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Dog anatomy – What does the dog look like?


It is estimated that there are between 500-600 different dog breeds in the whole world. It is therefore not surprising that dogs can look very different. They can, for example, be of varying sizes, physiques and fur types.

The dog’s appearance often depends on where in the world it comes from. Just like humans, the dog has adapted to the type of environment it lives in. How the breed has been raised and what it has been used for throughout history also plays a big role in how the dog’s anatomy looks and what personality it has today.

The Golden Retriever was bred to be a combined hunting dog and companion dog and still has these characteristics today. It is calm and loyal, has strong retrieving instincts and a thick coat to cope with tough and wet weather conditions, which was necessary in bird hunting.

The Lhasa apso, on the other hand, is a much smaller dog, but with much greater guarding instincts. This tough little crab was used as a guard dog in the past. As it originates in Tibet, it has very long and thick fur, even on the face. This is to protect against the tough and snowy climate.

Dog anatomy can thus have big differences between dog breeds, but they also have a lot in common with each other.

Below you can see some of the common characteristics that can be found in all dog breeds:

The body structure of the dog

Different variants of the dog’s attributes

All dogs thus share many similar attributes such as ears, fur and muzzle. However, this does not mean that all these characteristics look identical in the different breeds, on the contrary. Below we explain different variants of the most important features, namely head shape and ear and coat type.

Head shapes

There are mainly three different variations on how the dog’s head is shaped. These are called mesaticephalic, dolichocephalic and brachycephalic heads.

These are divided using the so-called cephalic index. For those of you who are not familiar with the cephalic index from before, this is a record of the ratio between the maximum width and maximum length of the skull.

Mesaticephalic head shape

This is the most common variant. We would describe this head shape as the type of look we most associate a dog with.

Width and width of the skull are here medium and the most proportional in relation to each other of all three main forms.

Common dog breeds with a mesaticephalic head include the Golden Retriever, Rottweiler, Dalmatian and St Bernard.

Dolichocephalic head shape

Dogs with a dolichocephalic head have a narrow head with a long and narrow nose. The length is often as much as 75-80% longer than the width.

Famous dogs with this long narrow head shape include the Italian Greyhound and Welsh Terrier.

Brachycephalic head shape

The brachycephalic head is much wider than it is long. In fact, it is as much as 80% wider than the length at the very least.

Some dog breeds with extra large differences in proportions, such as the pug, are even classified as extremely brachycephalic.

Other common dog breeds with this head shape are bulldogs and pit bulls.

Dogs with brachycephalic heads have long been a hotly debated topic as many consider them to be torture breeds. It is believed that they are bred for a life of torture because this head shape often leads to severe respiratory problems.

From left: mesaticephalic head shape, dolichocephalic head shape and brachycephalic head shape


A certain ear shape is often strongly associated with a particular dog group. Bloodhounds, for example, are easily recognized by their very long and drooping ears.

The shape of the ears is therefore very decisive for the appearance of a dog breed and is always described very precisely and clearly in the breed standard.

Just like the head shapes, the ear types are also divided into three main categories. These categories are upright ears, hanging ears, and semi-hanging ears.

Upright ears

This ear shape is preserved from the wolf and is the most common in dogs. The ears are set high on the head and stand upright, pointing straight up or leaning slightly forward.

They can be very pointed or more soft in shape, like a flame. Dogs with erect ears are often seen following the sound by angling them to see where it is coming from.

Common dogs with erect ears are the Chihuahua, Siberian Husky and German Shepherd.

Half hanging ears

So what does half-hanging ears mean? Well, this type of ears stand straight up and then fold down. This forms a small hanging ear flap that covers the inner ear.

These ears were bred among dogs that hunted vermin in tunnels. That way they could still hear very well while the flap protected against dirt and insects.

Some of the most common dogs with this type of ears are Jack Russel and Australian Shepherd.

Hanging ears

Dogs with this ear type have ears that hang down from the side of the head. This is a trait often associated with hunting dogs and bloodhounds, but many of our most family-friendly breeds also have this type of ear.

The ears can be quite long and pendulous as in bloodhounds and cocker spaniels or slightly shorter as in hunting Labradors and golden retrievers. The loosely hanging ears give the dog a slightly softer and kinder impression and are a very popular character trait of many family dogs.

Different types of fur

Dogs come in many different shapes and sizes, with a wide range of different coats. Just like the wolf, dogs usually have a double coat consisting of thick and soft undercoat and a covering and slightly rougher coat.

There are also many dog ​​breeds that have no undercoat at all and rely on their dense outer coat to keep them warm. There are also dog breeds that have practically no fur at all. These dogs can be more sensitive to cold and they may need to be kept indoors a lot and dressed in warm clothes during the cold winter months.

It is not only the thickness of the fur that varies, but also the appearance. Below you will find the most common variants:

  • Smooth/Short Haired: Two very similar fur types. Both are short-haired and smooth, but the short-haired coat often has plenty of both undercoat and topcoat and often requires liters of more care. The smooth-haired coat is available both with and without undercoat.
  • Rough coat: A coat that is naturally rough and rough. The hair on the back is usually coarsest, while the hair on the legs is softer. This type of fur needs trimming, but usually does not shed very much.
  • Long-haired coat: A longer and wavy coat. The coat can vary in texture and can be anything from soft and long to rough and curly. Even the hair on the face can be long and in some breeds falls like a curtain over the eyes. This type of coat needs regular grooming to prevent it from becoming matted and tired.
  • Curly coat: A coat that is naturally curly or wavy. The curls can be tight or loose and the fur can be either short or long. This type of fur does not shed, but needs regular grooming to maintain its fine curls and shine.
  • Laced fur: A fur that forms long strings as it grows. Many people think that this coat requires extensive coat care, but on the contrary, this coat is very easy to care for and only needs to be brushed through with your fingers from time to time.


The dog’s structure and appearance have many common factors for all the hundreds of different dog breeds that exist in the world. There are also many distinct differences that make each breed unique.

One of the most notable differences is the type of coat each dog has, but head shape and ear type also make big characterizing differences.

Each breed thus has its own charm and distinctive character even if the basic anatomy is the same.

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