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Dog behavior can be a mystery to a lot of owners, and they may see some things that bring up worries about their dog’s health. In some cases, this worry is justified whereas in other cases it is just normal dog behavior.
A common behavior seen in dogs that can cause some owners to worry is when they see their dog running sideways. Owners who witness this behavior may think something is wrong with their dog. While that may be true in some instances, the sideways running may not be a concern in other situations.
So why do dogs run sideways?
Dogs may run sideways when greeting other dogs as a form of polite behavior. The sideways running can also be due to a growing puppy or aging senior, or possibly a more concerning medical issue. It’s important to understand the context of the sideways running before determining whether it’s something to be worried about.
Below I’ll discuss some possible reasons as to why your dog might be running sideways and whether it’s a cause for concern or not. I’ll also discuss why puppies specifically are more prone to running sideways, and what to do if your dog is running sideways.
8 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Running Sideways
While one of the below reasons may be the cause for your dog running sideways, it’s also important to pay attention to the context and situation in which your dog is running sideways. Being aware of everything that happened just before, during, and after you saw your dog running sideways can help you determine whether or not it was due to one of the following reasons, and if it is something to be concerned about or not.
Reason 1: They Are Greeting Another Dog
Dogs communicate primarily through their body language. In dog language, approaching from an angle is considered the polite way of greeting another dog. When a dog runs sideways, it is likely because they are approaching another dog (or even another animal or human) and want to show that they mean no harm and are merely interested in greeting the other dog.
While people may approach strangers head on, for dogs this approach is considered rude. By using curved body language, they indicate very clearly to the other dog that they are not a threat. This is often seen at the dog park or when two dogs are meeting for the first time.
For dogs who are already familiar with each other, they may feel comfortable enough to approach head on unless a miscommunication occurs. For dogs with poor socialization skills, they may never show this type of curved body language or have difficulties greeting other dogs in a polite manner.
The sideways running may also persist as the dogs continue to interact and play with each other. It’s often accompanied by other signs of play such as play bows, ear biting, chase games, and wrestling. It’s just their way of continuing to ensure each other that all is well and they mean no harm!
Reason 2: They Have A Balance Issue
Balance issues can be common in both young puppies who are still growing and older dogs as they begin to lose muscle mass in their bodies due to the natural aging process.
Younger dogs (especially large breed and giant breed dogs like Great Danes), they may walk or run sideways while they are still trying to figure out how all their limbs work. As they are also likely developing muscle mass at the same time, one side may be stronger than the other for a while and cause them to run sideways.
For senior dogs, they may begin running sideways as their muscle mass and strength decreases with age, or if they develop vestibular disease. Senior dogs may also start to show other declining cognitive processes and visual or neurological changes that can also affect their balance and cause them to run sideways.
Similar to aging dogs, dogs who are recovering from a lengthy period of bed rest (or those coming from an environment in which they were kept caged most of their lives, such as in puppy mills) may also run sideways due to a decrease or lack of muscle development in their bodies which results in balance issues.
As the dogs become stronger, their balance usually gets better and the sideways running may lessen.
Reason 3: They Have A Neurological Issue
In some cases, a dog may run sideways if they have a neurological issue. Medical conditions like epilepsy can cause changes in a dog’s behavior, and this includes how they maneuver their body.
For dogs who have had issues from birth, running sideways may be something they do no matter what. Certain genetic neurological conditions, such as thyroid issues or epilepsy, can cause a dog to have reduced control over their bodies and they may run sideways or at odd angles.
Dogs who have suffered head trauma (such as a puppy being dropped or knocked on the head) may also run sideways.
If your dog doesn’t normally run or walk sideways and they suddenly begin to without any other cause (such as the greeting behavior I discussed above), then it’s probably worth a visit to your vet to get them checked out.
Reason 4: They Have An Ear Infection
Ear infections are a common issue a lot of dogs face, and recurring ear infections or infections that have been left untreated for too long can cause damage to the ear and all its inner workings. This damage can result in changes to balance and vision, which results in dogs walking or running sideways.
Because a lot of their balance relies upon their ears, dogs with ear damage tend to move differently, and sometimes they even do it without being aware of it. In most cases, a dog who runs sideways due to an ear infection will stop once the infection has been cleared up, but those with recurring infections or who have extensive damage to the ear, then they may continue to run sideways.
If your pup is running sideways and showing other symptoms of a possible ear infection, get them checked out by the vet right away.
Reason 5: They Are Injured
If a dog has a paw or leg injury (visible or otherwise), then they may run sideways to avoid putting weight onto the injured limb. This can occur with cuts and abrasions, but also internal injuries such as broken bones, torn ligaments or muscles, or joint damage in the foot, limb, hip, or shoulder area.
Sometimes they may even run sideways if they’ve got a thorn or sticker stuck in their foot in an attempt to avoid putting weight on it. This is usually accompanied by looking back and biting at the foot in an attempt to get the stuck object out.
If your dog is running sideways and you suspect a more severe injury is the cause, get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Once the injury is healed the sideways running should stop.
Reason 6: They Are Avoiding Something
Sometimes the reason a dog is running sideways isn’t even related to their bodies at all. If there is something in the environment they are trying to avoid, then they may run sideways to try and get around it.
For dogs who are fearful or anxious about an unknown object, they will try and keep as much distance as possible between them and the thing that is scaring them. If they are only slightly afraid but still curious enough to investigate further (or they are prevented from leaving the area), they may run sideways around the object, often while vocalizing or making growling noises.
Depending on whatever object it is (and it could be a stationary object, another animal, or even a person), the dog may stop running sideways once they feel more comfortable or the situation could escalate and the dog may react with more threatening body language.
If your dog is displaying this type of behavior and running sideways to try to avoid something, it’s important to try and de-escalate the situation to ensure that your pup stays safe and comfortable and doesn’t get too stressed out.
If the sideways running is due to fear or anxiety, a reputable local dog trainer might be able to help assist you in building up your dog’s confidence.
In some instances, sideways running is your dog’s way of getting out of doing something they don’t want to do. It can be seen during the zoomies which a lot of high-energy or stressed dogs will use as a tactic to try and avoid training or another activity. The sideways action is still their way of showing you they mean no harm, but it can be frustrating if you need to get them to do something important. This is another issue a trainer can assist with.
Reason 7: They Are Sick
Dogs who have ingested something (accidentally or otherwise) may start running sideways. Different toxins can have a variety of effects on a dog, and can include double vision, nausea, loss of muscle control, vomiting, and random body movements.
If you see your dog suddenly running sideways and they are showing other signs of illness, or you know that they’ve ingested something they shouldn’t, get them to your nearest emergency vet to get them checked out.
Toxins and poisons that cause neurological symptoms such as the sideways running are often deadly and require immediate veterinary intervention.
Reason 8: They Have Vision Issues
While vision issues are often related to other underlying medical issues, some dogs may begin walking or running sideways if they have a sudden loss of vision in one eye, or if they have double vision. This can be due to an injury to the eye, some sort of liquid, oil, or other substance that is coating the eye, or an infection within the eye.
Sometimes other symptoms of illness or injury may be present, whereas other times it might just be exclusively the eye and vision loss that is causing a dog to run sideways.
While vision loss is normal in aging dogs (often due to cataracts), sudden changes in vision for a young, healthy dog is a cause for concern and should be checked out by a vet.
Why Does My Puppy Run Sideways?
In most cases, your puppy running sideways is likely due to a balance issue due to their growing state. As I mentioned above, their muscles and joints are still developing, and it can take a bit of time before a young dog is really able to control their limbs (though you should make sure your puppy is not being overexercised or this could cause them harm).
This is especially true for very large breeds (like Great Danes) or dogs who have longer limbs (like Greyhounds). As the puppy ages and does more physical activity to build up muscle and coordination, the sideways running will decrease (unless it is for greeting purposes or due to one of the other reasons I listed above).
Puppies who are within the critical socialization period and who are still learning how to properly interact with other dogs may also run sideways fairly frequently in their attempts to learn proper greeting techniques. As they are learning how to play, the sideways running will generally be accompanied by other play behaviors like play bows, or you may see calming or cut off signals such as yawning and ground sniffing.
If your puppy continues to run sideways at inappropriate times past the adolescent stage, though, or they show other symptoms of an underlying condition, it might be best to get them looked at by the vet.
Is It Bad If My Dog Runs Sideways?
In most cases, your dog is likely running sideways because they are performing a greeting behavior. If this is the case, it’s nothing to be concerned about.
Other situations in which your dog running sideways that are usually not of concern include if your dog is trying to avoid something or if it is a puppy or senior who is aging and has balance issues.
While it may still be wise to have them checked out by a vet, in most cases, the running sideways is likely due to normal development and aging processes.
If the sideways running occurs suddenly and without reason, or if it persists or is accompanied by other concerning medical or behavioral habits, though, it’s definitely a good idea to schedule an appointment with your vet.
Sometimes, you might even be able to train your dog to run sideways! In the video below, it’s likely that is what this dog’s owner did. The dog is clearly focused on something (likely a lure, toy, or reward of some kind) that is just off camera, and the owner is encouraging them to run sideways using a verbal cue.
Running sideways is not that unusual for most dogs, as it is a very common greeting behavior. Many puppies and aging dogs may also run sideways as their bodies are developing.
In some cases, though, the sideways running may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. It could be due to a neurological issue, the ingestion of a toxin, or something like an ear infection.
If your dog runs sideways, it’s important to look at the context in which they are running sideways. If you feel the sideways running is out of place, or if it is accompanied by other concerning body language or medical symptoms, it’s probably best to reach out to your vet for an evaluation.
Otherwise, if it’s likely to just be normal dog behavior, the sideways running is nothing to be worried about!