The domestic dog varies remarkably in limb size. Presumably, such differences in limb size stem from inequities in postnatal specific growth rate. I test this hypothesis by examining the postnatal growth of limb bones (40–250 days post-partum) in four dog breeds of dramatically different adult size; Lhasa Apso, Cocker Spaniel, Labrador Retriever and Great Dane. The results show that the limb bones of these four breeds have similar specific growth rates throughout most of postnatal development. Thus, proportionate differences in limb bone length are established during perinatal growth (0–40 days post-partum) or before birth.
Comparisons of postnatal growth in the Great Dane and two wild canids of dramatically different leg length, the Bush dog (Speothos venaticus) and the Maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) also show a near congruency of specific growth rate curves. However, despite these similarities, the adult limb proportions of small dogs and small wild canids are different. Dogs also differ from wild canids in the relative variability of gestation time. All dogs have a similar gestation period of 60–63 days which is independent of birth weight, whereas the two are directly related in wild canids. I suggest that small dogs may differ in limb proportions from small wild canids because the latter have a shorter gestation period. Thus, the relative invariability of gestation time in domestic dogs may act as a fundamental constraint on their morphologic variability.