Have you ever seen a dog walking or running at a slight angle while still moving forward? It’s almost like their front legs aren’t keeping up with their back legs, so the rear end starts to angle out a bit.
If it’s not your own dog who looks off kilter, it probably just seems a little weird. If your dog’s the one with the funky gait, however, things can get worrisome.
What’s the deal? Do they have a structural problem? Is their coordination off? Fortunately, in most cases, that sideways shift isn’t actually as odd as it seems.
The American Kennel Club’s definition for “crabbing” is when a “dog moves with its body at an angle to the line of travel.”
In other words, crabbing is when a dog is moving forward but their body is turned at a slight angle. It’s also sometimes called “sidestepping.”
Reasons for Crabbing
There are a number of reasons a dog might move at an angle, and more often than not, they’re just interesting quirks. Below is a breakdown of some common reasons a dog might “crab.”
1. It’s just who they are.
Sure, it sounds a little nonchalant, but it’s true. Just like every human has their own specific way of walking, dogs do, too.
Have you ever watched someone walk with a dominance on their toes or with a foot turned slightly outward? Maybe they have a heavy arm swing or no arm swing at all. Some dogs have unique characteristics in their walk, just like you do. In most cases, there’s no reason to worry — it’s just who they are.
2. The body is still growing.
Some puppies and young dogs who walk in a sideways manner grow out of it later in life. The simple (and kind of cute) reason is their legs are just too long for them to coordinate properly.
Think about the way dogs walk. If the front left leg is moving forward, the rear right leg will move in unison. When the front right leg takes a step, so does the back left leg. This keeps dogs balanced.
When a developing puppy has lanky legs they haven’t quite grown into yet, their back feet may tend to step on their front feet when they walk. If their back left foot is stepping forward, it could be landing on the front left foot.
To fix this, the pup will step their back legs slightly to the side to avoid tripping on themselves. More often than not, this practice is outgrown once the rest of the dog’s body catches up with their overall growth.
In some cases, though, the body type of certain breeds might lead to a dog maintaining this quirk forever. This include:
3. Their dominant leg is taking over.
Just like you have a dominant arm or leg, so do dogs. Since all 4 of their limbs work together, though, it can sometimes appear more obvious.
When side-dominance is the reason for sidestepping, it’s typically seen when the dog is at a trot. When 1 of their back legs is dominant, it might start to push off the ground a little harder than the other, which can shift it toward the middle of their bodies (it’s pushing forward with more force, so it starts to take over during the run). As the dog slows down, the force lowers and their gait returns to normal.
A brief but clear look at a dog running in a “crabbing” fashion:
Most of the time, crabbing is no big deal. It could simply be a dominance or growth-related thing.
That being said, there’s no reason to leave it unchecked. Other factors could be coming into play, like:
- Nutrition deficiencies
- Structural imbalances
- Orthopedic problems
- Neurological disorders
- Anal gland issues
The list could go on because, at the end of the day, dogs show off funky behavior all the time. When they can’t tell you what’s wrong, their bodies naturally try to compensate or find relief — sometimes in funny-looking ways. It’s hard to tell what the root of the problem might be without a professional opinion.
If your dog looks like they’re crabbing, especially if it happens suddenly, take them to the vet, just in case. You can never be too safe when it comes to your pet.