It’s important be be acquainted with some basic dog anatomy terms that with time have come to describe the various parts of the dog. Knowing what part of the dog you’re working on is extremely important in dog grooming. After all, if you don’t know what those pointy joints that jut out at the back of the rear legs are called, you won’t know what I’m talking about when I (or other groomers) say “hock.” You don’t have to pass a college course but it is important for you to be able to describe what you’re seeing when you look at the outside of the dog. Tons of different descriptions are used when it comes to the dogs anatomy. I have tried to standardize the terms a bit for you, but you may see different terminology used in the breed standards or in other books. Some canine anatomical names may be familiar to you; others may be downright foreign. When looking at dog anatomy, you need to know the basic terms for the major parts: rump or croup, withers, head, hind legs, forelegs, and tail. You can pick up the finer points later, but for now, these are the important ones to know. In the sections that follow, I tell you about the major parts and the terminology surrounding each of them.
Dog anatomy first part: the head
The dog’s head is probably the first thing you look at. And why not? After all, it’s pretty expressive. When you want to groom a dog, you’ll be cleaning ears, brushing teeth, and removing those gunky tear stains from beneath the eyes. And yes, you’ll be washing your dog’s face, too. Different dog breeds have different types of heads that have a variety of names. Dogs basically have one of three head types:
• Dolichocephalic: This head type is the long and thin head seen in dog breeds like the Collie, Borzoi, and Saluki. Dogs with this type of head have really long muzzles and noses and usually have really good eyesight or a keen sense of smell.
• Brachycephalic: This head type is the exact opposite of dolichocephalic heads. Brachycephalic heads are short with muzzles that often have a pushed-in look. Some dog breeds with this type of head have problems breathing because of the closeness of their features, and some have wrinkles that must be cleaned frequently. Dogs with brachycephalic heads include the Bulldog, Pug, and Pekingese.
• Mesaticephalic: This head type is medium-sized, as seen in the Samoyed, Brittanies, and Alaskan Malamutes. These dogs need general grooming for their heads. Depending on the type of head your dog has, you may have certain grooming issues. For example, dogs with brachycephalic heads may have eyes that bulge, and extreme care must be taken to avoid scratching them. Long noses of the dolichocephalic head type may be prone to getting things like grass awns (bristle-like tips) in them more easily, because, well, the dog’s nose naturally arrives five minutes before the rest of the dog.
The head is comprised of the
Nose: You are familiar with your dog’s nose. For one thing, dog noses are often cold and wet, and of course, they usually get stuck where they’re not wanted. Plenty of terms associated with the dog’s nose refer either to its shape (Ram’s nose or Roman nose) or color (liver, snow nose, or Dudley nose).
Muzzle (foreface): The muzzle or foreface is the part of the skull that’s comprised of the upper and lower jaws. You’ll pay close attention to the dog’s muzzle while grooming. Muzzle also is a term for a device that keeps the dog’s jaws shut and thus inhibits biting.
Stop: The stop is an indentation (sometimes nonexistent) between the muzzle and the braincase or forehead
Forehead (braincase): The forehead is the portion of the head that’s similar to your own forehead; it goes from the back point of the skull (occiput) to the stop and eyebrows.
Occiput (point of skull): The occiput is simply the highest point of the skull at the back of the head and a prominent feature on some dogs.
Ears: It’s pretty obvious what these are, but different dogs have different types of ear carriage. Among the several types are
• Pricked: Pricked ears are upright.
• Dropped: Dropped ears hang down. Dogs with this kind of ears need more care for their ears because they’re more prone to getting infections than dogs with pricked ears.
• Button: Button ears have a fold in them. Button ears, like dropped ears, may need more care because they’re more prone to getting infections than pricked ears.
• Cropped: Cropped ears are surgically altered. You need to clean your dog’s ears and check for problems like ear mites. You likewise want to check frequently behind the ears for knots and tangles that form.
Eyes: Again, the eyes are a pretty obvious part of the anatomy, but a multitude of descriptions deal with a dog’s eye color and shape. Most are self-explanatory. You may be cleaning tear stains beneath the eyes if you have a breed that’s prone to that condition.
Eyebrows: Like humans, dogs have eyebrows, or simply brows.
Whiskers: Dogs have whiskers that provide some sensory feeling. They sometimes are trimmed to provide a clean look for the muzzle.
Flews (lips): Flews is just a fancy word for a dog’s lips. You’ll be touching them a lot when you brush your dog’s teeth.
Cheek: The skin along the sides of the muzzle is what cheeks are to a dog. Dog cheeks are in a position similar to where your own cheeks are.
Neck and shoulders
Parts of the neck and shoulders include the
Nape: The nape of the neck is where the neck joins the base of the skull in the back of the head. If you’re clipping around the neck, you’ll quite often need to locate the nape.
Throat: Like your own throat, the dog’s throat is beneath the jaws. It’s tender, and many dogs don’t like their throats handled roughly. Be mindful when brushing or clipping.
Crest: The crest starts at the nape and ends at the withers
Neck: The neck is pretty self-explanatory; in dogs, it runs from the head to the shoulders. Shoulder: The shoulder is the top section of the foreleg from the withers to the elbow. Withers: the withers are the top point of the shoulders, making them the highest point along the dog’s back.
Back and chest
I include the back and the chest together here, because they’re part of the dog’s torso, which includes the
Prosternum: The prosternum is the top of the sternum, a bone that ties the rib cage together. Chest: The chest is the entire rib cage of the dog.
Back: The back runs from the withers to the loins, or from the point of the shoulders to the end of the rib cage. The term back is sometimes used to describe the back and the loin.
Flank: The flank refers to the side portion of the dog between the end of the chest and the rear leg.
Abdomen (belly): The belly portion of the dog is notably the underside of the dog from the end of its rib cage to its tail. If your dog’s belly is low to the ground, you probably have to take a little extra care in making sure it stays clean.
Loin: The loin is the portion of the back between the end of the rib cage and the beginning of the pelvic bone. Forelegs and hind legs You’d think that the forelegs and hind legs of a dog would be similar, but they’re about as different as your own arms and legs.
The parts of the forelegs and hind legs include the
Upper arm: The upper arm on the foreleg is right below the shoulder and is comprised of the humerus bone, which is similar (in name anyway) to the one found in your own upper arm. It ends at the elbow.
Elbow: The elbow is the first joint in the dog’s leg that’s located just below the chest on the back of the foreleg. It’s like your elbow.
Forearm: The long bone that runs after the elbow on the foreleg is the forearm. Like your arms, it’s comprised of the ulna and radius. The forearm may have feathering on the back of the arm that tends to pick up burrs and other foreign objects; it can also mat and tangle.
Wrist: The wrist is the lower joint below the elbow on the foreleg. This joint bears as much as 90 percent of the dog’s weight when he’s jumping or doing other athletic feats.
Pastern (front and rear): Sometimes called the carpals, pasterns are equivalent to the bones in your hands and feet (not counting fingers and toes). Like the wrists, pasterns are weight-bearing bones (especially the front ones) that are subject to many of the injuries suffered by sports dogs.
Foot or paw (forefoot or hind foot): Try just standing on your toes or fingers, and you get an idea of what dogs do their entire lives. The foot or paw has nails (sometimes called claws), paw pads, and usually dewclaws. Most dogs have larger forefeet than hind feet. Among the many descriptions for the shape of the dog’s foot are
• Splayed: A dog with splayed feet has toes that are in a splayed or wide position when the dog steps down.
• Hare: Hare feet have middle two toes jutting out farther than the outer two toes, making the dog’s foot look like a rabbit’s foot.
• Snowshoe: Snowshoe feet are round and compact with heavy webbing between the toes and plenty of fur. Snowshoe feet are often seen in northern breeds like Samoyeds and Siberian Huskies.
Toes: The toes of a dog are the equivalent of fingers and toes of your hands and feet. Although a dog’s toes don’t wiggle too much, dogs can move them in a stretch motion or even curl them up. You occasionally have to trim the hair between the pads of the toes.
Dewclaws: Dewclaws are vestiges of thumbs on your dog. Because dogs never figured out the opposable thumbs concept, their thumbs, if you will, have become more or less useless appendages. Some dogs are not even born with them, and many are born with only front dewclaws. Some breeders elect to remove dewclaws when their puppies are a few days old, but some standards require intact dewclaws or even double dewclaws (two dewclaws on each foot — as if you had two thumbs). Dewclaws, like the other toenails, grow. Some dog owners swear they grow faster than the other nails. Because they get no wear from walking, they need to be clipped to prevent them from growing into the pad or breaking off.
Nails: The toenails or claws on the end of each toe are actually incorporated with part of the last bone of the toes. You need to trim toenails about once a week.
Pads: On the underside of the foot are several pads, including one main pad (communal pad) and a pad under each toe, for a total of five pads. If you look at the back of the foreleg, you can find stopper pads behind the wrist. Six pads are found on the forelegs and five on the back unless your dog has more than one dewclaw per front leg, and then there may be pads associated with them.
Upper thigh: The part of the dog’s leg situated above the knee, or stifle, on the hind leg is the upper thigh. It corresponds to that portion of the leg where the femur is in humans.
Stifle (knee): The stifle is the joint that corresponds to the knee in humans. It sits on the front of the hind leg in line with abdomen.
Lower thigh: The lower thigh is the portion of hind leg situated beneath the stifle (knee); it extends to the hock joint (see next bullet). It runs along the fibula and tibia bones in the dog’s leg. Some dogs have feathering along the back of their lower thighs and hocks, so it’s important to make sure the feathering is groomed properly and kept free of mats.
Hock: This oddly shaped joint makes a sharp angle at the back of the dog’s legs. It corresponds with your ankle.
Rear and tail
The tail makes up the end of the dog and the parts that make up your dog’s rear end include the:
Rump (or croup): This part of the dog is the proverbial rear end; it’s where the pelvis bone is. You need to use care in grooming this section because it’s tender. Fluffy hairs often found behind the rump under the tail tend to attract plenty of knots, tangles, and other nasties.
Tail set: The tail set is where the tail attaches to the rump. Some dogs have high tail sets, others have low ones.
Tail: Everyone recognizes the dog’s tail (or its absence). It’s usually wagging at you. The tail is a great place for picking up burrs, prickly stuff, mats, and tangles, especially if the tail fur is long. Special care is needed to keep the tail looking great.