Length, Shape & Topline in the Dandie Dinmont Terrier

Dandie Dinmon Terrier illustration


Because length, shape, and topline are the most misunderstood areas of our Breed Standard and, consequently, of our breed, it is where I focus most when giving our breed’s judges education presentation. I start there, I end there, and we revisit it over and over again throughout the presentation. The three are intertwined, and when judging “goes off” in our breed, this is invariably where it does; judges thinking that more is better or that any old curve in any old place or any topline at all will do. All, of course, are equally incorrect. If you do not understand length, shape, and most importantly, topline in our breed, you will be completely lost judging it.

Dandie Dinmon Terrier illustration

The height of the Dandie Dinmont Terrier is 8 to 11 inches at the top of the shoulder. Length from the TOP of the shoulder to the root of the tail is twice the height of the dog, less 1 to 2 inches, so a 10-inch Dandie should be 18 to 19 inches long. Let’s use the Skye Terrier as a comparison. The Skye Terrier Standard calls for a Skye to be twice as long as it is tall; a 10-inch dog would be 20 inches long. However, that measurement is taken from the CHEST BONE, the PROSTERNUM, not from the TOP of the shoulder as is the Dandie.

Using this as an example, the average Dandie Dinmont Terrier should be as long as the average Skye, but generally is not. And while the Skye Terrier does not have a problem maintaining its length of body, the Dandie very much does. Length is very difficult to achieve and maintain in a Dandie, and consequently, must be coveted and rewarded.

When first looking at a class of Dandie Dinmont Terriers, your immediate impression should be one of great length, and in the end, all things being equal, the longer of the two dogs must go up. I always get asked if a Dandie can be too long and the short answer is, “No, I’ve never seen it.” Now, if you have a Dandie come into your ring that is longer than the Standard calls for, that Dandie would be too long. However, as I have just said, I have never seen one and I have measured and examined hundreds of Dandies. Consequently, in a nutshell and to borrow the mantra from the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Judges’ Education presentation, “long is good, short is bad!”

Dandie Dinmont Terrier

Our Standard is very clear about what the outline and topline of a Dandie Dinmont Terrier should be, and it is as follows: “The topline is rather low at the shoulder, having a SLIGHT downward curve and a corresponding arch over the loin, with a VERY SLIGHT gradual drop from the top of the loins to the root of the tail.

The downward curve is SLIGHT, ergo, the corresponding arch over the loin is also SLIGHT, with the VERY SLIGHT drop over the croup. In looking at the drawing below from our Illustrated Standard, you will see that the degree of arch over the loin very much mirrors the degree of downward curve at the shoulder, both are SLIGHT. No exaggerated curves, no camel backs, no roaches, no swamp backs—all are seen quite often being rewarded in the ring, along with the equally egregious ski slope/stern high topline. Additionally, the rise must be over the loin, with the apex of the rise being over the center of the loin and not drifting forward towards or in the middle of the back, both of which are quite common.

The above-described toplines are not only incorrect but almost always denote weakness, not only of the topline but in other areas as well. A Dandie with a roached and/or camel back is almost always short in body and straight in front, with little to no prosternum. A Dandie with a ski slope topline is almost always straight in the rear and, of course, would not have the required very slight drop from the top of the loin to the root of the tail. And so it goes.

MBIS/MBISS/NBIS CH King’s Mtn. Angelina Ballerina - Top-Winning Bitch in Breed History
MBIS/MBISS/NBIS CH King’s Mtn. Angelina Ballerina – Top-Winning Bitch in Breed History

The correct shape of the Dandie’s body is key to correct type, and the key words used to describe it are “slight” and “curves.” But another word I like to use to describe the Dandie is “weaselly.” In every Breed Standard other than the AKC Standard, the word “weaselly” is used in the General Appearance section to describe the Dandie.

Why it was omitted from ours I don’t know, as it’s such a beautifully descriptive word when referring to our Dandie. Why? Well, what is a weasel? It is a long, low, curvy, flexible, athletic, killing machine; everything a Dandie should be. You should see all of that when looking at a Dandie. It is the correct outline and topline that are not only critical to Dandie type but also what makes those toplines flexible, supple, well-muscled, and strong, with no weakness. Remember, “No Outline, No Dandie.” Yes, we say this same thing about a number of breeds, but while there are other breeds with curvy outlines, the Dandie’s outline is unique and like no other. It should never be a mystery as to what you’re looking at when looking at a correct Dandie silhouette.

MBIS/NBIS Am. CH/Aust. GCH Hobergays Finneus Fogg - Top-Winning Dandie in Breed History
MBIS/NBIS Am. CH/Aust. GCH Hobergays Finneus Fogg – Top-Winning Dandie in Breed History

In 1951, the late Phyllis Salisbury of Salismore Dandies in the UK wrote, “The construction and mechanics of a well-made Dandie, with its short legs and long, arched and flexible body, must attain a high degree of perfection in order that the animal move with the balanced agility to carry out its work of vermin killing.

Again, one would say, well that is true of any dog bred to do a job, and yes, it is. However, I put to you that because the construction and mechanics of the Dandie are so very distinctive and unique, it is even more so in our breed. The trickle-down effect of an incorrect outline and topline are very, very real.



Are you looking for a Dandie Dinmont Terrier puppy?

The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.


Want to help rescue and re-home a Dandie Dinmont Terrier dog?

Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.


Dandie Dinmont Terrier Breed Magazine

Showsight Magazine is the only publication to offer dedicated Digital Breed Magazines for ALL recognized AKC Breeds.

Read and learn more about the smart Dandie Dinmont Terrier dog breed with articles and information in our Dandie Dinmont Terrier Dog Breed Magazine.


Dandie Dinmont Terrier Breed Magazine - Showsight


  • Unlike a lot of dog people, Sandra Pretari Hickson was not born into the dog world. Sandra purchased her first show dog, an Akita, in 1993 when in her late 20s. She exhibited the breed for many years and is now a judge. Sandra is also currently licensed to judge the Working Group (minus four low-entry breeds that she will be applying for shortly), Dandies, Dachshunds, and Otterhounds. In 1996, Sandra met Betty-Anne Stenmark and her Dandies. Little did she know that it would be the start of a long friendship and partnership. After a couple of years helping Betty-Anne with her Dandies, Sandra received her first, CH King’s Mtn. Mouse Trap, a lovely bitch who had some great wins, but more importantly, changed King’s Mtn. Dandies forever in the whelping box. The King’s Mtn. partnership had begun. In that litter was Sandra’s first All-Breed BIS winner, GCH King’s Mtn. Minnie Mouse, the top-winning owner-handled Dandie in breed history, and her first National Specialty winner, CH King’s Mtn. Stuart Little, sire to MBIS/MBISS GCHB King’s Mtn. Angelina Ballerina, the top-winning Dandie bitch in breed history with seven All-Breed Bests in Show, 10 Reserve Bests in Show, a National Specialty Best of Breed from the Veteran Class, winner of two All-Terrier Bests in Show, over 40 Group Firsts, numerous Group placements, and a Group IV at Westminster in 2015. The most remarkable thing about all of this winning is that “Angelina Ballerina” did it between the ages of 7.5 and 8.5 years, winning the National at nearly nine. She never met a dog show she didn’t like. Angelina is, by far, our most famous Dandie, but Sandra and Betty-Anne have certainly had several other Dandies of note. Most notable is MBIS/MBISS GCHB King’s Mtn. Prima Ballerina, Angelina’s daughter, the top Specialty-winning Dandie in breed history with four National Specialty wins (2016, 2017, 2018 & 2019), numerous Regional Specialty wins, and six Bests in Show. Having a mother and daughter win back-to-back Nationals and then having the daughter go on to win three more is probably Sandra’s proudest accomplishment as a breeder. “Darcy’s” sire, NBISS CH King’s Mtn. Robert the Bruce, was also a sire of note, producing 11 champions, bred sparingly, and was the 2011 National Specialty Best of Breed winner. Sandra is the former Show Chair and current Assistant Show Chair of the Del Valle Dog Club of Livermore and Skyline Dog Fanciers of San Mateo County. She is a member of the Akita Club of America, the Border Terrier Club of America, and the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club of America, holding numerous positions in the latter; Judges Education Chair, Mustard & Pepper Editor, National Specialty Show Chair, and former Board Member.

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