If you heard your vet throw out the word “withers” during your dog’s check-up or you’re trying to register your pet for showing, you might be scratching your head, wondering, “What are dog withers?”
Dog withers is a muscular area that sits between the top of a dog’s shoulder blades.
Most people learn about withers when they want to measure their dog’s height or strength. I’ve had my fair share of experience measuring dog withers and will help you understand the ins and outs of it so that you can get accurate data.
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The Importance of Dog Withers
From an anatomical perspective, withers are a muscle that crosses over the topmost part of your dog’s shoulder blades.
All dogs have withers, as they’re essential for movement in the following:
We take it for granted that our dogs’ withers are in good working order. So, most dog owners are more concerned about the role of withers in measuring a dog’s height and strength than the biological purpose they serve.
Locating Dog Withers
You can easily feel your dog’s withers when petting them by running your hand over the tops of their shoulders.
The area where their two shoulder blades meet between their neck and back is where their withers are.
Locating a dog’s withers with thick fur can be tricky. So, if you’re having trouble finding your dog’s withers, try practicing on a short-haired dog. Alternatively, you can even look for them on your short-haired cat; any mammal with four legs has withers.
Once you know the region to look for, it shouldn’t take you long to identify your long-haired dog’s withers.
Step-by-Step Guide for Measuring Dog Withers for Height
Now that you know the anatomical answer to “What are dog withers?” let’s look at how you can measure them. Most people want to measure their dog’s withers to determine their height.
The reason that withers is the standard height measurement for dogs is that a dog moves its head a lot, making it challenging to obtain accurate data. So, keep this in mind if you’re in the market for a specific dog size—a dog advertised as ten inches is taller when it raises its head.
Step 1: Buy a Wicket
A wicket is a unique measuring device designed to measure a dog’s withers. It has a square-like shape, forming its base on the ground. It also has a top that moves up and down, helping you to get the most accurate measurement possible.
Step 2: Coax Your Dog Into the Wicket
Wickets aren’t scary for most dogs, so getting them to walk through them shouldn’t be hard. Make sure to raise the top high enough so that your dog can step through the wicket without bumping its head.
Furthermore, ensure your dog’s withers align with the wicket’s sides. That means only a portion of your dog will be in front of the wicket; most of their body will be behind it.
Step 3: Lower the Top Plate
With your dog in proper alignment, it’s time to lower the top plate of the wicket. If you have a well-behaved dog, you’ll be able to do this single-handedly.
But if your dog isn’t thrilled about standing still for the few seconds it takes to get their measurement, have someone stand in front of them and encourage good behavior through positive reinforcement techniques like a treat.
Step 4: Take the Measurement
The wicket comes with measurements on its side. So, once the top plate rests gently on your dog’s withers, check the number in inches or centimeters and jot it down.
Then, lift the top plate and let your dog go on their merry way with lots of praise and attention for being such a good boy or girl.
For People Without Wickets
There’s no shortage of tutorials online for making a wicket at home. But if you don’t want to go through that hassle and you need to measure your dog for general information versus needing exact measurements for dog shows, a standard measuring tape is sufficient.
You’ll need two people to measure, though.
To do this, place the measuring tape at the base of your dog’s paw and hold it vertically. Then, have another person take a straight item, such as a skewer or ruler, and place it on your dog’s withers.
The perpendicular point where the horizontal item meets the vertical tape measure indicates your dog’s height.
Measuring Withers for a Dog’s Strength
Most dog owners aren’t concerned about their dog’s strength. But if you want to measure your dog to know their strength abilities for working on a farm or pulling a sled, determining the measurement from their withers to their chest is crucial.
That’s because the circumference between the withers and chest indicates how well equipped a dog is for work. For example, sled dogs like the Siberian Husky and Samoyed will be able to pull weight according to this girth.
To measure your dog’s chest girth, use a flexible measuring tape and follow the steps below.
- Place the top of the measuring tape in the center indentation between your dog’s shoulder blades.
- Extend the measuring tape between where your dog’s shoulders and neck meet, going past the front of your dog’s shoulder.
- Take the measurement at the center of your dog’s breastbone.
When measuring your dog’s girth from their withers to their chest, ensure you take the shortest route possible. Overmeasuring their girth can be dangerous for your dog if you’re using it to determine how much weight they can pull.
Reasons To Measure Your Dog’s Withers
I’ve already mentioned a few reasons why you’d want to measure your dog’s withers. But below are some additional context and other reasons.
Indicator of Health
If you have a puppy, measuring their height is crucial to monitoring the progress of their growth. You can often catch the early signs of health issues if they appear to be growing slower than average.
Some common health issues that can cause stunted growth include:
- Damaged growth plates
That said, I don’t want to alarm you too much if your puppy seems to be growing slower than average. It may simply be a case of your dog having inherited shorter genes. A trip to your vet should be able to clear up any doubts you may have.
Picking out high-quality food is essential to preventing obesity in your dog and all the health issues that can come with it. But feeding your dog high-quality food means little if you’re giving them excessive amounts.
Most dog food companies indicate the amount you should feed your dog according to its size (height and weight). So, knowing your dog’s height—especially if they’re a growing puppy—will ensure you’re providing them with the proper balance of nutrition and that you’re not over or underfeeding them.
It’s a brutal world in the dog show space, as dogs must meet a specific size to qualify for showing. In addition, every dog breed has its own set of measurement requirements.
Now isn’t the time to go at it on your own with a homemade wicket, given that if your dog is over or under the height requirements by even a minuscule amount, the judges will disqualify them from showing. So, if you’d like to show your dog, I recommend investing in a high-quality wicket.
Knowing your dog’s height is essential for crate measurements. If you thought that a crate showcases its measurements from your dog’s paws to its head, you’re not alone. But the measurements they display are from the dog’s paws to its withers.
So, knowing your dog’s proper measurements will prevent you from splurging on a crate that’s too large, opening the invitation for your dog to use their crate as a restroom. But it’ll also ensure the crate is large enough for your dog to comfortably turn around and feel comfortable in their “me time” space.
Have you ever gone to the pet store to pick out a harness for your dog only to return home and realize that you completely misjudged your dog’s size? That’s where girth withers measurements come in handy.
Knowing your dog’s girth can save time spent running back and forth to the pet store and ensure your dog remains comfortable when you take them out on a walk. If you buy a harness too tight, it’ll restrict their movement; a harness too loose can cause them to escape.
The Bottom Line
If someone asks you, “What are dog withers?” you’ll now be able to impress them with the amount of information you know on the subject.
Withers are an essential part of a dog’s anatomy, and they help humans gauge a dog’s height and strength. Luckily, measuring your dog’s withers is simple, and you don’t need to invest tons of money in a show-class wicket to get the job done.
So, now that you have the knowledge, I’ll let you get measuring your dog.