What Are Withers On A Dog And How To Properly Measure?

What Are Withers On A Dog? Photo of a dog owner measuring withers on his dog.

If you’ve been surfing around online and are learning about dog shows or other size-related details about dogs, you may have heard the term “withers”. What are they, and why do they matter for your dog? Let’s take a look.

The term “withers” is the word describing the area above the shoulder of a dog. It’s used by professionals when measuring a dog’s height from the ground. It’s a physical marker that experts can look for when getting accurate measurements across breeds and individual dogs to differentiate them.

What are withers, and what do they do?

Technically speaking, the withers is a band of muscle. It sits directly above the shoulder blade, and it’s considered the tallest point of height in a four-legged animal.

Since it’s in the same physiological place from dog to dog, no matter what breed, it’s considered the best way to get an accurate measurement, as mentioned.

As far as actual function, withers help move the shoulders, neck, and spine in a really complex way. 

Their size is also used to help measure a dog’s ability to run, jump, and more, especially when you get into the official dog show world where all dogs are seemingly identical.

Visually, though, many owners will use wither measurements to help make sure that they aren’t accidentally overworking their dog — especially when it comes to working dogs such as those who pull sleds. This is important for making sure that everyone stays safe and healthy!

There are two different ways to measure the withers, which we talk about later.

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Where are the withers located?

The withers are located at the top of the shoulders, and you’ll know you’re in the right spot if you can feel the bony top of hit shoulder blades. It’s the exact spot where his neck meets his shoulders, too, so that can help you locate it.

Typically, dogs with short hair have very visible withers, so it’s easy to see and find them for accurate measuring.

Dogs with long fur, however, can be a little tricky. If you can’t find them first try, don’t worry! Keep at it, and you’ll get used to what it feels like.

Plus, it gives your dog time to get used to you touching him there if he’s not used to it (which is helpful for accurate measuring).

Photo showing where are withers located on a Beagle dog.

Are you still feeling a little confused about your dog or wondering if you’ve got a good understanding of what the withers actually look and feel like? Here’s a diagram to help you get up close and personal with them.

All four-legged animals have them, but sometimes even experts can struggle to find them in certain breeds! If you’re really stumped, consider asking your vet to point them out when they go in the next time.

How do I accurately measure withers on a dog?

The most important thing with measuring withers is that this is a legitimate and official measurement! Done at dog shows and with many breeders, it’s an official trait that will be logged. So, with that kind of specificity comes specific equipment: namely, a wicket.

A wicket is a funny U-shaped device that stays on the ground and looks sort of like a limbo stick (but not as much fun). This is an official device that is accurate and recognized worldwide in professional dog shows!

As you can imagine, official ones cost thousands of dollars! If you just want to have one for use at home, you can make one with some wood or even a plumbing pipe for a lightweight version!

It’s used by descending the top plate down until it’s just touching the withers, and this will be aligned with a measurement. It’s that simple, but it’s the accuracy of the measurements, and the technique used that’s going to make it so official!

As well, you can use a carpenter’s level and a measuring tape to do the measurement at home, too. To do this, you would line your dog up next to a wall in proper standing formation.

You would use your hand to put your level on his withers and then extend the measuring tape to the level. When the level is, well, leveled, you can note the measurement of the tape.

Why are withers measured on a dog?

That’s all well and good, but why do you need to worry about measuring something as specific as a dog’s withers? There are two reasons and measurements that are used with this:

  • The measurement from the withers to the chest/breast bone
  • The measurement of the height at withers

The measurement from the withers to the chest/breast bone

When you measure this with a measuring tape, it will tell you just how big a dog’s withers are and if he’s going to be strong enough to pull a sled or do other work that is common on farms.

The size and span from his withers to his chest will be what helps each owner know what a dog is capable of. 

It can also be used to spot, in breeding, any abnormalities that may indicate there’s a problem with the puppy in health or, at least, in the breeding quality of the litter when it comes to those expected standards. It’s measured regularly, along with weight and height.

The measurement of the height at withers

A dog’s height measurement to his withers is the official one we’ve been talking about. This can be used to check for any genetic abnormalities or perhaps conditions that develop in certain purebred dogs.

It’s most commonly known in show dog competitions, to make sure a dog is qualifying with the right traits as his competition for equality.

Never thought there’d be so much information about a simple band of muscle in your dog, right? It turns out that it’s not so simple after all!

In short

Withers on a dog is a band of muscle that measures a dog’s strength as well as helps get an inaccurate height measurement that is measured equally between various dogs in many breeds.

Know someone who would find this fascinating or wants to know how to measure their dog correctly? Consider sharing this with them!

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Sara Santos

Writer, Editor and member of the Council, I am a dog person and I thrive to get the answers that will help you provide the best care a dog can have. You can also find me on my personal blog here.