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 begins with the neck, and then discusses body height and length proportions and also the special requirement of spanning a terrier.


A dog's neck begins at the occiput which is the peak or protuberance at the base of the skull. It then blends into the topline at the withers. On a normally built dog, the length of the neck equals the length of the head measured from nose to occiput.

However, some Breed Standards require a shorter neck, usually for strength where, for example the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and British Bulldog had to support a larger head than usual. On the other hand some of the Sighthound breeds require a longer neck than usual which also gives them elegance. Functionally the longer neck also gives them balance when galloping at speed. For example in 1846, when Juliana Berners wrote one of first descriptions of any breed, the Greyhound was described as having:

Greyhound Statue 50 - 270 ADGreyhound Statue 50 - 270 AD

"a head like a snake,
a neck like a drake,
a back like a beam,
the sides of a bream, (fish)
be footed like a cat
and have a tail like a rat"

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 prosternum to the rear of the body should equal its height at shoulder. The difference is the high set tail which shortens the apparent topline giving the optical illusion that the Airedale has a shorter body than the Boxer.

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

A. Thumbs touching at backA. Thumbs touching at back

Spanning a terrier with an average sized man's hand has become the accepted practice with which to gauge whether the terrier is capable of being functional. For example, a fox's den may be within a hollow tree or log, 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 is a technique which tests terriers' ability to fit into an underground critter's den and retreat unharmed. As reference to this technique is required by certain Breed Standards, competent terrier judges are expected to span the following breeds of terriers:

  1. The Jack Russell Terrier,
  2. The Parson Russell Terrier
  3. The Border Terrier.
  4. The Jadg (German Hunting Terrier)

C. Fingers just touching underneath (small hand span)C. Fingers just touching underneath (small hand span)

To this end, the accompanying pictures are shot using actively working Parson Russell Terriers.

How to Span a Terrier

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 more accurately the flexibility of the rib cage. But because terrier judges are expected to know how to correctly span a terrier, those with smaller hands should still be able to gauge the size of the ribcage.

In a show ring situation, this is the generally accepted technique:

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

A. 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 A above.

B. Lift the front feet up making sure the dog's back feet are still on the table or at least supported. If your hands are of sufficient size, so finger can interlock, you can assess the terrier's flexibility.

C. If your hand span is small, confirm your middle fingers are at least touching so at least you are able to gauge the size of the ribcage.