Menu Close

A Community Of Ryman-type Setter Enthusiasts


Re: Conformation


Whew, conformation is a huge topic but I am glad that someone has started conversations about it, thank you Chuck.  In my experience it is also a topic that can generate some widely different opinions.  Which in some venues ends up dividing the discussion participants but I hope that here it can simply serve to educate and to help each of us as we make our own breeding decisions. Personally, I don’t think there is one correct answer or standard or description.  Just like there is no perfect dog but I think it is the goal of all good breeders to produce dogs that present a whole package that is very pleasing to look at, healthy to live with, and fun to hunt.   

Oh, perhaps I should disclose something up front.  Although I have had bird dogs for 46 years (rymans for over 20 of those) and am now ‘just’ an avid hunter, I also showed dogs for more than 25 years – mostly dual bred Gordon Setters, with a good number of CH’s under my belt.  So the show ring and what it takes to win is very familiar territory.  And I’ll state right here that sadly, what happens and wins in the ring does not have a whole lot to do with the written breed standard.  My personal feeling is that if you focus too much on only one aspect of the dog – either the conformation or the performance – that you lose the beauty and function of the whole package and end up with extremes.  Which explains the exaggerated coat and topline of the show dogs as well as the exaggerated pointing style and range of the trial dogs.

When looking at the relationship between conformation and function, it is important to identify the purpose and lifestyle of the animal.   For example, wolves travel great distances in their territories – up to 50 miles a day, every day, with a long strided easy gait.  Coyotes also travel a lot.  Both are built with
narrow chests and long legs: cow-hocked rears and east-west fronts are common.  Dingos however do not travel all that much and have wider chests and bodies and
my limited understanding is that they look more true in front/rear. 

The issue of being cow-hocked in the rear and front angles has been brought up above. For some perspective about cow-hocked rears and east-west fronts, here are some photos of wolves showing some fronts and rears.  These are typical and perfectly functional for a wolf, for how they are built and how they move and function.  


Myself, I would cringe if my dog had particularly a front like these wolves…because my dog is not a wolf.  However,
 in certain working dog breeds among those who actively work them, being mildly cow-hocked is quite acceptable, even desirable.  This is from a group discussing herding dogs: “In breeds such as the Border Collie, a small amount of
inward bowing is allowed (this is called “cow-hock”) as it indicates
a greater flexibility in the rear to enable crouching.  Many Australian Shepherds have this fault as
well; it can be beneficial in working, depending on the dog’s style.  “Dogs with slight cowhocks have a
quicker gait, and find it easier to turn,” says Klarer, “but they
aren’t as pretty. ”  (

Ahh… “but they aren’t as pretty.”  Although the Border Collie is a very old breed, it was not accepted into the AKC until 1995: the working Border Collie people had long fought AKC acceptance, dreading what might happen to their breed if the show folks got hold of them.  And sure enough, in the AKC Border Collie show standard it states, ” the hocks perpendicular to the
ground ”   So in the show ring, a cow-hocked Border Collie is at fault.  Yet, wait, I thought I just read that a small amount of cow-hocked gives greater flexibility to the rear?  So here is an example of where there is a division between folks with working dogs and folks who want pretty, show dogs.  I see many Border Collies around where I now live and yeah, many (most?) are cow-hocked.  And I have seen Border Collies at shows…with heavy, fluffy coats and yep, straight hocks.

I will stop here….for now anyway….and I hope that others will chime in with their thoughts on various aspects of conformation.  


Ryman Setters Forum