Dog Body Proportions

This section discusses body height and length proportions, spanning a terrier and the effect on short legged dogs when the chest drops below the elbows. For the purposes of this discussion, we shall consider the body in profile to be made up of the topline from where the neck ends to where the tail begins and the underline from the chest to the hind legs.

Cocker SpanielCocker Spaniel

Height at Shoulder

The terminology for bodies varies from one Breed Standard to another. Let's begin with consideration of body height and length. The height at shoulder is that distance from withers to ground as shown by clicking on the accompanying picture.

Body Length and Proportions

Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

The yardstick for the length of any dog's body is compared with the dog's height at shoulder which is the distance from the ground to the dog's withers. But the length of the actual body can be somewhat confusing. Some Breed Standards take a measurement of the topline or from withers to set on of tail. Those Breed Standards that measure the length of the body from the front of the chest also vary. So let's begin by looking at two different breeds whose body lengths illustrate two basically different body proportions.

Square, Short or Compact Body


The Boxer pictured has a body of square appearance, their Breed Standard states that the length of the body from the front of the chest to the rear of the body should equal its height at shoulder. In other Breed Standards compact means the length of the body from withers to set on of tail should measure the same as the height at shoulder. So when a Breed Standard describes a body as short or compact, the actual measurement is not always precisely defined.

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 Boxer, 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 12:11 (Wiemaraner) and 10:9 (Australian Cattle Dog) and 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[1]. For example the General Appearance of the Flat Coated Retriever Breed Standard refers to showing 'strength without lumber'.

Spanning a Terrier

Spanning a Terrier Spanning a Terrier

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 working within the confines of a burrow to either bolt or hold the quarry.

Spanning a TerrierSpanning a Terrier

To test whether or not the terrier can squeeze through the fox hole, the old terrier men used to span them. So spanning a terrier with an average sized man's hand became the yardstick with which to measure whether or not the terrier was functional. Today, terrier judges are still expected to know how to correctly span these breeds of terriers in a show ring situation.

This is how to span a terrier:

  1. With the dog facing away from you, place your hands around the dog's chest just behind the elbows, lifting the front feet making sure the dog's back feet are still on the ground (Picture 1).
  2. Confirm your middle fingers are just touching.
  3. Test as to whether or not your thumbs meet (Picture 2).
  4. This is also a good position to feel the flexibility and shape of the ribcage.

References and Further Reading

[1] Harold R Spira "Canine Terminology" Harper & Row Sydney 1982 Page 91