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Front and Center: The Role of Thoracic Limbs as the Front Wheel Drive in Dogs



Dogs are front wheel drive beings.  Their brains power their front legs preferentially.  Even in young healthy dogs they are shifting ~60% of their weight into their front legs.  In a human context, front legs of a dog would be our feet.  They stand on their front legs, and their back legs are … there.  Not unimportant, but certainly not as important as their front legs.  That context can help clarify a major aspect of dog posture.  Look at a dog’s front legs and we will learn a lot about how their brain connects to their body.  Improve how a dog relates to their front legs and we can improve muscle performance, manage pain, resolve injuries, and keep our dog moving better for longer. 


The anatomy of the front leg begins with the shoulder blade or scapula, which is attached by muscles to the rib cage.  The humerus (hahahha) is the long bone of the arm, and it attaches to the scapula and forms the shoulder. The humerus is the strongest bone in the dog’s body, which illustrates the way a dog preferentially uses its front legs.  Bones become strong through bearing weight, and that the humerus is the strongest means it is bearing the largest load.  The next bone down is the ulna/radius, with its connection to the humerus, it makes up the elbow.  The elbow is a hinge joint meaning it mostly bends and extends with minimal rotation.  This minimal rotation becomes problematic for dogs with elbow dysplasia or arthritis. The ulnar/radius end at the wrist or in anatomy talk, the carpus, which leads lastly to the paw and floor.  The front leg is different from the hind leg in that it is not connected to the body with a true joint in the way we think of a hip.  The shoulder blade or scapula instead glides over the rib cage, and it relies on a complex interaction of muscles to keep it feeling stable enough while also mobile enough. 

This is complex when you think about what goes into the scapula's position:

The scapula rests on the ribs.

The ribs connect to the spine, specifically the thoracic or mid spine.

The thoracic spine is directed by the cervical spine or neck. 

The cervical spine is directed by the position of the head. 

All while the head is directed by the ENVIRONMENT around it. 


And there is the magical moment. 

The Environment is essential to where the dog places its front feet. In a Front wheel drive animal the enviornment could be viewed as the engine. In the next post we will investigate the environment and how we can utilize the environment our dogs are in to help them stay healthier longer!

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