Spanning The Border Terrier | Border Terrier is a working Terrier. One of the primary means of evaluating whether the individual is capable of working as intended is by spanning. Spanning is the traditional method used by huntsman to see if the Terrier is capable of going-to-ground, and it is how you evaluate the shape, size, and elasticity of the ribcage. In truth, the dog cannot be judged without benefit of having been spanned.
If there is one thing that we could convey to judges about spanning, it would be that it must be done as part of your exam. Please don’t leave it out because, when you initially look at the dogs, you “think” they look like they could fit in a fox den. Spanning is a tactile exam that will provide you with a range of information about each dog in your ring. Every dog must be spanned for you to properly evaluate the shape, size, and elasticity of the ribcage, and the actual physical capacity for going-to-ground. Just as the wicket or scales require proper procedure and use, so does this all-important evaluation of the Border Terrier. Spanning is less specific or finite than a strict height or weight assessment, but it affords the opportunity to determine overall size in combination with the flexibility of rib needed to work underground quarry.
The official Parson Russell Terrier breed standard provides an excellent description of how to span a working Terrier: “To measure a terrier’s chest, span from behind, raising only the front feet from the ground, and compress gently. Directly behind the elbows is the smaller, firm part of the chest. The central part is usually larger but should feel rather elastic. Span with hands tightly behind the elbows on the forward portion of the chest. The chest must be easily spanned by average size hands. Thumbs should meet at the spine and fingers should meet under the chest. This is a significant factor and a critical part of the judging process. The dog cannot be correctly judged without this procedure.”
The Border Terrier Club of America strongly endorses this method of spanning as it is both well-described and correct. Not only is it effective, it avoids many of the glaring errors seen when spanning is done improperly; leaning over the dog, approaching the dog from the front, not lifting the dog at all (but merely placing the hands around the general area), lifting the whole dog with all four feet off the table, and the worst possible scenario, which is not bothering to make any effort to span the dog at all. Each of these examples will make true Terrier-men, Terrier-women, and breeders cringe.
Tips for Spanning
When judging at an event, the dog must be standing on the table. Breeders will often span their dogs on the ground, but at an AKC event you should conduct your exam on the table and in the same manner with each and every dog.
Standing on the side of the dog or from behind the dog and to the side, you would reach your hands around the dog from the side and place your hands around the chest. Placing your thumbs over the withers, slide your hands around the chest so that your fingers meet under the chest.
You should not lean over the head of the dog or approach the dog from the front.
Gently lift the front legs of the dog off the table as you are holding his chest, again, with thumbs over the withers and fingers supporting his chest under the elbows.
Be gentle and don’t belabor the process, but be thorough enough to get the information you need for your evaluation. Most Border Terriers are well-accustomed to being spanned but, again, your dog sense will do wonders as you convey and signal to the dog that you are going to do the exam.
It is customary to span the dog at the end of your exam, though you may do it as you go over the dog. By doing it at the end, you have gone over the dog and the handler won’t need to reset the dog, which can help to keep your ring efficient.
Try to incorporate spanning into your exam so that it naturally flows and becomes almost automatic to you and doesn’t surprise the dog. This will make your exam more consistent and thorough.
Spanning, performed correctly, yields a wealth of information. The elasticity and “give” of the ribcage of a properly structured and sized Border Terrier is evident upon spanning. The “average man’s hands” should meet, and you will feel that lovely ribcage, and the size needed to maneuver in small apertures, dens, and between rocks and tree roots. If your hands do not meet and you feel too much spring and roundness to the chest, or the ribcage is rigid or unforgiving, you will know that the dog will have a much harder time navigating in small spaces. If your hands clearly cannot span the dog, it will be much more difficult or even impossible for the dog to do the job for which it is bred. Please remember, the “average man’s hands” is an average and, in general, women have smaller hands. This is understood and it is at your discretion as to where your hands fall on the scale in terms of being average in size.
You will develop a feel for spanning. Although, initially, it can be an awkward exam to fully master, once you do (and you will with enough exposure and practice) you will appreciate this practical, common sense way to evaluate whether the Border Terrier can go-to-ground. If you would like more practice, reach out to a BTCA member breeder or, better yet, attend a specialty. You will be met with great enthusiasm, as Border Terrier breeders keenly appreciate the importance of spanning and want all judges to be familiar and comfortable with it. Spanning is not a hard and fast, “black letter” measurement, but it is one borne of generations of Terrier breeders and huntsmen as they evaluated their stock. The Border Terrier does not have a height or weight requirement and this, in part, is due to the fact that spanning can better determine the capacity of a dog to comfortably pursue underground quarry. Thus, the ability to span the dog must be part of your consideration.