Barrel Chested Dog Breeds Explained

If you have heard of barrel-chested dogs, but are unsure what the term represents, don’t feel alone. Fortunately, you can find everything you need to know about barrel-chested dogs here. 

Knowing if your dog is barrel-chested will help you make the right choices. Know what diet and exercise accessories fit your dog’s body type and learn how to best prevent unnecessary health conditions.  

Related: Barrel Vs. Deep Chested Dogs (Examples Included) | 16 Deep Chested Dog Breeds & Health Risks

Barrel-Chested Dog Breeds

There are small, medium, and large naturally barrel-chested dog breeds.  Some dog breeds that are not naturally barrel-chested develop a barrel chest over time due to breeding.

The Labrador Retriever is an example of a breed where barrel chests can occur. However, this chest type is not desirable for the breed type.  Depending on their genetic makeup, mixed-breed dogs can also develop barrel chests.

Yellow Labrador Retriever standing in the garden
Yellow Labrador Retriever standing in the garden.

Barrel-Chested Dog Characteristics

‘Barrel-chested’ is a fitting description, as the dog’s shape is just that – the shape of a barrel. Their rib cage is deep and wide, their chests are heavy, and their shoulders are rounded.

These dogs typically have bags of front body strength, muscle, and power. Your medium to large barrel-chested dog breeds is often bred to work as hunting or guard dogs or to fight and dig. This, of course, does not apply to your charming little barrel-chested pug.

While barrel-chested dogs are known to be tough, they also make for excellent companions.

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Barrel-Chested?

Carefully inspecting your dog’s chest, shoulders, and leg area can help you determine whether your dog is or is not barrel-chested.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the bottom of your dog’s chest area (thoracic cavity) end in line with or above the elbows of their forelegs?
  2. When examining your dog from the front, does its chest appear wide and barrel-shaped?
  3. When examining your dog from the front, do the top and bottom of the chest appear straight?
  4. Would you describe your dog’s neck as thick and their build stocky?
  5. When examining your dog from the front, do their shoulders look broad and rounded in shape?
  6. Observing your dog from the front, would you say its legs are positioned wide apart?

If you answer ‘Yes’ to the questions above, you most likely have a barrel-chested dog!

Important To Note

If your dog breed does not or should not naturally have a barrel chest, and their chest shape suddenly changes to one that resembles a barrel, I recommend having them seen by your local veterinarian.

A sudden change in chest shape could indicate a severe condition such as bloat or Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV).

A Quick List of Some Common Naturally Barrel-Chested Breeds

Still uncertain whether you have a barrel-chested dog? Look at this list of well-known barrel-chested dog breeds.

While I cannot list all barrel-chested dog breeds, this should point you in the right direction. If you would like further clarification, check with your breeder or veterinarian.

Medium / Large BreedsSmall Breeds
BoxersBoston Terriers
English BulldogsFrench Bulldogs
Keeshond / Dutch Barge DogPugs
BullmastiffsBasset Hound
Pit Bulls 
Staffordshire Terriers 
Great Pyrenees 
Saint Bernard 
Brown and white Saint Bernard standing
Brown and white Saint Bernard standing.

Health Issues To Look Out For In Barrel-Chested Dogs

The barrel-shaped chest does not predispose dog breeds to have greater health problems than other chest-shaped dog breeds.  

Larger Barrel-Chested Dogs

The only exception would be with your larger barrel-chested dogs. These dogs are known to be more prone to bloat or GDV, as their larger chest size provides additional room for their stomachs to twist and move. It is, however, rather the size of the chest cavity than the shape that increases their risk.

For example, a Bulldog is much less likely to suffer from GDV or bloat than a larger-chested Rottweiler.

Rottweiler standing on green grass
Rottweiler standing on green grass.

GDV is a life-threatening condition in dogs, and early detection is necessary for successful treatment. Visit ACVS for further details on the symptoms and treatment of this condition.

Luckily, if you own a large barrel-shaped dog, you can make the necessary dietary and exercise-related changes to help prevent the condition from developing.

Diet Considerations

All dogs have different body structures, and if their bowls cause them to have an uneven eating posture, this can predispose them to bloat. You can make certain that your dog eats comfortably and not too speedy by purchasing raised dog feeders and pairing them with slow-feeding puzzle bowls.

Fast Eating

Eating too fast and in an awkward position can increase your dog’s risk of swallowing excess air while eating and developing bloat.

Short Noses

Many barrel-chested dogs are also ‘blessed’ with short noses, making eating from a deep bowl a tricky affair. Look for slanted bowls that allow your short-nosed breeds (such as your Bulldog or Boxer) better access to their food.

I found these three excellent dog stands and bowl options that you may like to consider:

Super Design Mess Free 15 Degree Slanted Bowl for Dogs and Cats

Super Design Mess Free 15° Slope Bowl for Dogs and Cats, Tilted Angle Bulldog Bowl Pet Feeder, Non-Skid & Non-Spill, Easier to Reach Food M/1.5 Cup Cream White

This slanted bowl comes in various colors and will help reduce the risk of bloat in your dog.

Vantic Elevated Dog Bowls

Vantic Elevated Dog Bowls-Adjustable Raised Dog Bowls with Stand for Small Size Dogs and Cats,Durable Bamboo Dog Feeder with 2 Stainless Steel Bowls and Non-Slip Feet

I love how this dog bowl is adjustable and can grow with your dog from puppy to adulthood. The bowls are also slanted and made of stainless steel.

Outward Hound Fun Feeder Slo Bowl

Outward Hound Fun Feeder Slo Bowl, Slow Feeder Dog Bowl, Large/Regular, Purple

This feeding bowl comes in fun colors and puzzle shapes and will help slow feeding.  

Exercise Considerations

Have you ever tried fitting a harness on your barrel-shaped dog? If you have, you will know that it can be a complete nightmare.

Traditional harnesses and collars are not made with the thick-necked, stocky barrel-shaped breeds in mind.

The harness either droops hang in front of their chests or slips off. The collars are also often too tight or uncomfortable for their thick necks.


Pug puppy earing red harness sitting on a brown pillow
Pug puppy wearing a red harness sitting on a brown pillow.

Try purchasing harnesses that are customizable or adjustable. This enables you to adjust the front strap to fit their stocky chests and necks more comfortably.  Not only will this take away any uncomfortable neck pressure, but it will allow them to breathe more effortlessly while walking.

A good test is to see whether you can easily slide two fingers between the harness and your dog. Your fingers should fit snugly, but not loosely or with a struggle.

Here are three harness options that I would recommend for any barrel-chested dog:

ThinkPet No Pull Harness Breathable Sport Harness with Handle

ThinkPet No Pull Harness Breathable Sport Harness with Handle-Dog Harnesses Reflective Adjustable for Medium Large Dogs,Back/Front Clip for Easy Control S Neon Purple

Voyager Step-in Lock Pet Harness

Voyager Step-in Lock Pet Harness – All Weather Mesh, Adjustable Step in Harness for Cats and Dogs by Best Pet Supplies - Pink (Matching Trim), S (Chest: 13 - 20")

Copatchy No Pull Reflective Adjustable Dog Harness with Handle

Copatchy No Pull Reflective Adjustable Dog Harness with Handle (Medium Black)

Related: Is It OK for a Dog to Wear a Harness All Day and Night?


If you are purchasing a collar for your barrel-chested dog, consider purchasing wider, thicker collars. This will be a great deal more comfortable and will avoid too much pressure on their delicate necks. If you can find collars with soft padding, this would be favorable.

Here are two options to consider:

Joytale Reflective Dog Collar

Joytale Reflective Dog Collar,Soft Neoprene Padded Breathable Nylon Pet Collar Adjustable for Medium Dogs,Teal,M

I love this collar! Not only does it come in multiple sizes and colors, but it is padded and super soft for extra comfort.

SparklyPets Bungee Wide Dog Collar with Handle

SparklyPets Bungee Wide Dog Collar with Handle – Quick Release Thick Dog Collar for Large Dogs and Extra Soft Dog Collars for Medium Dogs (Medium (14"~19"), Blue)

This collar comes in several fun colors and has softer padding for added doggy comfort.

When To Exercise

One last piece of advice would be to try not to exercise your dog just before or after feeding them.  This has been known to trigger bloat or discomfort in several dog breeds, no matter what shape.

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