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Research reveals watching dogs walk can teach humans new tricks

At Crufts this weekend, judges will be examining the dogs' controlled walking as part of the obedience round, but do the judges really know what they are looking for when looking at the way that a dog walks? How quadrupeds (four legged-animals) walk was even something that Aristotle considered.

New research by scientists at the Royal Veterinary College, published in this month’s Journal of Experimental Biology, has found that dogs walk in very much the same way as horses - and would create the clip-clop sound if they had hooves. The clip-clop sound comes from the uneven footfall timings, and relate to an efficiency benefit of powering walking with a small push just as the front foot hits the ground.

Old, tired and arthritic dogs often adopt a 'pacing' footfall pattern, with both feet on one side hitting the ground at almost exactly the same time. This research shows pacing to be inefficient, implying that such dogs are giving up an aspect of efficiency to relieve pain in muscles or joints. However, pacing is not necessarily a sign of a creature in pain; it can still be used by perfectly healthy dogs, horses and even camels, for reasons that are still unknown.

Dr Jim Usherwood, lead author on the research paper, thinks that looking into how dogs walk can help us to understand a number of things:

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‘Of course this research will inform the treatment of dogs with walking difficulties. Interestingly we think that we will also be able to apply this research to improve the way that humans use walking sticks, in terms of when you should provide an extra push for maximum efficiency. These results also show us that the way that we've designed robotic dogs to walk is not correct - so this research can help manufacturers create more lifelike - and efficient - robot dogs.'

Becci Cussens | alfa
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