Fox or Dog
Unless you are on private land with no public access or you are in a very remote part of the country you are likely to encounter dog walkers and hence dog tracks. As dog very tremendously in size so too do their tracks and therefore there is overlap with tracks of other canids, which at least for us in this country can only mean the Red Fox Vulpes vulpes.
In the seven pictures above, see if you can identify the fox tracks. Try it both before and after reading the blog and see if it helps you to distinguish them.
So how can you tell if a dog like track is from a fox or you friendly nieghbourhood pooch?
There are a few methods that various people put forward as sure fire ways to definitively distinguish between them. Some suggest that if you place two blades of grass in the shape of an “X” in between the pads that the lines made by blades will not intersect the pads on a fox but will on a a dog. However, while this works on many occasions, dogs are incredibly variable and on some dog tracks this method simply doesn’t work.
A slightly more reliable method which tends to work more regularly especially on the front (manus) than the rear (pes) feet, is to place a blade of grass across the middle of the print along the top of the two outermost toes. On a fox track there is a gap between the back of the two middle digital pads and the front of the outer two digital pads so that the line shouldn’t intersect the middle digital pads. On a dog the outer pads will generally overlap the middle ones so the line will intersect them (see diagram).
As can be seen from the diagram, even without using this line across the track there are some general difference which enable you to distinguish between them. The fox print is elongated with a large gap between the digital and interdigital pads. Dog tracks on the other hand (no pun intended!) have a larger digital pads which are closer to the interdigital pad which is also generally larger in dogs than foxes. Claws on dogs are generally shorter and thicker than those on foxes. So overall, a dog’s print is wider and more rounded, a fox print is narrower and more diamond shaped with the centre toes being closer together particularly at the claws. Have a look at the pictures of a fox sized dog’s and a fox’s feet for comparison.
Dog Front Paw
Dog Rear Paw
Fox Front Paw
Fox Rear Paw
As you can see above foxes have dense fur between their pads, particularly in winter and in favourable conditions this may show on the track. The picture below was taken on our wildlife watching and tracking course in Croatia.
When you get a series of tracks other differences become apparent. Fox tracks tend to be more purposeful than the often random meanderings of dogs. If you picture a fox, it is generally long and slender this means that their left and right feet tend to fall close together, what is known as having a small straddle, and therefore cluster closer to the median line of the track than dog prints. When stalking, foxes will often place the rear feet exactly where the front feet were. This is known as direct register and although dogs will direct or partial register they only tend to do it when trotting, but for most dogs their normal gait is a walk and the rear don’t register on the front.
The normal gait for a fox is a trot and a trait that can be observed in fox tracks, but more rarely in dogs, is that when they trot they will often position their bodies diagonally to the direction of travel which results in both hind feet being on one side of the median line of the track and the front feet on the other. Foxes (and jackals) nearly always trot like this and they will alternate which way they are angled across the direction of travel. Unfortunately some dogs also do this (my border collie’s normal gait is a trot and she will more often than not be trotting at an angle). When they do trot like this, obviously they will not be direct registering.
Hopefully this will help you when your out and about to identify a canid track.