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A Guide to Understanding Australian Terrier Proportions

Side photo of an Australian Terrier showcasing its proportions


A Guide to Understanding Australian Terrier Proportions

The Australian Terrier is one of the smaller terrier breeds.

While Aussies are one of the shorter-legged terriers, their legs are not short in comparison to their height. They need long enough legs so that their length of stride allows them to cover ground effortlessly. Measurements made of past National Specialty Best of Breed winners, some of which were also Best in Show winners, revealed that their front legs were 50 to 60 percent of their height from the point of the withers to the ground. The ATCA Breed Standard calls for a height of 10″ to 11″ from withers to the ground.

The HEAD is long and supported by a long, strong, slightly arching NECK which arises from well laid-back shoulders. The BACK is slightly longer than its height, measured from the top of the withers to the ground. The BODY is long, with the additional length coming from well- developed forechest before the front legs, and buttocks below and behind the tail. Aussies are sturdy, medium-boned, spirited, working terriers.


Important Proportions of Correct Head Type

Measured from the occiput to the top of the stop, the flat skull is equal in length to the muzzle. The muzzle is measured from the bottom of the stop’s slope to the front of the nose. Correct proportions of the skull and muzzle are 1:1.

The head is long and strong. The jaws are powerful.

The top-skull is slightly longer than it is wide. The cheeks are smooth and clean, not prominent, coarse or heavy.

There is fill under the eyes, and width and fill between them.

Ears are small, pointed, erect, set on high and well apart.

Australian Terrier Proportions

Breed winners, some of which were also Best in Show winners, revealed that their front legs were 50 to 60 percent of their height from the point of the withers to the ground.

In the above photo of a young Aussie, the length of muzzle and top-skull are correct. The cheeks are clean, the small, dark, oval eyes are set well apart with fill between and under them. His expression: keen, alert and intelligent, is ideal. Also, observe the slight slope of the stop. The muzzle is strong with width at the front; not snipey. (An incorrect snipey muzzle is weaker, its power diminished.)

Although the ears of the young dog on the preceding page are a little large at this point, they will be less noticeable when his topknot, ruff, and apron grow longer and fill out. A small ear is most desirable; a slightly larger ear is acceptable if it is in balance with the head and body. At this young age, you can see there is width between the legs that will allow his chest to drop and fill out as he grows. This puppy illustrates the correct structural proportions of the head, even at this young age.

When looking at a mature Aussie, be aware that an abundance of coat and clever grooming can mask the lack of important elements of correct breed type. Likewise, a lack of expertise in grooming can hide the dog’s virtues. Structural features are appraised by examining—feeling as well as seeing them!

Australian Terrier Proportions

In the photo above of a mature dog’s head, the skull and muzzle are equal in length. The top-skull is flat and slightly longer than it is wide; cheeks are smooth and clean. The slight stop leads to the powerful muzzle. The chin does not recede. A soft, silky, light-colored topknot (a distinctive feature of the breed) covers the top of the skull. The head is long!

In comparison to its height, the Body is long. Its length is measured from the prosternum (the frontmost part of the forechest) to the ischium (rearmost part of the buttocks). Coat can be used to create the impression of forechest; therefore, by feeling, check that there is a forechest and not just hair giving the illusion of one. The same is true of the rear. There must be substance, not excessive hair behind and below the high-set tail. Well-developed buttocks will stop the hand from dropping directly down from the tail. Rear legs are well angulated at the stifle and hock joints. Rear pasterns are perpendicular to the ground and are well let-down (not too high or too long). Excessive muscularity or lack of muscular development are standard faults, as are cobbiness or too long in loin.

A well-developed forechest is necessary to protect the heart and lungs. From the point of the prosternum, the sternum curves down under the chest forming the keel. The well-sprung chest drops slightly below the elbows. The elbows lie close to the chest. The chest is not round or slab-sided. The shape and depth of chest are important breed characteristics.

A dog that lacks a prominent forechest may have a long body. Straight shoulders and/or too long a loin (both undesirable) can incorrectly add to length.

The length of the back is measured from the highest point of the withers to the front of the tail. Correct angulation of the scapula, length of ribbing, length of loin (short), and a tail set on high are all important elements of determining the correct length of back. A low set tail will also incorrectly increase the length of back. Remember, the back is only slightly longer than the dog is tall.

The loin is short and strong. Too long a loin will weaken the back and may affect the dog’s gait, making it bouncy rather than smooth. Too short a loin will limit its agility and its ability to move in a ground-covering stride. When measuring the loin, four fingers will fit snugly between the last rib and the hindquarters.

The prominent forechest forms a keel running down from the prosternum and curving under the chest from the prosternum to the last rib.

The dog to the left has correct angles front and rear. Its height at the withers, length of back, and length of body are in correct proportions to each other.

The head is long and strong with a slight stop. The skull and muzzle are of equal length. Jaws are powerful. The neck is long, slightly arched, strong, and flows smoothly into the shoulders. The shoulders are well laid-back and are of equal length to the upper arms. The chest extends slightly below the elbows. The prominent prosternum and sternum form a keel under the body. These distinguishing characteristics of Aussies are important, allowing them to function as an all-around worker. When judging, it is important to evaluate the whole dog!

Australian Terrier Proportions

Correct proportions and angles allow the Australian Terrier to move smoothly and effortlessly, with long-reaching front legs and hard-driving rear legs that will step into the spot the front foot has just left. These are qualities necessary for a dog to function as a herder of sheep in a vast land.

The length of the muzzle also enabled the breed to efficiently dispose of the poisonous snakes that were prevalent in the Australian Outback. The agility provided by their angles and structure gives them the ability to lure a snake forward and jump out of the way, and to come behind the head and clamp down for the kill. They are great hunters of medium-sized game. Rats are no problem, nor are groundhogs. They may not be bothered to observe a field mouse.

Aussies are fierce protectors of the home. History tells us they were used for guarding gold mines in Australia. Personal experience includes a great show dog and brave sparrer who never backed off or turned away and who held his ground in the ring during a fierce thunderstorm, and yet, was a gentle caretaker of an orphaned lamb. Australian Terriers are loving, playful, and acrobatic companions in the home.

Australian Terrier Proportions


About the Authors


Australian Terrier Proportions
Ida Ellen Weinstock

Ida Ellen Weinstock’s family acquired their first Australian Terrier (AT) in 1963 and started showing them in 1965. In early 1966, a meeting with Fred Wheatland at a dog show where Ida Ellen discussed the breed with him while he was here to promote his book (The Australian Terrier and the Australian Silky Terrier) and to judge them, led to a trip to Australia later that year. Wheatland and Frank Longmore are credited with reviving interest in Aussies in their homeland in 1939.

Ida Ellen and her sister, Alice, visited 21 AT kennels, including Taggalong, Seven Oaks, Bluebell, Tineetown, Benbullen, and Taralee. At three dog shows, they got to watch judging with Frank Longmore and another judge. These experiences, and dinner with the Wheatlands, were an incredible education in what an Aussie should be.

Dogs that Ida Ellen and her sister have bred include National and Regional Specialty winners, Group winners and placers, and from whom descend BIS winners.

Ida Ellen served on the committee to create the current AT Breed Standard, co-created The Australian Terrier: An Illustrated Clarification of the Standard with Dr. Katherine Barnes, co-produced with Jane Tenor the AT’s PowerPoint program which was used at breed seminars, served on the ATCA’s Judges Education Committee since its conception, and has been involved with Members Education. Jane Tenor and Ida Ellen have jointly written several magazine articles on the breed.

Australian Terrier Proportions
Jane Tenor

Jane Tenor is an Australian Terrier breeder, owner, and handler who has been active in the breed for 45-plus years. She is privileged to have handled two memorable dogs in the breed. Ch. Crestwood’s Crackerjack (Jack), a blue & tan, was a multiple National Specialty winner, multiple All-Breed Best in Show winner, and Best of Breed at the AKC Centennial Show. Ch. Regency Lord of Summerhill (Arnie) was the first red Australian Terrier to win an all-breed BIS in the US and, at 12 years old, won Best Veteran in Show on the ATCA National Day and Best of Opposite Sex the following day.

In 2005, Jane entered the Obedience ring with her bred-by dog, Ch. Ridgepark’s Crowned in Honor, and they went on to earn a UD and RAE title. He became the first Aussie to obtain the Rally AKC RAE title and, in 2007, he went High in Trial at the National Specialty.

Jane has served on the Board of the Australian Terrier Club of America as President for six years and as Show Chair for ATCA National Specialties. As Chair of the Judge’s Education Committee, she worked with Ida Ellen Weinstock to develop a judge’s education PowerPoint for the club’s use. She is an ATCA approved presenter and ringside mentor and is now Co-Chair of the ATCA Judge’s Education Committee. In 2015, Jane received the AKC ATCA Good Sportsmanship Award.