Dog Word of the Day: Dolicocephalic


It’s Wednesday Word Day! Today we randomly opened our Encyclopedia and stumbled on the word “dolicocephalic.” This word may sound a bit complicated, but once we break it into smaller components,  it becomes easier to understand. Chances are, you might even own a dolicocephalic dog breed too! This term though isn’t restricted to the dog world only, there are also many dolicocephalic cats and some delicopehalic rabbits too! So let’s take a closer look into this word and discover some intriguing facts about the dog word of the day: “dolicocephalic.”

A Lesson in Etymology 

What does the word dolicocephalic mean? Let’s take a look at the history of this word. Merriam Webster tells us that the word derives from the Greek word “dolichos” which means long and “kephalos,” which means head. If you put the two words together, you have “long head,” therefore, dolicocephalic in the dog world pertains to certain types of dogs where the length of the head is greater than its width. This is the total opposite of dogs who are brachycephalic, meaning short-headed.

Dolicocephalic: long-headed Brachycephalic: short-headed

What Teeth You Have!greyhound dolicocephlic

Dogs with long heads may share some interesting traits that makes them quite different than other dogs. If you look at their teeth, their longer jaws can make them appear as if they have gaps between one tooth and another. This is called “diastemata” which means  “a space or gap between two teeth.” In some cases, the space may be so wide that to some people it may appear as if they are missing teeth, but they are not, explains Dr. Cedric Tutt, a Veterinary Specialist in Dentistry in South Africa in the book “Small Animal Dentistry: A Manual of Techniques.”

dolicocephalicWhat Eyes You Have!

Many dogs with dolicocephalic heads share some common traits: they may have a history of being selectively bred to have an exceptional eye sight and are very fast. Sight hound breeds like the saluki, borzoi, greyhound and Afghan hound, were selectively bred for catching fast prey, therefore it shouldn’t be surprising if their facial conformation allowed a wider field of vision so they could better spot prey. Their almond-shaped eyes are set wide apart. It has been noted that distribution of retinal ganglion cells is correlated with nose length, something particularly important in sight hounds as they needed to be scanning the horizon for prey over vast open landscapes.


A Nose For Problemsmartingale collar greyhounds

According to the book “The Dog and Its Genome,” dolicocephalic dog breeds are prone to problems related to the shape of their heads such as nasal tumors and mycotic rhinitis. Another potential problem dolicocephalic breeds may be predisposed to is aspergillosis, a respiratory infection that is typically localized to the dog’s nasal cavity and known for causing  lethargy, pain and ulcerations on the nostrils, sneezing,  nasal discharge and nose bleeds, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.



Did you know? Because sight hounds have narrow heads, they can easily slip out of regular buckle collars. Many trainers suggest using martingale collars (also known as greyhound collars) for dolicocephelic dogs. When fitted correctly, these collars work well as they’re less likely to slip over the dog’s head, explained the late internationally-acclaimed veterinarian, animal behaviorist, Dr Sophia Yin.


Miller P. E.Murphy C. J, 1995 Vision in dogs. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 207: 16231634.

McGreevy P, Grassi T. D, Harman A. M, 2004A strong correlation exists between the distribution of retinal ganglion cells and nose length in the dog. Brain Behav. Evol. 63: 1322

The Genetics of Canine Skull Shape VariationJeffrey J. Schoenebeck, Elaine A. Ostrander , 

Dog Word of the Day: Crabbing


Today we decided that the dog word of the day is “crabbing.” What is crabbing and how does it relate to dogs? According to the American Kennel Clubs glossary it’s a dog’s movement with the body kept at an angle to the line of travel. As the word implies, the movement is likely inspired by the way crabs move in a sideways fashion. The term is also used in aviation to refer to the maneuvering action of aircraft when dealing with crosswinds so to compensate for drift. Also known as sidewinding (in this case likely inspired by the movement of the sidewinder rattlesnake), this type of movement is frowned upon in the show ring because it interferes with a dog’s ability to trot in an efficient manner with little effort.

A Doberman trotting
A Doberman trotting

The Correct Trot

In order to better understand crabbing, one must first better understand how a dog trots.

When a dog trots, the legs move diagonally in two beats with legs working as a pair. First, two legs diagonal to each other (right front, left rear) are lifted, while the other two are touching the ground, and then, the other opposite two legs diagonal to each other ( left front, right rear) are lifted while the other two are on the ground.

To trot effectively, it’s important that the legs land without touching each other. To avoid this, the dog must have enough reach in the front to move the front legs out of the way so there’s enough space for the rear to legs to move forward, without the dog risking stepping on himself.

A Matter of Alignment tire

In an ideal situation, dogs should be moving in parallel planes. This means that as a judge looks at a dog moving towards him/her, the front leg as it’s lifted should block the view of the rear leg on the same side.

When this happens, it’s said that dog is “moving in the same planes.” In a normal trotting situation, the paw prints of the hind feet follow along the track left by the front feet.

A great example of this comes from Dr. Carmen Battaglia. She claims that when cars move in the snow, the front and back tires leave only two trails in the snow despite the fact that cars have four wheels. This is because the car’s front and rear wheels are moving on the same plane.

Moving Like a Crab

When legs end up touching each other, this interference causes the dog to adjust his gait, swinging the rear legs to one side, thus, causing the crabbing gait. By crabbing, dogs avoid kicking their front legs with their rear legs.

When this happens though the dog’s spinal column is not pointing in the direction of travel; rather, it deviates at an angle, explains Robert Cole in the book “You be the Judge – the Brussels Griffon.”

Affected dogs will therefore not move on a parallel plane but  in an oblique line, and the judges notice it as the front leg doesn’t block the view of the rear leg on the same side. Dogs who are crabbing or sidewinding therefore have difficulty moving in a straight line.

A dog trotting with little effort
A dog trotting with little effort

What Causes Crabbing in Dogs?

It’s often a matter of some structural deficiency or other proportional discrepancy, according to GrendsLori Kennels, a kennel specializing in breeding Great Pyrenees in Michigan.

Over or under angulation, short backs, sway backs are a few examples. It can also sometimes be seen in dogs with congenital orthopedic problems, nutritional deficiencies,  some type of injury or a neurological disorder (such as lack of proprioception), so it’s worthy to see a vet for a thorough assessment.

Holistic veterinarian Dr Cathy Alinovi suggests seeking chiropractic care.  In the show ring, crabbing is frowned upon because this interference leads to inefficient movement that wastes energy and is tiring to the dog.

“Crabbing” may be temporarily seen in young dogs, mostly when they go through the lanky phase of development and their back legs are slightly longer than the front or it can stem from lack of coordination. These youngsters may temporary move in a diagonal fashion to avoid stepping on themselves, but as they further develop, this movement may correct itself with early intervention.

If your puppy is running sideways or your dog is crabbing, consult with a vet for an assessment. For dogs who walk crooked only occasionally, it may be worth it to record the behavior as it occurs and show it to a vet.

A video is often worth a thousand words! Below is a video of a dog crabbing.


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