West Chester University study examines evolution through doggie paddle patterns

Ah, dogs. They’re loyal. They’re fun. They’re the missing link in evolution between how animals like dolphins went from land to sea over time. Or, at least that’s what their swimming patterns suggest, according to a study from West Chester University. 

Headed up by biologist Frank Fish, WCU’s study serves as the first serious look at the doggie paddle, the method of conveyance by which our canine friends trek through watery scenes. The result is not only a concrete definition of what a dog paddle is exactly, but also an evolutionary link never-before-explored.

Fish used dog breeds ranging from Yorkshire terriers to Newfoundlands, three of which were his own. So, as Fish pointed out to Inside Science, the study didn’t involve “throwing dogs into the water who weren’t used to it,” opting instead for “dogs who already liked to swim.”

And so began the science montage of constructing a testing facility. The result was a pool intended for horse rehabilitation being suited up with a host of underwater cameras. Scientists studied the dogs’ leg movements underwater, ultimately finding one staggering fact: all the dogs had the same paddle stroke under water regardless of breed or size. 

That fact is staggering because those same breeds move around drastically differently from one another when on land. Underwater, though, that movement turns into a sort of “aquatic trot” that’s the same across the board. 

That discovery will allow scientists to further investigate how water mammals made the transition from land by seeing what natural selection factors are most at play in that particular evolution. 

Fish says he will continue to expand on his dog paddle study, with the next task being the investigation of how much energy dogs expel with each stroke as opposed to running. The ultimate goal, of course, is to find the “tipping point” that forced land mammals to the water as a result of energy conservation. 

So, please, show some respect for Rover. His paddle might just hold the key to the evolutionary landscape.

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[Inside Science]