Discussion on How to Systematically Analyze a Track
Separating canine tracks from feline tracks is usually pretty straight forward until you introduce the highly variable track of the domestic dog.
Drop us a line if you still have questions about this process.
1) How many digits show?

Both felines and canines will register four digits. Remember we count the number of digits the animal shows in the dirt, not how many it actually has on its foot and that when numbering the digits, #1 is high up on the leg and does not register but you include it when assigning a number to the digit. Thus for members of both of these families you will only observe digits #2 through #5 in the track and #2 would always be on the inside.

2) Size of the track?

A track that is 3.5" wide could have only been made by a mountain lion (cougar) or a large domestic dog as this track is far larger than anything else found in this area.

3) What is the overall shape of the track?

These tracks could best be described as being round in shape and only felines and domestic dog tracks are shaped like this. Coyote tracks are smaller and more oval and the track of a fox, while cat like, is considerably smaller.
12) Are there any marks of crevices within the pad?

None were observed in these photos nor would they be expected in this case.

13) What is the relative size of the heel pad compared to the digits? (Think in terms of the volume of each).

The heel pad of the feline is considerably larger than that of the canine. We usually expect to see a heel pad on the feline that is larger in area than the sum of the area of its digits while on the canine there is no way that the digits could fit into the area of its heel pad. An accurate measurement of the width of the heel pad of the front foot of a cougar that exceeds 50 mm is usually considered to be that of a male.

14) Do the claws show?

No claws were clearly evident in either photo. Felines and the tree-climbing Gray Fox do not normally show their claw marks. Other canines may or may not show claws and domestic dogs have even greater variability. Some of them have huge claws showing while others show no evidence of any claws.

15) Is there a clear or negative space to consider?

Coyote tracks show a greater amount of free space between the digits and its heel pad, often allowing an “ X “ to be drawn between the pad and the outside two digits. The heel pad on a feline track is in much closer to the digits and the free space is often said to resemble a “C” in shape above the heel pad.

16) Can you determine if it is a front or hind track? A right or a left track?

The front tracks of the canines and felines are larger than their hind tracks. The shape and position of the heel pads on the front and the hind track are often different. To determine a right foot from a left foot track on the feline is easy as they are asymmetric and the position of the third digit or leading toe answers that question. While the canine track is symmetric, its heel pad is longer on the outside edge making the base of the pad appear to angle up towards the body.

17) Is either the top or the bottom of the track deeper in the soil and if so, which species would that suggest?

Wild cats usually place the back of their heel pad down first and it’s often deeper in the substrate than are the digits. This distinctive tri-lobe pattern is usually the first thing you will observe in the large round track of a cougar. Conversely, the digits of a canine are often deeper than is their heel pad.

18) What does the substrate tell you, i.e., what were the soil conditions when the track was made and what has happened to the track since it was originally made?

These tracks have been badly degraded by wind and water and the edges have disappeared completely. They were made when the soil was wet and slippery. Considerable loose debris has built up within the track since then. When submitting photos of tracks for someone else to evaluate consider also getting a photo of multiple tracks thus showing the pattern and, always include a scale of some type.

19) Are both photos of the same species?

Both of these tracks exhibit similar characteristics but we do not know if they were made by the same domestic dog.