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Assessing & Judging An English Setter Dog

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Published on
Monday 15 February 2016
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
Assessing & Judging An English Setter Dog
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As a breed specialist and judge awarding Challenge Certificates in the breed, my first objective is to ascertain soundness and fitness for purpose. I would like to explain how I personally assess the qualities and construction of an English Setter in the show ring.

First Contact With The English Setters

As the class enters the show ring there is a moment to view the dogs free from the handler’s control. Often at this point, one or two dogs stand out as their attitude is electric. The dogs are then stacked by their handlers around the ring and I am able to view their profile and outline.

Asking the dogs to circle the ring once or twice depending on the room available gives a chance for the dogs to move and then settle. It is often at this point that one or two dogs make the hair at the back of my neck stand up. A special moment and these dogs are noted for further assessment.

Individual Assessment Of The Dogs

It is now time for the class to rest and individual dogs are brought to me. I assess their make and balance and then proceed to the dog’s head, take it in my hands, check the teeth for correct bite and dentition, depth of stop, the balance of head proportions, the correctness of expression, and the shape of the eyes.

Over coarseness of scull, snipey foreface, or round, staring eyes are not accepted or required in a dog whose expression should be soft and melting. A level mouth is sometimes found, which is now deemed faulty and a complete scissor bight is required. However in an otherwise superb dog, I would not penalize it too much and exclude it from the line up on this fault alone, as for many years, a level mouth was stated in the breed standard and the occasional one crops up in a litter however hard it is tried to breed it out. A dog’s bite can alter at all ages up to about a year as the jaws grow at different rates and often a puppy is sold because of this, as a pet, however, I have never seen a wry mouth come right.

Back to the show ring.

Still, with the head in my hands, I gently rock the dogs from side to side, watching the elbows which, if not tightly set will pop out. From the head, I next slide my hand down the top of the neck until my fingers reach the two bones at the top of the withers above the shoulder blades. With my fingers between the two bones, I then look directly down to the ground and if the perpendicular line is behind the front leg, the shoulder is oblique and well set. If the line is on the leg or in front of it, the shoulder is by degrees, more upright I then give a little push on the side of the shoulder to double-check the tightness of the elbows.


Now picking up a foreleg, and letting it drop to a natural position will indicate a good straight, or not so straight front. At this stage, the shape of the foot and correct pastern angulation is noted.

My hands then assess the spring and depth of the ribs and the length. With my thumb on the last rib, I then stretch my hand measuring the length of the loin to see if the dog is short or long cast. Often a long loin is associated with an upright shoulder. Light pressure on the croup then tells me of the strength of the quarters.

I then assess the rear end of the dog, looking for straightness of the hocks, spine, tail set, and two descended testicles. A forward glance along the length of the dog confirms the spring of rib and a feel of the coat completes my opinion of conformation.

Time To View The Dog In Movement

If a dog is not built correctly, it will not move correctly. Each foot must track up well, the hindfoot being placed almost in the footfall of the front one. An overlong hind leg, often caused by a straight shoulder, means that the front foot has to move aside to avoid being hit by the rear. Loose shoulders cause the dog to pin or dish.

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A powerful drive from the rear end is essential and the dog’s hind legs should reach well forward under the body. Dogs which in my terms just “tiddle” along, are not good movers and have a “can’t be bothered” attitude.

I ask the handler to move the dog at a steady pace in a triangle so that I can view the dog’s movement from behind, sideways, and coming towards me, possibly followed by an away and back or, if pressed for time, a circle of the ring to join the rear of the class.

When all the dogs have been gone over and stacked for their final assessment, I check each dog down the line to refresh my memory of good points or faults and then place them in order of merit as I see fit.

Judges Are Different, Judgements Too

Each judge has a picture in their mind of what they require of an English Setter and penalizes different faults to a greater or lesser degree. My big grouse as you will probably realize by now is shoulder placement as I believe all else hangs on this structure.

For me, the furnishings of the dog complete the picture and lend beauty and flashiness to the exhibit, but only hands can feel the build and shape under an often excessive coat.

It is important for a judge to give each exhibit their undivided attention and judge as fairly as they can. The exhibitor has honored the judge with an entry that is expensive and, when added to the cost of fuel and a day out, is a compliment to their trust of knowledge.

A fair crack of the whip is deserved. One cannot please all the people all the time, but fairness, knowledge, and honesty should be achieved.

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