely to have anal gland issues.
Signs your dog is having problems with their anal glands include:
- Dragging their rear end on the ground
- Trouble pooping
- Blood or pus in the stool or in the fur or skin on your dog’s rear
Some people express their dog’s anal glands at home. If this is your first experience, we recommend seeing your veterinarian. They can diagnose the problem and teach you how to express the glands if needed.
They can also pinpoint the cause of the problem and hopefully prevent it from happening again. If your dog’s glands are infected, your veterinarian will also prescribe antibiotics.
Speak to Your Veterinarian
If your dog has always walked this way, you likely won’t need to rush them to the veterinarian. However, it’s worth asking at your dog’s next vet appointment.
They can take a look at your individual dog, ensure there are no health problems, and likely will know which of the above causes are making your dog walk sideways.
If their gait changes suddenly, don’t wait to see a vet. Sudden changes in behavior like this are typically cause for concern and can indicate a health problem like those we discussed above.
The exceptions to this are if your dog has just reached adolescence or they walk this way only temporarily (such as in the case of their foot falling asleep!).
As always, you know your dog best. Use your best judgment when it comes to whether veterinary care is needed.
If you have doubts, it’s always better to go in for a check-up than to regret your inaction later!