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Do Dogs Always Land On Their Feet?

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dogs rarely land on their feet when jumping from a height due to their body structure.
  • Dogs can be trained to land on their feet, unlike cats who have a natural ability to do so.
  • Dogs have a less flexible spine and lighter bones compared to cats, making them more prone to injury when falling.
  • Agility training can improve a dog's ability to change positions and avoid harm while falling.
  • If a dog falls and shows signs of injury, it's important to seek medical attention and monitor for symptoms such as limping, stiffness, and loss of appetite.
A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 21 September 2022
Last updated on
Friday 14 July 2023
Do Dogs Always Land On Their Feet?
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Every dog owner knows the trouble with young pups climbing up high. Be it stairs or kitchen counters, a new dog likes to enjoy the view from a height, but is it safe? Does a dog land on its feet when it falls? We explore this in the article below.

Can Dogs Always Land On Their Feet?

Dogs are not good at landing on their feet when jumping from heights because their bodies are not designed for them. They are more likely to get injured after a fall. However, you can train dogs to land safely on their feet.

Cats, on the other hand, are almost always able to land on their feet due to their “righting reflex.” This reflex is enabled by the vestibular apparatus in their ears, which acts as a compass to guide them while falling. They have a unique bone structure, which includes highly flexible vertebrae and a small collarbone, allowing them to twist their bodies in mid-air. Their body-to-weight ratio is also lower than dogs, helping them fall slowly. Cats evolved these features because they spend a lot of time in trees and fall more often than other animals. Nonetheless, it is not always the case that cats will land on their feet, and if they don’t, it could be due to vestibular disease.

Cats need more time to achieve terminal velocity when falling, so if they fall from a height of less than seven stories, they are more likely to get hurt. In contrast, dogs have not evolved these abilities since they evolved from wolves, which hunted in open fields, not in trees. Dogs’ backs are stronger but less flexible, which makes them better hunters but not ideal climbers or runners.

Dog’s Anatomy

A dog’s anatomy has many features to help it survive in the wild. Dog breeds come in four broad sizes

  • Small breeds such as Shih Tzu and poodles weigh between five to ten pounds
  • Medium breeds such as spaniels and terriers weigh ten to fifty pounds
  • Large breeds such as shepherds and retrievers can weigh up to 100 pounds
  • Giant breeds such as St. bernards and mastiffs can be as big as 200 pounds

On the other hand, most domestic cats are under 10 pounds. The higher weight of dogs makes their falls harder and more dangerous. The skeletal system of a dog is very similar to that of a human, with their limbs being nearly identical. Unlike cats, which have denser bones, dog bones are lighter and break more easily when they fall.

Moreover, the dog’s spinal column is not as flexible as that of a cat. While cats can rotate themselves in mid-air, dogs cannot do so.

Are Dogs Agile?

How quickly and easily a dog can change its position or move is a measure of its agility. Any dog lover who has seen dog shows would know that agility requires speed, power, flexibility, balance, coordination, and skill.

You can train dogs to become more agile. While some breeds are naturally nimble and flexible, others can learn the skills with proper agility training. The more intelligent the dog, the easier it can pick up the skills required for agility. Agility training can also help a dog master the skills necessary to change its position while falling, thus avoiding harm.

Apart from this, agility training also has several other benefits:

  • It improves human-dog bonding
  • It is an excellent form of physical workout for the dog
  • It is a great way to exercise along with your dog
  • It hones a dog’s natural hunting instincts

How to Test Dogs Agility

If you want to find out how agile your dog is, agility trials are a great way to do so. Agility trials involve an obstacle-based course to check how well coordinated, strong and accurate its movements are. Here are some games and tricks in a typical agility trial.

Ramp Tricks

You can set up one or two ramps for this sport, which involves jumping over ramps. Basic jumps involve your dog jumping over a single ramp. Complex jumps will need them to jump and turn mid-air. This trick can also train the dog to land on its feet and keep its balance. High-jumping dogs are also trained like this.

Jumping Over a Stick

Set up a small jumping obstacle using a broom handle or a long pipe. Use a sign that will encourage your dog to jump over it. As your dog gets more confident with this trick, you can start adding height to the jump.

Passing Through Tunnels

To set up a tunnel, use a plastic tunnel from the market (tunnel toy for kids) or make your own out of cardboard boxes. Guide your dog through it once or twice, then let them do it independently. If they hesitate, throw in a few treats.

Weaving Through Poles

Weave poles help build coordination. To do this, set up a line of poles (traffic cones, dowel rods, empty soda cans, etc.) spaced about 18 inches apart

Your dog needs to weave in and out of the poles, going down the line. As your dog gets better, decrease the spacing to make it more challenging.

Leaping Over Barriers

Leaping helps improve coordination, strength, and speed. Set up plastic buckets as barriers and encourage your dog to jump over them. 

Offer a treat when they do it successfully. Slowly increase the height until your dog is comfortable jumping over multiple barriers. 

What To Do If Dogs Fall?

If your dog falls, it’s essential to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Watch out for these signs:

  • Limping or difficulty walking
  • Whining or pain when lying down or getting up
  • Stiffness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite and reduced urination
  • Difficulty breathing

Check for Injury or Visible Wound

Falling from a height can result in many signs of visible injuries, including protruding bones, redness of the eyes, or a bloody nose

Visible wounds give an idea of how bad the accident was and what you have to do as treatment. You should also provide first aid (as suggested below).

Clean Open Wound

If a dog has visible injuries, the first thing to do is to take care of it and minimize infection. Clean open wounds like cuts and bruises with a towel. 

If there is a visible broken bone, clean the area around it and cover it as carefully as possible to avoid the spread of bacteria.

Be Aware of Appetite Loss

Loss of appetite can indicate internal injuries. If your dog yelps, whines when chewing its food, or is unable to eat properly, it might be a sign of a broken jaw.

Similarly, check poop and urine for the next two days. If your dog has ruptured its bladder, it may pass blood or may not be able to poop at all. In such cases, reach out to your vet immediately.

Monitor Dog for Several Hours

Don’t be fooled if your dog appears outwardly okay. You should monitor their activity levels and breathing for several hours. Delayed breathing could signify a punctured lung, especially if it broke a rib. It could also be because of a diaphragmatic hernia.

If the injury has caused internal organs to push against the lung, it can also cause breathing difficulties. You should keep a check, and if things become difficult, travel to the vet, keeping the dog with its injured side pointing downwards.

Look for Breed-Specific First-Aid

How you administer first aid depends on the size of the breed. For example, if your large dog is facing a breathing issue, throw a sling out of a towel or big cloth and carry it slowly to the vet. 

For smaller ones, place one hand behind the front legs and one in front of the hind legs to pick it up and carry. Similarly, if a large dog has broken its back, you must find a board to carry them (like a stretcher). For smaller dogs, a baking sheet will do.

Monitor Breathing

If your dog has ruptured its lung, you must ensure they stay as still as possible. Don’t make them struggle; if they want to be in a certain position, just let them. Don’t force them to lie down.

You can create a makeshift ventilator if the dog has stopped breathing. Use your hands to cover your dog’s mouth and nose, and blow air into the nose directly. 

This will help keep their oxygen levels up temporarily. Look out for the rise and fall in their chest, with roughly 15-20 breaths per minute. Keep doing this till their breathing returns to normal or you have made it to the hospital.

The next time you see an agility trial and ask yourself why dogs land on their feet in these trials, the answer is that their owners have trained them to do it! You can train your dog to land on its feet too! 

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