Why Do Dogs Run Sideways? (Veterinarian Reviewed)

dog crab walking in grass
<a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

<a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 19px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 19px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>
Fact Checked & Reviewed By: Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

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.

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.

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. Dr. Nita Patel explains that “The sideways walk is a non-aggressive approach and can even indicate they feel comfortable in their environment. It’s usually a good thing!”

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), 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.

Some vestibular issues can be caused by ear infections and Dr. Patel explains “If there is a vestibular imbalance or any tilting/favoring to one side, ear infections deep within the ear canal can also cause this gait. Your veterinarian will want to check the inner ear canal with an otoscope and also check to see if the tympanic membrane (ear drum) is intact.”

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.

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 time to get them checked by your veterinarian.

Reason 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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.

What About Puppies?

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.

Closing Thoughts

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!

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