Dog Head Components

The Components of the HeadThe Components of the Head

Dogs' heads have four separate components each of which can vary considerably. These four components of dogs' heads underpin the variations in the head shapes. So it is imperative to understand the different components that make up the head before we can discuss variations which set the breed type of each particular pure breed of dog.

A Dog's Head

The four main components of a dog's head are:

  1. Skull
  2. Stop
  3. Occiput
  4. Foreface or Muzzle


Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

King Charles SpanielsKing Charles Spaniels

The general term 'skull' when used in dog jargon usually means the brain case or the area surrounding the brain.

The skull consists of several different bones which are fused. The shape of the skull is particularly important as this affects both the set of the ears and the eyes and hence the expression. The cheek bones on the side of the skull are called the Zygomatic arches.

The Airedale Terrier on the left has a flat skull. In direct contrast the King Charles Spaniel has a skull which is domed or rounded like half a ball, whichever way you look at it.


Soft Coated Wheaten TerrierSoft Coated Wheaten Terrier

The skull ends at an area called the stop. Contrary to that which it's name suggests, the 'stop' is not a single point. Instead it the longitudinal groove, or frontal furrow (called 'fluting' in Spaniels), which runs from the center of the skull down to the muzzle. The stop varies in both length and depth according to the particular breed's head shape.

The Area of the StopThe Area of the Stop

The stop is demonstrated here by the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier on the left and diagrammatically on the right.

The stop should not be included when assessing head proportions of skull to muzzle ratios.


English SetterEnglish Setter


The occipital bone has a peak or protuberance which is commonly referred to as the occiput. It is is clearly seen here in the English Setter and Bloodhound. However, in some other breeds it is barely perceptible. Myths in dog folklore believed that size of the occipital protuberance was a measure of the dog's sense of smell. So to this day it is prominent in most Scent Hounds.

But the occipital bone itself actually extends right down the back of the head to where it articulates with the neck. So when breed standards refer to the length of a dog's skull, this measurement does not include the occiput as this is part of the occipital bone.

Occipital ProtuberanceOccipital ProtuberanceArea of Occipital BoneArea of Occipital Bone

Foreface or Muzzle

Tibetan SpanielTibetan Spaniel

The foreface or muzzle is the whole of the upper area from the eyes to the nose including the lips. It is sometimes also referred to as the face.

Cocker SpanielCocker Spaniel

The bony part on the top of the muzzle is often called the bridge of the nose whereas the sides of the muzzle are often referred to as flews in Breed Standards and general dog jargon. Some Breed Standards refer to the flews as muzzle. So, confusion could arise as to what are flews and what exactly is the muzzle. For example, the Breed Standard of the Cocker Spaniel shown here says it should have a square muzzle, whereby it is obvious that it is the flews that are square shaped.

When the muzzle or flews look thick or rounded on each side of the nostril, this padding is called cushioning - for example the Tibetan Spaniel shown here. Cushioning gives the dog a soft expression.

On the other hand, chiselling of the muzzle means clean-cut lines and contours in contrast to bumpy or bulgy outlines.

Technically the lower lips are that portion of the skin closest to the mouth cavity that is devoid of hair. The lower lips blend into the skin of the chin while upper lips blend into the skin that covers the top teeth.

References and Further Reading

Harold R Spira "Canine Terminology" Harper & Row Sydney 1982 PageĀ  88