A walk is a slow gait. While walking, an animal’s body remains in contact with the ground at all times, and there are almost always 3 feet on the ground. Each foot moves independent of the other feet, and the four feet land in a steady beat without any pauses: Bop / Bop / Bop / Bop. Because walks are slow gaits, the animal has to use its feet rather than its momentum to stay upright. Imagine a cyclist cruising comfortably along the bike path, its 2 inline wheels cruising steadily along. Now compare this to the wobbly kid just learning how to ride a bike. Without training wheels, the little tyke struggles to stay upright as they teeter along. Here, our poor little kid is the walker, the speedy cyclist the trotter. In a walk, trail widths tend to be wider than in a trot, effectively acting as training wheels (or a tri-pod) to help stabilize the animal.
The faster an animal is walking the farther forward the rear foot will land relative to the front foot on the same side.
- Understep: In a slow walk, the animal will understep, with the rear foot landing behind the front. When the rear foot lands directly where the front foot was, it’s called a direct register.
- Direct register: In a direct register walk – when the rear lands directly over the front track – you can also use the distance between the points (a Left-Right-Left or Right-Left-Right series) to get a rough estimate for the animal’s body length. The measurement is roughly equivalent to the distance from shoulder to rump.
- Overstep: As the animal speeds up, eventually its rear foot overtakes and lands past the front foot. In both direct register and overstep walks there is a brief moment when the animal has only two feet on the ground.
- 2×2: There’s another fast walk, called a 2×2 (used by raccoons), where the rear foot oversteps so far that it lands next to the front foot of the opposite side, almost as in a trot (video).
Walks outside of baseline
Animals may move out of their baseline and when something in their environment changes and the animal alters its behavior accordingly. A mountain lion in pursuit of a deer may switch to an extreme understep, a gray squirrel might walk while sneaking around looking for a place to surreptitiously bury a walnut, or a red fox slows into a walk as it approaches a scent marked stump.
Mammals that move in a baseline gait of a walk include:
- felines (e.g. bobcats, lynx, house cats)
- cervids (e.g. deer and moose)
- raccoon (a distinct 2×2 walk)