Why do dogs zig zag when walking?

Affiliate Disclaimer

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Dogs have a tendency to zigzag when they walk and some owners may find this concerning.

This might seem like an odd habit, but there are a few reasons why your dog does it.

In this post, we’ll take a look at what causes dogs to zigzag and why it’s actually a good thing. So, if you’ve ever wondered about this quirky behaviour, read on!

Dogs zig zag for a few reasons with the prime one being their sense of smell. As we walk, scents drift towards us on the wind and from a variety of other sources. Dogs zig zag to capture as many scents as possible when they are walking so that they get a better idea of who and what is around.

why do dogs zig zag when walking
Dogs zig zag when walking for a number of reasons

Your dog’s sense of smell is his finest instrument and is extremely efficient and sensitive.

When he is out walking he is able to detect scents from a variety of sources which include:

The wind – this may be steady in one direction but is more likely to swirl around and alter as he walks along.

Objects – these include all manner of things such as trees, posts, rocks and literally anything else.

Animals and people will have rubbed against them with other dogs marking them with urine. The scents will waft around on the air.

why do dogs zig zag when walking
Scents and smells are one reason for your dog zig zagging when walking

Scents on the ground – these will be from other dogs, wild animals, people, vehicles and other objects.

By zig zagging your dog gives himself the best opportunity to capture as much scent as possible as it drifts past him.

He is hunting

Even though your dog may not be a gun dog or other working dog, his instinct to hunt remains strong.

As he walks along and picks up a scent he will alter his position, raising and lowering his nose to capture the scent, working out which direction it is coming from.

why do dogs zig zag when walking
The zig zag is an efficient way for your dog to hunt the ground and is a natural act

Often, to do this, his manner will be that of zig zagging as he moves around to sniff and detect the location of the source of the smell.

Eyesight

Although sight is not your dog’s primary sense, it does play it’s part in hunting, walks and his daily excursions.

Unlike humans, whose eyes are positioned in the front of the head, with a direct view ahead and good peripheral vision, your dog’s eyes are situated at either side of his head, separated by his muzzle.

why do dogs zig zag when walking
By zig zagging when walking your dog is improving his field of vision

It’s possible that dogs zig zag when walking so that they can get a more informed view of the landscape ahead of them.

By zig zagging your dog will be able to develop a better depth of vision and gain a better picture of the environment around him.

Obstacle avoidance

When you are out walking with your dog you’ll often find that you have to alter your course to avoid obstacles.

These could be anything from trees to parked cars and could even be poor surfaces such as loose stones, rocks, fallen branches etc.

why do dogs zig zag when walking
Your dog will zig zag on rough and uneven terrain when walking

Many obstacles that your dog encounters will appear much larger and formidable to him than they would to you and he may seem to be zig zagging in his efforts to avoid them.

Why does my dog sometimes zig zag and then walk sideways?

This is often seen in working breeds that have a strong hunting instinct such as spaniels and bird dogs like Pointers.

It is all related to scent capture.

As we’ve seen with the zig zag the dog is often working out scent and it’s direction.

By walking sideways, often with the body bent like a banana, the dog is using his body to capture the breeze and channel the scent along his body to his nose.

why do dogs zig zag when walking
Working dogs will often bend and zig zag to increase their scenting abilities

This is very common in working spaniels and can seem unusual but it really is a good sign if your working dog adopts this behaviour – it’s a sign of an intelligent and instinctive dog that knows how to use his nose.

Should I stop my dog from doing a zig zag walk?

Most of the time, no.

Zig zagging is a perfectly normal behaviour for dogs and is often linked to their hunting instincts.

If your dog zig zags while on the lead then this could result in some tangles as he weaves back and forth so you might want to discourage this.

It really is nothing to be concerned about unless, of course your dog is displaying health symptoms.

Possible health reasons for zig zag walking

Although zig zagging when walking is not usually a cause for concern, if your dog starts to do it excessively it may be an indication that something is wrong.

If you are at all concerned you should consult your veterinarian.

Possible health reasons for excessive zigzagging include:

Inner ear infections – these can cause a loss of balance and affect your dog’s ability to walk in a straight line.

why do dogs zig zag when walking
Illnesses, such as ear infections, can cause zig zag walking

Eye problems – if your dog is having difficulty seeing, this may cause him to zigzag as he tries to make sense of what he is seeing.

Nerve damage – this can be caused by a variety of things such as injury, stroke or even poisoning. If the nerves that control movement are damaged, your dog may struggle to walk in a straight line.

Dementia – this is a condition that affects older dogs and can cause a loss of balance and disorientation.

Final Words

Zig zagging is a normal behaviour for dogs and is often linked to their hunting instincts.

If your dog starts to zigzag excessively it may be an indication that something is wrong and you should consult your veterinarian.

Most of the time, however, there is no need to worry about your dog’s zig zag walk as he is just doing what dogs do.

Read Next