A list of Common dog terms

A list of dog terms a newcomer may hear when interacting with dog owners, breeders or at dog shows.


When a newcomer enters the world of dog shows, breed choosing, puppy picking, and ownership, he or she is often confused by the terms used to describe certain aspects of the dogs. Most are sure of one thing as they start out, that is that a dog is always a dog. They soon find out that even that maxim isn’t always correct. When looking for a puppy they will usually be told there are “papers” on the dog. This means they will receive registration papers to one of the governing kennel clubs.

Kennel Clubs

A.K.C. – The American Kennel Club is the largest governing body for breeding, registration and showing of dogs in America. Other kennel clubs in America include:
U.K.C. – The United Kennel Club
C.K.C. – The Continental Kennel Club in the U.S.A and the Canadian Kennel Club in Canada.

Dog Show Groups

Hounds – A group of twenty-two dog breeds that were developed and used for hunting by scent or sight. This group would include Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, Afghans, Borzoi, Beagle and several others.

Non-Sporting- A wide variety of multifunctional dogs that were not generally developed to be game hunters. A total of fifteen breeds make up the Non-Sporting Group including the American Eskimo Dog, Bichon Frise, Boston Terrier, Chow, Dalmatian, Standard and Miniature Poodles as well as several more.

Terriers-A large group of dogs that were originally used for hunting vermin. Known for their courage and tenacity (some would call pure stubbornness), it encompasses twenty-five breeds of dogs including the Airedale, American Staffordshire, and two versions of Fox Terriers.

Toys – A group of dogs characterized by their very small size. A few of the nineteen accepted breeds are the Chihuahua, Italian Greyhound, Maltese, Toy Poodle, Pekingese and Yorkshire Terrier.

Sporting- This group of dogs includes breeds that were originally developed for hunting or retrieving feathered game. In all there are twenty-four breeds in the sporting group. A few of the better know sporting breeds are the Brittany, Pointers, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Irish Setter, Cocker Spaniel and Weimaraner.

Herding- A group of dogs originally developed to drive livestock from one location to another. This group will include Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, the Cardigan and the Pembroke Corgis as well as eleven other breeds.

Working- These dogs were (and still are) used for pulling carts, guarding property, and for search and rescue.

Miscellaneous Class- This is an ever-changing class of breeds attempting to advance to full AKC recognition. Breeds recognized at this time are the Anatolian Shepherd, Havanese, Jack Russell Terrier, Lowchen and Spinone Italiano. As interest and numbers increase in America, these dogs will often move up into one of the established groups.

As the dog fancier begins interacting with other owners, looking at breed standards and watching judges pick their winners, he or she will often come across or hear terms that may be confusing. In fact, the newcomer may feel they have entered a foreign land and the people are speaking a lingo of dogoneese that only sounds like the English language.

Dogs- Male dogs in any breed.

Bitches-Female dogs in any breed.

Apple head – A dog that has a domed skull, which appears, rounded from all directions.

Arched toes – Strong, well knuckled-up feet in which the toes are close together. Similar to a cat’s foot.

Artificial insemination – A method of introducing a dog’s semen into a female’s vagina by artificial means. This method of breeding is becoming ever more popular and often necessary for the continuation of certain breeds.

Bait – Handlers will often us “bait” such as cooked liver, bites of cheese or wieners to get the dog to show an interested, alert look for the judge.

Bi-color- A dog whose coat is composed of two distinct colors.

Bite – This refers to how the teeth meet when a dog’s mouth is closed and usually is termed as:
1. Scissors: The back of the front top teeth close smoothly over the front of the bottom.
2. Level: The tops of both front and bottom teeth meet each other.
3. Undershot- the upper jaw is shorter than the lower and results in the top teeth lowering behind the bottom.
4. Overshot- The upper jaw is noticeably longer than the lower and results in there being a space between the back of the top teeth and fronts of the bottom.

Blue-merle – A color pattern that involves black blotches or streaks on a blue-gray background. This color can be found in Collies, Shelties as well as several other breeds.

Champion – A title awarded to a dogs that have defeated the number required to acquire the necessary fifteen points.

Choke collar – Usually a chain collar that will tighten or loosen around the dog’s neck. Often used for training, it will give a quick correction and then release as needed.

Cleft palate – Term for when the two bony parts of the hard palate fail to fuse completely and leaves a gap in the centerline. Most breeders will euthanize these types of puppies due to their difficulty or even inability to eat.

Conformation – The overall form and structure of the dog. In the Conformation classes at a dog show, the judge will examine each dog and make his decision as to which one comes closest to the breed standard.

Cow-hocked – Refers to the hocks in the rear legs. A cow-hocked dog will have hocks that turn in while causing the toes to face outward.

Crabbing- A type of movement when the dog moves his body at an angle, not straight on in the line of travel. Some will refer to this as side winding.

Cryptorchid- This is used to describe an adult male dog that hasn’t had both testicles drop. The retained testicle can often be found in the flank, the thigh or even up inside the abdomen.

Cynology – The actual study of canines

Dam-The biological mother of a dog.

Docked – A dog whose tale has been surgically shortened is said to have a “docked tale.”

Ear carriage – This term involves the visual effects of ear placement, where it sets on the skull as well as how the dog uses the ear when alert.

Feathering – Refers to the long fringe of hair that many breeds have on their ears, legs, tail or body.

Flank – The hollowed out looking area between the last rib and the hipbone.

Flat foot – When observed from the side, the foot appears flat with no arch to the toes.

Gait – The movement of a dog at various rates of speed. A judge watching the gait will be looking for patterns in the footsteps and leg movements during each speed observed.

Gestation- The period of pregnancy. In dogs, the average gestational period is sixty-three days.

Harlequin- A patched coloration of color on a white background. Usually black or gray as seen in Great Danes.

Hindquarters- The entire rear area of the dog including the pelvis, thighs, hocks, pasterns and back feet.

Hip Dysplasia – A disease that causes malformation in the canine hip joint that can lead to pain and lameness. Seen most often in larger breeds such as the German Shepherd, it is thought to be a result of heredity. There is also some evidence that suggests nutrition may aggravate the situation. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred.

Hock – The collection of bones in the rear leg that form the joint between the second thigh and the metatarsus.

Hydrocephalus-A problem often seen in the apple shaped headed breeds. Put simply, it means “water on the brain.”

Inbreeding- This involves the breeding of dogs that are closely related. Mother to son, father to daughter, grandfather to granddaughter.

Malocclusion – A malformation in the way the teeth come together (see bite).

Monorchid- A dog that has one testicle retained and one dropped into is proper position.

Muzzle- The area of the head in front of the eyes. This will include the nose, nasal bones, jaws and foreface.

Parrot mouth – A greatly overshot bite.

Pedigree-A type of family tree for dogs. It is a written record of the dog’s parents, grandparents and so forth for a minimum of three generations.

Professional handler – A person who shows dogs for a fee. Some of these handlers will keep the dogs between shows and get them into top condition; others will simply take the dog from its owner at ringside, show the dog and then return it.

Sire – The biological father of a given dog.

Stance-The way a dog stands. In a ring, handlers will often be seen moving feet into a position or “setting the dog up” in a way that enhances the dog’s overall appearance.

Withers- The area that is the highest point over the shoulders.