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  • Writer's pictureDennis Hammett

Do you have a shoulder to cry on?

“His gait should be fast, long, smooth and graceful. Some dogs are inclined to pound or labor when running. Others have short choppy gaits. This is not only unattractive, but these dogs seldom have endurance of the smooth gaited dog.”

Robert Wehle “Wing and Shot” 1964.

Conformation is a combination of continuous characteristics that can assume any value between two phenotypic extremes. The importance of having correct conformation in sporting dogs is manifold. First, it is necessary for endurance and stamina in dogs that are required to run miles in rugged county, travel through heavy cover, many times in steep rough terrain.

Second is soundness and durability. Leg and foot injuries are much more common in individuals with poor conformation. Many times when ligaments are torn or pads ripped off a foot we just accept it as incidental to the sport, but it is in many cases it is from a poor conformational breeding.

Frequently overlooked, is the shoulder. The front legs are the shock absorbers of the running stride. The importance can not be overstated, yet most shooting dog handlers/breeders are unaware of its significance. But, horsemen are well aware of the importance of a well-sloped shoulder because it determines if a horse will have a smooth gait. If you spend much time on a straight shouldered, rough gaited horse you soon feel the importance of a correct shoulder!

Competent bird dog handlers observe and take note of a “light footed” field dog. And its a requirement at our kennel. No heavy footed setter with incorrect shoulders will be bred at our kennel. It’s too important.

The shoulder slope is also the determination of stride length. The more slope to the shoulder, the longer the stride. A long stride length produces both speed and efficiency. A dog with a longer stride needs less oxygen to sustain a running pace, is able to sustain faster speeds and as a result get less fatigued. Race horse people have long been aware of the importance of stride length. Secretariat’s length of stride was almost 25 feet and the legendary Man o’War had an incredible 28 feet stride. Great race horses have a long smooth and balanced stride largely because they have optimal shoulder conformation for an efficient gait.

So i’ll end my discussion with a quote from the greatest of the British breeders:

“The shoulder I consider one of the most important parts of the setter. They should be well set back, or very oblique, the more the better-upright shoulders are very objectionable.”Edward Laverack. “The Setter Setter”, (1872).

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