If you have ever watched your dog swim, you’ve probably noticed that intense look of concentration on their face. Research has confirmed that swimming doesn’t come as naturally as, say, walking, running or trotting on land.
Dr. Frank Fish, a professor of biology at West Chester University, set out with his colleagues to understand how real dogs perform the dog paddle.
Dr Fish found a large horse rehabilitation pool for filming eight dogs of six different breeds during swimming. Dr Fish’s own dog was one of the study subjects.
The team analyzed the videos and found that the dogs were swimming with a gait that was similar to a familiar trot on land. When a dog trots, moving at a pace more brisk than a walk, diagonal pairs of legs move together. In swimming, the dog’s legs move in a similar fashion, but even faster than a trot, and the legs move beyond the range of motion for a trot. (This is one reason why I recommend swimming for many – but not all – of my massage and rehab customers.)
Swimming dogs are, essentially, using a basic movement but with some modification. Also, while the movements that make up terrestrial gaits like trotting can vary from one dog breed to another, the dog paddle gait showed very little variation among the different breeds.
Dr Fish says that dogs can be used as a model for precursors to early swimming mammals. He hopes to unravel the steps in evolution that allowed four-legged terrestrial animals to become swimming mammals like the dolphin.
In the meantime, get out there and let your dog swim. For most dogs, it’s great exercise!
Want to know more about physical rehabilitation and whether swimming is right for your dog? Get in touch with me by completing the information below.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand