Parts of the body

The body of a dog can be split into 52 different regions, each corresponding to a specific anatomical sector. These areas are used by conformation and show judges to evaluate the individual dog and to explain their decisions to owners.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
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The frontal region may be rounded (Beagle, Cocker Spaniel), convex (Boxer), flat (Dalmatian), oval (Poodle) or broad (Rottweiler).

The stop runs from the forehead to the bridge of the nose. It is visible from the side and is more or less well defined, between 90° and 180°. It is virtually absent in Greyhounds.

The muzzle or bridge of the nose contains the nasal cavities, which are spacious in pointing dogs (like Setters) and smaller in Bulldogs, which have a squashed muzzle. A complete flattening of the face (as in the Pekingese) leads to jaw alignment problems (undershot jaw, overbite) and breathing difficulties.

The nose has two nostrils, which should be open, and a median fissure. The nose of a healthy dog should be pliable, wet and cold.

The lips must not be flaccid and must be located opposite each other. They are well pigmented and covered with hair and vibrissa (long stiff hairs which have sensory receptors at the base). The inside of the lips is pink (or blue in Chows Chows).


Pricked ears are better at picking up sound waves, while bloodhounds often have drop ears.


The ears come in various shapes and lengths. They are also carried and attached in different ways. They can be pointed (Belgian Shepherd Dogs), a little rounder (German Shepherds), very rounded (Bulldogs) or rather fine and covered with sometimes very long hair (Cocker Spaniels). They have a fundamental role in hearing. Pricked ears are better at picking up sound waves, while bloodhounds often have dropped ears, which protects the interior of the ear from vegetation and the penetration of foreign bodies into the ear canal. Terriers have short ears, which do not get in the way when they go underground.


Head, neck and forelimbs

The head can be round (Cavalier King Charles Spaniels), long (Greyhounds) or square. It plays an important role in balance. Breeds with a long head tend to have a pointed nose, whereas those with a square head have short, muscular jaws (mainly dogs originally bred for fighting).


The head is divided into two main regions, the cranium at the back enclosing the brain and the face at the front accommodating the nasal cavities.


The head is divided into two main regions, the cranium at the back enclosing the brain and the face at the front accommodating the nasal cavities. The middle region is centred on the two eye sockets. The difference in proportions between cranium and face determine whether the dog is dolichocephalic (elongated muzzle), brachycephalic (short, squashed muzzle) or mesocephalic (between the two).

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

• The head also comprises other less well defined regions. The temples are located on the sides of the head behind the eyes and directly above the zygomatic arches, which are next to the cranium and are fairly decisive for the shape of the head. The parotid region is located under the ears, behind the masseteric region, which is in turn behind the cheeks. The cheeks themselves are very small, because of the dog’s large mouth opening. The nape of the neck is moderately prominent and the throat may have folds of skin known as dewlaps.

• The neck is cylindrical, larger in diameter towards the trunk than closer to the head. It ends at the withers, forming a more or less open angle with the back.
This is an important region when judging the dog’s appearance. It has an influence on head carriage and general balance, because it determines where the centre of gravity is. The head-neck axis therefore acts as a counterweight to the rest of the spinal column and helps the dog during motion (when the dog’s head and neck are held against the ground, for instance, it is unable to get up). The neck runs into the shoulders, the withers and the chest. Its position changes with stance, upright in the drive phase, extended in the recovery phase.

• The forelimbs are generally long and slightly flattened. The shoulder slants from high to low and from back to front. It is also slightly convex. The arm is directly below the shoulder and directly above the elbow and lies against the chest wall. The two medial digits are longer and broader than the two lateral digits. The footpads (which consist of a thick, keratinous layer rather than fat) are prominent and very slightly arched. Curved, keratinous nails are found at the end of the digits. They should not touch the ground when the dog is standing.

• The chest, which comprises the front part of the thorax, varies in height and breadth. Its position in relation to the forelimbs also varies. It shows itself as a perfect square in French Bulldogs and an arch in English Bulldogs.

Topline, ribcage and abdomen


• The topline is made up of the whole of the back and loins. It is almost horizontal in normotypes, hollow in young dogs and rising in dogs that are “camped forward” (see below). The back has a straight or horizontal profile and may slope slightly towards the rear. It is arched in long-backed dogs. The back runs into the loins, which tend to be a little broader than the back. The croup is in line with the loins. It slopes and is rounded to a greater or lesser degree, although it is rectangular viewed from the side. It ends at the base of the tail.

• The ribcage comprises the chest (or ribs), which is a highly convex region formed by the 13 ribs. A deep chest (running from the point of the shoulder to the last rib) accounts for two thirds of the dog’s total length.

The sternum describes an arc with a large radius. This region contains the cardiac area, which must be fairly broad in physically very active dogs.

• The abdomen is a cavity located behind the diaphragm. It accommodates several essential organs (urogenital system, liver, spleen and digestive system). The flank is a slightly concave region which varies in length depending on the size of the dog. It is difficult to see precisely where the flank turns into the belly in dogs. The female’s teats are on the lower side; the male’s external sex organ towards the rear.

Hindquarters and tail

• The hindlimbs are longer and more solid than the forelimbs and the angles of the joints are more obtuse. The thighs are generally meaty. The stifle marks the boundary between the thigh and the upper leg, which is long and at a slant. The hock marks the start of the lower leg: the metatarsal bones are slanted forwards and sometimes accommodates a dewclaw on the inner edge. The hind foot is generally a little shorter than the front foot.

• The length, size and carriage of the tail is specific to each breed. It may be a screw tail (Spitzes), a long plume (Setters) or a short tail (Terriers). Dogs are also born without a tail or with the smallest stump of a tail. Tails may be carried straight, horizontal or curved.

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Tails may be carried straight, horizontal or curved.

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Stance refers to the direction of the limbs in relation to level ground. Stance has a major influence on the topline, making it a key aspect in the dog’s general bearing and its sporting abilities. It ensures the body is well supported and the weight distributed among the joints and the feet.

Generally speaking, the main axis of a limb should be vertical. Even a slight divergence can overload the joints and the sole of the foot (on the side of the divergence), leading to premature wear of the joints, tendons and ligaments (which is an especially awkward handicap for working dogs). Stance is therefore not just a theoretical or aesthetic consideration.

When the dog is relaxed, the dorsolumbar line sags and the back is slanted. If the forelimbs also sag it is said to be saddle-backed. The loins are arched and the back curved upwards when the dog tightens up. The hind feet are often turned-out, which is natural. Pigeon toes are more of an issue.

Stances of the forequarters viewed from the front

• Side view: The vertical through the middle of the arm goes through the middle of the foot at a tangent to the wrist (the front of the carpus). If it falls forward, the dog is said to be “down at knee”, if it falls backward, it is said to be “camped”. If the wrist is behind the vertical, the dog is said to have a receding wrist, while it is knuckled over if the wrist is in front of the vertical. In this case, the dog has a fetlock deformity. If this vertical is far from the footpads the dog is long in the pastern; if it almost bisects them the dog has an upright pastern.

• Front view: The vertical line from the point of the shoulder must bisect the forearm, wrist, metacarpal bones and foot right down the middle. The two limbs must be as parallel as possible.

• Pigeon toes: The wrists and elbows are turned outwards, the metacarpal bones and feet turned inwards.

• Turned-out feet: The elbows are close to the body, the metacarpal bones and feet turned outwards. Pigeon toes and turned-out feet can begin at any point on the leg.

• Base narrow or base wide: The front limbs are slanted and convergent or divergent at the extremities. This is not to be confused with narrow or wide front, when the limbs are parallel. If only the wrists are within the vertical, the dog is said to be knock-kneed; if they are curved inwards outside the vertical, the dog is said to be bandy-legged. If the limbs curve outwards, the terms Chippendale front or fiddle front are used.

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Stances of the hindquarters viewed from the rear

• Side view: The metatarsal bones must be vertical to the ground. The vertical from the hip joint must go through the middle of the foot.

• Camped forward, standing under: The entire limb is in front of the vertical. If it is not, it is said to be camped forward, which is not really a fault since it is a fairly natural position. If the hock joint is at too acute an angle, the dog is said to stand under; in the converse case the hock is hyper-extended.

• Rear view: The vertical goes through the point of the rump and the point of the hock and should bisect the metatarsal bones right down the middle. The dog may be too close or too open, which is determined by the convergence or divergence of the extremity of the limbs. This should not be confused with a dog that is too narrow or broad at the rear. When the limb is rotated outwards from the hip joint, the limbs are turned out. This is also characterised by divergence between the stifle and the foot. When it is rotated inwards, the result will be pigeon toes. There is convergence between the stifle and the end of the feet, whereas the hock is divergent.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin


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The distance between the eyes varies greatly from breed to breed, although they are always far enough apart so the dog has a wide angle of vision. The eyeballs are generally sunken (though they are globular in the Pug). The opening can be round, as in Pointers, or almond-shaped, in sheepdogs and Nordic breeds for example. The eyes are the main medium of expression and they should be lively, open and gentle.

Dogs have two visible eyelids, one at the top and one at the bottom. They should be fine, set far apart and well pigmented, with abundant lashes. The external part is made up of skin covered with hair, whereas the internal part – the conjunctiva – is a pink mucous membrane. The lacrimal gland, which secretes the tears that keep the cornea wet, is located under the upper lid. The lacrimal duct at the inside corner of each eyelid runs into the nasal cavity.

The dog also has a third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, much of which is hidden under the lower eyelid. It works as a kind of windscreen wiper and pushes away foreign bodies.


Eye colour depends on the pigmentation of the iris. It is usually brown, which is a sign of good health. Any shade is possible, all the way up to black. Eyes should not be too light, so that they look like a bird of prey’s. This detracts from even the most handsome dog.

Eye colour does not have to be the same as coat colour. Dark eyes with a light whole-coloured coat are perfectly acceptable, even obligatory as in Samoyeds. Dogs with a greyish blue (Weimaraners), blue pied or blue brindle coat can have lighter eyes.

Colour can also change in the course of the dog’s life.

The term walleye is used when the eyes are two different colours. Anatomically, this is referred to as heterochromia, which is not uncommon. Although not desirable, it is tolerated in Siberian Huskies.

The iris may lack pigmentation, appearing partly or totally bluish. This is a common fault in dogs with a tricoloured or mottled coat. It can affect one or both eyes. It should not be confused with walleye, which is found in Siberian Huskies. It is preferable to bar dogs suffering from this condition from reproduction.

Other eye defects include cataracts (when the crystalline lens becomes progressively opaque), entropion (when the eyelid is rolled inwards against the eyeball), glaucoma (when pressure increases in the eyeball causing gradual loss of sight) and strabismus (when abnormal alignment of the eyes causes a squint).


The dog also has a third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, much of which is hidden under the lower eyelid. It works as a kind of windscreen wiper and pushes away foreign bodies.



Adult dogs have 42 teeth, 20 on the upper jaw and 22 on the lower jaw. The way the teeth are arranged is known as dentition. Teething is the term used to describe the eruption of teeth at various points in the dog’s life.


The molars are permanent teeth, whereas the incisors, canines and premolars are deciduous.


The teeth are hard and bony-looking. They are used to grasp, tear and grind food. Dogs are so-called heterodont mammals, which means that their teeth are differentiated for specific use. The molars (M) are permanent teeth, whereas the incisors (I), canines (C) and premolars (P) are deciduous.

The dental formula for each quadrant is I 3/3, C 1/1, P 4/4, M 2/3. This formula can vary depending on the breed (short or long face). Working outwards from the middle, the incisors, which are bigger on the upper jaw, are termed central, intermediate and lateral (or first, second and third). The canines are conical, but finer and narrower in puppies. The molars and premolars are referred to as pre-carnassial, carnassial and post-carnassial.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

The dental formula of a puppy is I 3/3, C 1/1, P 0/0 M 4/4. Puppies are born toothless. The milk teeth start to erupt around day 20, at the following rate (average for medium-sized dogs): first canines towards the end of three weeks, then premolars (P3, P4), lateral incisors (3-4 weeks), central and intermediate incisors and P2 (4-6 weeks). P1 appears around 4 months and is permanent. All the other teeth are replaced between month 3 and 5. The first teeth fall out as the roots are reabsorbed and are replaced by the permanent teeth. Molars, incisors and canines erupt around month 4 or 5, lower M2 in month 5, upper M2 and P in month 5-6 and the last molars in month 6-7, as shown in the table opposite.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

The eruption dates vary depending on the breed. Too many or too few teeth may erupt. Too many is uncommon, whereas too few may be a reason for refusing a pedigree. The absence of certain molars is common. The importance of the teeth increases from front to back. The first premolar is often absent. One or two incisors can also be absent, especially in small breeds.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

The maxillary and mandibular arch should fit together without lateral movement. The upper incisors partly cover the lower incisors. In the event of undershot jaw, the lower jaw projects beyond the upper jaw. If the upper incisors project beyond the lower incisors the dog has an overshot jaw. The teeth play an important part in determining the dog’s age. The top of an incisor features three lobes. As the dog ages, the incisor is first smoothed down (wear on the medial lobe), then worn down (disappearance of the three lobes).

Teeth can suffer from various diseases. Tartar is the calcification of plaque in the teeth by a build up of calcified salts from saliva at the bottom of the tooth, often leading to gum disease and tooth loss. Ageing dogs may have yellow teeth, as may seriously ill dogs on a course of antibiotics. Some diseases can cause the decalcification of teeth. Caries is uncommon, as the enamel is very hard. Holes are caused by necrosis of the alveolar membrane, which results in abscesses. The persistence of milk teeth can obstruct the development and eruption of permanent teeth.

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