In the waning weeks of my poor old pooch’s life, the combination of age, infirmity, and cold weather meant that our walks were shorter, slower, and more frequent. She no longer bounded through the snow (hadn’t for a couple of winters now), and no longer strained at the leash, urging me to keep up. She walked slowly, and to tell the truth she walked oddly. I thought it a sign that her nervous system might be going—she had two separate gaits for her front legs and back legs, or at least part of the time she did. Her front legs took more steps over a given distance; her back legs took fewer, longer (and stiffer) steps. It was very odd to watch. And at first it was quite difficult to tell what was odd about it—it just looked… different.
Of course, I am no expert when it comes to the walking of dogs; it does interest me, though, that there certainly are people who are—that the gait of dogs has been studied at length for over a century. A walking dog, a walking horse, has a distinct set of motions and positions, and this sequence is easily available, well known, and, it appears, utterly ignored by the people who depict animals in art. What is more, it appears that this knowledge is even ignored by some groups you might expect (I certainly did) to take the time to get it right!
A team of researchers, led by Gábor Horváth of Eötvös University, examined hundreds of examples of museum mounts, veterinary anatomy books, and manufactured toy animals, and found that these examples corresponded to the correct mechanics of walking about 50% of the time. This explains why Cuttlekid’s toy horses fell over so easily.
Ok, cheap toy horses are one thing. Museum mounts? From the New York Times article:
The researchers found, for example, that a skeleton of a dog at a Finnish museum depicts the right hindleg in a rearward position while the right foreleg is lifted and moving forward. In a proper depiction the hindleg would be forward too, having moved before the foreleg.
Maybe the taxidermists had a dog like mine.
Maybe those are accurate mounts of the dinosaurs, and they died out because they walked funny.
I thought I’d take an afternoon and visit the museum
I’d heard they had some new things, and I thought I’d like to see ‘em
One skeleton, a walking dog, was what I liked the best—
But its front was moving eastward, while its back was moving west!
The skeletons of dinosaurs were also really neat
Though something seemed a little wrong in where they put their feet
The tails looked right, the ribs were right, the spine, the head, the mouth—
But their front feet pointed northward, while their back feet pointed south!
I figured a museum ought to know which way is right,
So I walked a little differently when I went home that night
Now I’m flummoxed and I’m puzzled, and I feel like such a dork—
See, I’ve one foot in Seattle, and the other in New York.