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On an E-mail list a person wrote: “A Judges Study Guide refers to the first THREE thoracic vertebrae as the withers.”

Pat responded: The Judges Study Guide in not necessarily wrong.

Most of the Judges Study Group material is correct but if you notice dates on the various materials, it predates some science that has disproved some of their material. Read the essence of what the breed is and you will do better than concentrating on parts and pieces in that material. Don't lose the forest looking at the trees.

Ed and I have written a K-9 Encyclopedia of Terminology that is in negotiation with a publisher. Based on the various AKC Standards, we have 13 definitions of withers.

You would think definitions from breed to breed would be standardized. They are not. Some were based on the horse and some were based on the We Say So Corp. of Wishful Thinking. Some are very correct depending on your reference points.

We teach that the withers are from the first to the ninth thoracic vertebrae. Why? Work with me on this. I will write a word picture for those of you who do not have the anatomy charts.

If you can, go to your copy of K-9 Structure & Terminology, Miller & Gilbert, Chapter 5, Page 59. Look at the chart on Page 58. Note how the bones of the front assembly and spinal column are attached on the skeleton. The front assembly is connected to the body by muscles.

Now go to page 30 and look at that chart of the muscles. The trapezius muscle holds the shoulder blade to the dog from the first to the ninth thoracic vertebrae. This is true for all dogs and all breeds. It therefore makes sense to call that area the withers. That is what we teach at our seminars.

Now back to the skeleton on page 58. Notice that the spine or ridge on the shoulder blade points to the highest point of the shoulder. The top of the shoulder blade is lower than the tops of the vertebrae in a properly built canine. That spine almost always points to the 2nd or 3rd vertebrae. In rare occasions it points to the 1st or 4th vertebrae. I believe that is why some use that particular definition of withers.

High shoulders can be explained as follows. Notice as I already pointed out that the spires (part that sticks up above spinal column) of the vertebrae are higher than the top of the shoulder blade. So it really is not possible physically to have a high shoulder in a properly built dog.

What I believe is happening is that the front end assemblies are placed too far forward on the chest, or the chest is not properly shaped, or there is very little tone and development of the muscles so you can feel the spires and bones, or the angle of the front end assembly is more open than ideal, or a combination of those issues.This would visually give you the definition of high withers or shoulders.

You really need to get your hands on the dog and study it in order to decide what is going on.

I hope this clarifies some thinking.