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Breeding English Setters: Conformation Of The Body

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Published on
Monday 7 September 2015
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
breeding english setters
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Last month I compared the 1872 breed standard of Edward Laverack, our breed founder, with the present-day standard of The Kennel Club [GB,] concentrating on the head and neck. This time I will compare the conformation of the body.

It must be remembered that Edward Laverack selected his dogs with a view to producing a tireless bird dog which had to have a very keen game sense, be obedient, and sound.

1872 BREED STANDARD by Edward Laverack

Yeoman, English Setter
Yeoman, English Setter


The shoulders, I consider one of the most important parts of the setter. They should be well set back and very oblique, the more so the better- upright shoulders are very objectionable- the blades of them long: he should be short and level in the back. The shorter a dog is in the back- that is from the shoulder blades to where it joins the hindquarters in the back loins- the more power and strength. This formation is similar to the machinery of a steam engine- short above, and the power of stroke, spring, or leverage below; or, in other words short above and long underneath.


Chest rather wide and deep in brisket; with good round, widely sprung ribs; a narrow- chested dog can never last; not slack but deep in back ribs- that is, well ribbed up- the loin broad, slightly arched, strong and muscular.

My great object has been to obtain power and strength in the fore-quarters; not alone in depth of chest but wide through the chest as witness “Dash,” “Countess,” “Moll,” “Cora,” “Nellie,” and many others of this formation, thereby giving greater freedom for play of the heart and lungs; in fact, a close, compact, well built dog. This is what I have been endeavouring to obtain for the last fifty years- not a loose, leggy, weedy animal.

Hips well bent and ragged, the more bent the better; here is the propelling power. The fore-arm big, very muscular; the elbow well let down. Pasterns short, muscular and straight.


Very close and compact. The foot I prefer is hare, or spoon shaped one, which enables him to have free action on the pad or ball of the foot instead of the toes, which should be well protected by hair between them, and which grows as fast as it wears away.


Slack loins are fatal; dogs of such formation are not as a rule lasting. The more bent the stifles the better. The crouching attitude which the author of “the Dog” so much objects to, is in my opinion, the object to obtain, as it denotes a greater leverage or spring; the more bent the stifles, the greater the power; as; for instance, tigers, leopards, cats etc, whose attitudes are crouching, are remarkable for their easy power of springs.

[Of all the setters I have ever seen those having this formation have been the fastest and most enduring as greater the leverage the greater the stroke.] The thighs long, that is, short from hip to hock.


The tail should be set on high, in line with the back; medium length, not curled or ropy, to be slightly curved or scimitar- shaped, but with no tendency to turn upwards, the flag or feather hanging in long pendant flakes. The feather should not commence at the root but slightly below, and increase in length to the middle and then taper then gradually taper towards the end, and the hair long, bright, soft and silky, wavy but without curl.

Edward Laverack, 1872 Standard “The Setter”

Edward Laverack, 1872 Standard “The Setter”

Edward Laverack’s Comments

There are other forms of setters some like:

  1. Deep and narrow chested; as thin though as a slate or hurdle. The dogs can go very fast but for how long? I have known many of these kinds of dogs brought down to Scotland, and after the first day or two, they were perfectly useless.
  2. We have also another formation of setter which is also excellent, namely, great depth of chest, but flat-sided; it should however be accompanied with width through, to allow the heart and lungs free action

Of the two formations, I prefer the round-ribbed and deep-chested dog. In short, the formation of a setter should be that of a strongly built spaniel.

Dolly, 9 year-old English Setter
Dolly, 9-year-old English Setter



Shoulders well set back or oblique, chest deep in brisket, very good depth and width between shoulder blades, forearms straight and very muscular with rounded bone; elbows well let down close to body, pasterns short, strong and straight.


Moderate length, back short and level with good round widely sprung ribs and deep in back ribs, i.e. well ribbed up.


Loins wide, slightly arched, strong and muscular, legs well muscled including second thigh, stifles well bent and thighs long from hip to hock, hock inclining neither in nor out and well let down.


Well padded, tight, with close well arched toes protected by hair between them.


Set almost in line with back, medium length, not reaching below hock, neither curly nor ropey, slightly curved or scimitar-shaped but with no tendency to turn upwards: flag or feathers hanging in long pendant flakes. Feather commencing slightly below the root and increasing in length towards middle, then gradually tapering towards end, hair long , bright, soft and silky, wavy but not curly. Lively and slashing in movement and carried in a plane not higher than the level of the back. Free and graceful action.

2008 Breed Standard by The Kennel Club of Great Britain

2008 Breed Standard by The Kennel Club of Great Britain


We can tell by the comparison of these breed standards that Edward Laverack built his line and refined it with utmost dedication, and it is interesting to see how, over 150 years, which basics have been retained and which have been allowed to change.

My chief comment is on shoulders. Like Edward Laverack, I hate to see the upright shoulders which have become the norm in today’s English Setters. To train the eye takes years but if we continually see upright shoulders in the show ring, we cannot learn to differentiate between good and bad, and what we see becomes the accepted norm.

So many new judges today cannot recognize a straight shoulder from that which is laid back at 45% or oblique. They do not get the chance to go over enough dogs or taught the importance of the structure. Edward Laverack must be turning in his grave.

Another point of his that is a contradiction of today’s breed standard, accepted but not written, is his preference for hare feet. Today we ask for them to be round, tight, and well arched.

In my next article, I will talk about the gate or movement and explain how to recognize a well-angulated shoulder and why it matters so much to preserve this feature.

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