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Spanning Terriers

Credit with permission for the following goes to Liz McKinney  www.prt-jrt.com

Parson Russell/Jack Russell Terrier Spanning Guide

One of the most important attributes of a Jack Russell Terrier is his spannable, flexible chest. Equally important is the shape of his chest. It is this small, compressible, properly shaped chest that allows him to enter and move in the ground. It is this singular characteristic of a spannable, flexible chest that sets him apart from the other terrier breeds and insures that he will be able to function as an earthworking terrier today as he did historically. In other words, it keeps him true to his roots.



Elliptical Chest Shape
Correct in this breed
Barrel ribbed or round
Slab sided chest

The proper chest shape for the Jack Russell Terrier is elliptical in shape. The elliptical shape allows for compression but is NOT a deep chest.

A slab sided dog, or a dog with a flatter rib cage, is a chest that is deeper at the sternum which is the midpoint of the bottom of the chest. Although the slab sided chest is more flexible and compressible than the barrel ribbed chest, the increased distance from the point of withers to the sternum makes it increasingly difficult for the terrier to maneuver in the earth and will SEVERELY restrict where he can go in the earth. Sight hounds are slab sided or flat in the rib cage to allow maximum lung capacity and maximum intake of oxygen while the dog runs long distances. The Jack Russell Terrier is NOT required to run long distances. His chest shape is indicative of where he has to fit in the earth. If you see a terrier with a noticeable tuck up then you are looking at a too deep, slab sided, incorrect chest.

The breed standard calls for SLIGHT to MODERATE tuckup. A dog with a slab sided chest (flatter rib cage) will by design have a deeper tuck up because of the greater depth of chest. A dog that is barrel ribbed will have no tuckup because the rib cage is circular. A dog with an elliptical chest will generally have a slight to moderate tuck up.

Note: This breed must have well-sprung ribs that extend well back. Well-sprung designates that the ribs cage is not flat. A flat, deep ribcage is incorrect in this breed.

How to Properly Span

The litmus test of whether or not a terrier can enter the ground is how he spans.

This terrier MUST be able to be spanned behind the shoulders by an average man’s hands.

Follow the steps below to properly span a Jack Russell Terrier

  1. Turn the dog so his head is facing away from you.
  2. Grasp him gently just behind the front legs, lifting his front end off of the ground but always leaving his back legs on the ground.
  3. Make sure that your middle finger tips touch underneath the dog's sternum. Do NOT overlap your middle fingers underneath the dog’s chest. They should only touch.
  4. Check to see if your thumbs meet or overlap. It is EXTREMELY important to visually use your thumbs as a guide, rather than trying to remember where your middle fingers meet or overlap. In this way you can compare the chest size of each terrier that you span.
  5. Compress slightly. You are checking the flexibility/compressibility of the chest. Remember that a young dog should be more flexible and an older adult, particularly a veteran, will have a harder chest by virtue of his age. Like humans, dogs' bones do become more inflexible with age. Bitches that have had one or more litters will, in most cases, have a less compressible chest. It is recommended that a judge ask the age of each dog and factor that into the judging equation.
  6. Feel the SHAPE of the chest to determine whether it is the proper, elliptical shape, or an improper slab sided or barrel ribbed chest.
Spanning: A foreign concept

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion among non Jack Russell Terrier breeders as to what is the “average man’s hands” and correspondingly, what is and is not considered to be spannable. Hand sizes vary from person to person just as the shape and size of terriers’ chests vary from terrier to terrier. Every person is going to experience a different span on a terrier depending on his or her individual hand size. After you have spanned hundreds of terriers, you will begin to understand what is and is not considered to be spannable without giving it a second thought.

Until spanning and relative chest size become second nature, we offer some relative comparisons to guide you in both how to span and in how to interpret and use the result of spanning into the judging equation.


© 2004, Liz McKinney.
You are welcome to use this material for educational, non-profit purposes, but you must ask and receive written permission from the author to use contents. The material must be used WITH proper acknowledgment of its source including the URL for this website, and the name of the author of this document.

Many thanks to Donna Motter for her help with photos and her support in putting this spanning guide together. Donna was a true terrier woman, worked her terriers in the hunt field and encouraged others to do the same.

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