Short Legged Terriers

Scottish Terrier (Wheaten)Scottish Terrier (Wheaten)

This section explains the short legged construction of terriers whose legs have been shortened to allow the dog to bear his weight on his chest, leaving the legs free to dig. These terriers' bodies also had to be extremely flexible, allowing them to work within the confines of tunnels like the Setts created by badgers, as the section below explains.

The Short Legged Terrier Breeds

Here are the 12 terrier breeds which have front legs shortened to varying degrees. The following list in descending order is from the deepest chested terrier with a slight bow in its front legs, to the breeds which are built on top of their legs (which should be perfectly straight much like the long legged terriers). This is especially evident with the last breed on the list, the Jack Russell Terrier, where the shape and lack of depth of the ribcage is clearly enunciated in the Breed Standard by the requirement of "spanning a terrier".

Glen of ImaalGlen of Imaal

The most extreme is the Glen of Imaal, where the chest is so deep the front legs are slightly bowed. The Scotty is next where the breed standard calls for this dog's ribcage to be 'hung between the forelegs'. Then comes the Dandie and Skye to the Sealyham whose chest is placed just between the forward facing forelegs. The remainder of the breeds are built more on top of their legs.

How Short Legged Terriers Dig

Terrier working undergroundTerrier working underground

Those terriers with the deepest chests have a unique digging action whereby they lie on the spot where the hole is being dug and move the dirt to the sides of their body and then wriggle through. The anatomy of a short legged terrier has to also allow the dog to retreat with the long gradual slant of the sternum also helping it to slide more easily over rocks and tree roots[1]. Thus when a dog has a deep chest, a slight bow in their front legs actually assists with unique 'side digging' action[4]. This digging action is particularly useful when the dog is working within the confines of a burrow as the dog only has to not only make his way into the burrow, he also has to be capable retreating backwards.

Australian TerrierAustralian Terrier

With the exception of the Glen of Imaal, the remainder of the short legged terriers should have front legs as straight as is possible with the elbows working close to the sides just above or level with the sternum.

The digging action between terriers with deeper chests differs from the remainder of the terriers, both short and the long legged which, when digging push the dirt backwards between their widely placed back legs.

Judging a Short Legged Terrier

Judging a short legged terrierJudging a short legged terrier

When judging, although all these Breed Standards except the Glen of Imaal ask for front legs to be as straight as possible, a slight amount of bow or outwards turn of the front feet, in the Scotty, Dandie Dinmont, and Skye is permissible. But any amount of bow in the front legs or the front feet turning out in any other terriers like the Sealyham is undesirable.

Having said that, the bowed front legs are not to be confused with the breed standard of the Cairn that allows the front feet to turn out a little. Like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, this slight turn out of the feet in the Cairn is from the pastern only and is allowed so the dog can balance. This has nothing to do with the front construction of a terrier adapted for digging purposes or an incorrect bow in the front legs caused by excessive depth of chest[3].

May I respectively suggest that breeders and judges alike take particular note of the depth of chest of short legged terriers as illustrated. Because excessive depth of chest is one cause of the incorrect bow in the front legs that plague many of today's short legged terriers.

References and Further Reading

[1]   Rachel Page Elliott 'Dog Steps' Published by Howell Book House New York 1973 IBSN 0-87605-519-6 Chapter 1 Common Terms and Comparative Skeletons Page 20

[2] Jane Harvey, "Dwarfism in Terriers" in Dog News Australia (Australian Canine Press Pty Ltd, Austral NSW) ISSN 1834-1837 January 2008 page 6

[3] Jane Harvey, "Incorrect Front Construction" in Lets Talk Terriers (Tracy Murphy, Dean Park NSW) Vol 2 No 2 2006 Pages 2-4

[4] Jane Harvey, DVD "Terriers Then & Now" (Rangeaire Vision 2002, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0