Dog Body Proportions


Body terminology varies from one Breed Standard to another. Here are a few definitions that may assist you when assessing a the dog in profile. This section discusses body height and length proportions and also the special requirement of spanning a terrier.

Height at Shoulder and Topline

Cocker SpanielCocker Spaniel

The term 'height at shoulder' is the distance from withers to ground as shown.

In profile what is commonly called the 'topline' also begins at the withers where the neck ends, and finishes where the tail begins.

Square, Short or Compact Body

Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

The body length should not be confused with the length of the topline. The body length should be measured from the front of the chest (the prosternum) to the rearmost projection of the upper thigh. The body length of a 'square', 'short' or 'compact' terrier is enhanced when a terrier has a high set tail like the Airedale Terrier pictured.


Although the Boxer pictured does not have the high tail set of a terrier, it also has a body that is 'short' or 'compact'. Similar to the Airedale, the length of the body from the front of the chest (prosternum) to the rear of the body should equal its height at shoulder.

In profile, the underline begins at the prosternum, the most forward projection of the rib cage. It then runs along the sternum underneath the ribcage and ends at belly.

Body Longer than Height at Withers

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

On the other hand, the Australian Terrier is described as having a body that is rather long in proportion to its height. That means compared with the 'square' of the Airedale, it has a chest in front of the 'square' and some buttock behind.

There are several breeds that have bodies that are required to be longer than their height at shoulder. Sometimes a proportional ratio is quoted like the 12:11 of the Weimaraner and 10:9 of the Australian Cattle Dog. In other breeds like the Sealyham Terrier it is called oblong or rectangular.

The length of the body is vital to each breed's general balance and outline. With the Breed Standard acting as your guide, once you have developed that elusive 'Eye for a Dog' you will know at a glance whether or not the dog under consideration has a body length that correctly balances its other body proportions.

Cobby, Cloddy and Lumber

A Cob HorseA Cob Horse

A dog that is not only of a square appearance but also thick set throughout like a Pug is also often referred to as cobby, a term derived from the word 'cob' which is the type of horse pictured. A dog which is not only heavily built but also has a clumsy gait is often called cloddy. The old term lumber also describes a dog with a cloddy build and cumbersome or clumsy movement. For example the General Appearance of the Flat Coated Retriever Breed Standard refers to showing 'strength without lumber'.

Spanning a Terrier

1. Thumbs touching at back1. Thumbs touching at back

The ability to function as a working terrier is required by the Breed Standards of at least three terrier breeds, the Jack Russell Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier and Border Terrier. These terriers must be capable of not only entering a fox den, but also working within it to either bolt or kill the fox. To this end, the accompanying pictures are shot using actively working Parson Russell Terriers.

2. Fingers touching underneath dog (small hand span)2. Fingers touching underneath dog (small hand span)

The fox den may be within a hollow tree or log, or an old excavated rabbit warren, or within the unforgiving confines of a culvert or drain. So, the terrier must be sufficiently flexible as well as possessing all other physical characteristics that make it capable of working within the confines of these situations.

Spanning a terrier with an average sized man's hand has become the yardstick with which to gauge whether the terrier is able to be functional. Because people haveĀ  different sized hands, their span varies. Those with hand spans large enough to permit their fingers to interlock, have the advantage of also being able to assess the flexibility of the rib cage.

How to Span a Terrier

Because terrier judges are expected to know how to correctly span these breeds of terriers in a show ring situation, this is the procedure when spanning a terrier:

3. Fingers clasped underneath (large hand span)3. Fingers clasped underneath (large hand span)

  1. With the terrier facing away from you, place thumbs together over dogs back at the top of his shoulder blades and put your hands around his ribs at their deepest point behind the armpits as in picture 1.
  2. Lift the front feet up making sure the dog's back feet are still on the table.
  3. Underneath the ribcage, if your hand span is small, confirm your middle fingers at least touching like picture 2.
  4. If your hand span is sufficiently large, your fingers may interlock as in picture 3.