what-are-withers-on-a-dog

What are withers on a dog?

You might have heard the term “withers” used when describing a part of a dog’s anatomy, but do you actually know what it’s referring to? In this article, we look at what a dog’s withers are and why it might be important to know how to measure them.

Location and purpose of a dog’s withers

The withers describe a band of muscle that sits directly above the dog’s shoulder blade. This is the tallest point on the body (excluding the head and neck), of not only dogs but other four-legged animals too. It gives us an accurate point to measure the dog’s height, which can be useful for several reasons.

The withers help the dog’s neck, back, and shoulders to move. You’ll know you have found the withers when you can feel the bony top of the shoulder blade – this is the area where your dog’s neck meets his shoulders. It is the highest point of the dog’s back.

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How to measure your dog’s height at the withers

Follow these steps to successfully measure your dog’s height:

  • Get somebody to help you – having a second person to assist in holding your dog will help a lot. Try and get them to hold the dog gently at his waist to stop him from walking off.
  • Try and position your dog near a wall or door frame – the dog can lean against this slightly to help prevent his front end from moving around too much. Make sure he is stood squarely with his head in a normal, neutral position.
  • Feel for your dog’s withers – this should be the place where your dog’s neck meets his shoulders. You may need to feel for this area carefully in very hairy dogs, as it can be tricky to see.
  • Measure across the withers – you could use a carpenter’s level or a ruler, or even a book, to place gently on his withers. Use this to make a mark on the door frame with a pencil as to where your dog’s height is. Once this is done you can measure the distance from the floor to the mark on the wall/door frame to get your dog’s height.
  • Alternatively, if your dog is standing relatively still you could just extend the tape measure from his paws to his withers and take the measurement, without marking the wall.
  • Don’t forget to praise your dog – keep things positive with praise and rewards. If he is wriggling and being difficult then try again later, perhaps at a different time of day to see if you can get him when he’s in a more compliant mood!

How to get an accurate measurement

If you want to get a very accurate measure, then you could consider investing in a tool called a wicket. You often see these being used at professional dog shows. They look like a U-shaped device that stands on the ground, a bit like a limbo stick. However, these tend to be expensive to purchase and you can get reasonably accurate measurements for most purposes with the step-by-step guide mentioned previously.

Why is measuring withers on a dog important?

There are many reasons why it might be necessary to know your dog’s height to its withers. Let’s explore each of these in turn.

To buy the correct dog bed

By measuring your dog properly, you can work out what size bed might be most comfortable for him. Your dog should have the space to stretch out as well as curl up.

To buy fitted clothes/accessories

If you are wanting to purchase clothes or accessories for your dog then you must get ones that fit correctly. This allows your dog to feel comfortable and able to move freely in them. Rigid harnesses in particular can impede the movement of the neck and shoulders if incorrectly fitted. Measuring your dog’s withers will give an accurate height measure to use when making purchases.

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Correct size dog flap

If you are wanting to build or buy a dog flap for your small breed dog, then you will need to make sure he can fit through it comfortably. If it is too small he may have to stoop or might bang himself against the edges as he enters the house. So, measuring your pet will help to avoid this.

Conduct training/exercise

If you want to enter your dog into professional or competitive sports then you will need to know his height. This is particularly important if you plan on doing any form of hurdles or jumps with him. Making sure he is jumping the appropriate hurdles for his height means he is less likely to become injured during his exercise. When showing your dog you may also need to know his measurements to see if he conforms to his breed standards.

Correct sized dog crate/playpen

Measuring your dog’s withers allows you to choose an appropriate-sized crate for him. A dog crate should allow your pet to sit, stand, stretch out, and lie down comfortably in it. If it is too small, then he won’t be comfortable and may not want to use it.

For medical records

This measurement is less important to veterinarians than other measurements like weight and body condition score. It may still be of interest though if you are wanting to track your dog’s height against his breed standard to ensure he is growing and developing properly.

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For elevated dog feeders

Some pet parents prefer to feed their dog from an elevated food stand, as they are said to help them feed more comfortably and avoid digestive issues like bloat. It is therefore important that the height is correct for your dog, to avoid the bowl being lower than his chest. You could think about buying an adjustable stand that will grow as your dog does.

Conclusion

The withers on a dog are the highest point on the body when he lowers his head. They give a standard measurement that can be useful when purchasing things for your pet, as well as making sure they compete safely in sporting activities. If items are incorrectly fitted, then they will impede your dog’s movement and cause issues. Always reward and praise your dog when trying to measure him to keep things positive and try again another time if he is being difficult!

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