SUMMARY The antero–posterior mass distribution of quadrupeds varies substantially amongst species, yet the functional implications of this design characteristic remain poorly understood. During trotting, the forelimb exerts a net braking force while the hindlimb exerts a net propulsive force. Steady speed locomotion requires that braking and propulsion of the stance limbs be equal in magnitude. We predicted that changes in body mass distribution would alter individual limb braking–propulsive force patterns and we tested this hypothesis by adding 10% body mass near the center of mass, at the pectoral girdle, or at the pelvic girdle of trotting dogs. Two force platforms in series recorded fore- and hindlimb ground reaction forces independently. Vertical and fore–aft impulses were calculated by integrating individual force–time curves and Fourier analysis was used to quantify the braking–propulsive (b–p) bias of the fore–aft force curve. We predicted that experimental manipulation of antero–posterior mass distribution would (1) change the fore–hind distribution of vertical impulse when the limb girdles are loaded, (2) decrease the b–p bias of the experimentally loaded limb and (3) increase relative contact time of the experimentally loaded limb, while (4) the individual limb mean fore–aft forces (normalized to body weight + added weight) would be unaffected. All four of these results were observed when mass was added at the pelvic girdle,but only 1, 3 and 4 were observed when mass was added at the pectoral girdle. We propose that the observed relationship between antero–posterior mass distribution and individual limb function may be broadly applicable to quadrupeds with different body types. In addition to the predicted results,our data show that the mechanical effects of adding mass to the trunk are much more complex than would be predicted from mass distribution alone. Effects of trunk moments due to loading were evident when mass was added at the center of mass or at the pelvic girdle. These results suggest a functional link between appendicular and axial mechanics via action of the limbs as levers.