What About Elbows?

Is Elbow Dysplasia a concern in the Ryman-type setter? Although Hip Dysplasia (HD) is the most well known inherited health problem in English setters, it certainly is not the only serious disease we need to guard against, and Elbow Dysplasia is a prime example. Much of what we will discuss in our continuing series of articles on HD will also apply to Elbow Dysplasia (ED), so lets take a look at elbows before going on.

The OFA reports an incidence of about 15% Elbow Dysplasia in English setters. We don’t know exactly how Ryman-type setters compare to the breed as a whole, but we know that ED does occur.

What is Elbow Dysplasia?

A dog diagnosed with Elbow Dysplasia will have one or more of three abnormalities within the elbow joint:

  • FCP-Fragmented medial coronoid of the ulna
  • OCD-Osteochondritis of the medial condyle of the humerus
  • UAP-Ununited anconeal process of the ulna

These defects cause secondary arthritis and/or instability in the elbow joint. They are polygenic traits that are inherited independently from each other. RymanSetters.com member Walt Cottrell, DVM, wrote a summary of the conditions here:
English Setter Health Testing
You can also read more in-depth info provided by the OFA:
Elbow Dysplasia
Read more about Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow Dysplasia tends to be a more serious disease for the dog, and for the owner, than Hip Dysplasia typically is.

Compared to HD, Elbow Dysplasia:
  • is more likely to have an early onset of signs; most clinically effected dogs are diagnosed by 18 months.
  • is more likely to cause debilitating, intractable arthritis and pain, and is expensive to try to manage. In its milder forms it can also remain undetected.
  • is more difficult to diagnose.
  • has a somewhat higher heritability estimate in most populations studied.

The higher heritability estimate is an important consideration.

Do not misconstrue this to mean that the disease is more “inherited”. Both Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia are inherited diseases. We will go over heritability estimates and how they are used in a separate post. For now here is the main thing to understand regarding this discussion:

When selecting for or against polygenic traits like HD and ED, heritability estimates tell a breeder how much importance must be placed on the status of a potential breeding dog’s relatives. The lower the heritability estimate is, the more important the relatives become. Counterintuitively, if a trait has a low heritability estimate the status of a dog’s relatives can be an even better window into the genes a dog is carrying than the dog’s own status is. With higher heritability however, the relatives are less important.

Because heritability estimates are higher for ED, selecting an individual dog with normal elbows may help reduce the incidence more effectively than it does with HD. On the flip side, if a breeder uses a dog that has ED, its offspring are more likely to be affected by the disease. As with HD, breeding a dog with an unknown case has the potential to cause significant damage by spreading the genes before the problem is recognized. Plus, studies show that as the incidence increases, the severity of the cases goes up as well1,2. Using dogs that have ED, or have never been evaluated, is a significant risk to any breeding program.

Elbow Dysplasia in Real Life

To illustrate the impact ED can have, we asked RymanSetters.com breeder members Legh and Jenn Higgins of Twombly Setters to share their personal experiences with Elbow Dysplasia. Their story should give pause to anyone who is considering breeding, or buying a puppy out of, a dog that hasn’t had its elbows evaluated as normal by the OFA.

“Personal Experience with ED

30 years ago, we trained and trialed Labradors. Our dogs trialed and were hunted hard, 50+ days of hunting alone for several years. Back then hips were x-rayed and rated by the OFA, but not elbows. We purchased a male pup from a “responsible breeder” and at 7 months he was crippled with what we learned was Elbow Dysplasia. He had very expensive surgery and had a recovery time of at least 6 months, in a crate and not training, learning working or hunting. His joint problems never got better, only worse, and he lived with us in pain all his life, never realizing his potential as a hunting companion.

Recent Experience as Breeders

This litter would be different – sired by a dog outside our bloodlines. The male dog’s owner wanted a puppy to replace the aging dogs in his string of 4 English Setters. This gentleman had cancer and wanted to carry on his bloodlines to give to his grandchildren as a reminder of him: a noble mission, so we agreed to proceed. We drove 800 miles to see and evaluate the potential sire. First off, no OFA documentation for hips or elbows; the owner agreed to have X-rays done and evaluated by the OFA – we had plenty of time to get the results before our female would be ready for breeding.

The owner passed away, and transferred ownership of the dog to his caregiver. The time came for our female to be bred, we were told the X-rays were “all good”. I asked to see the paperwork from the OFA which was locked inside the estate home, and it became an issue to retrieve during the “Will being settled”. After looking at the OFA website and finding the hips were “Good” but there was no information about the elbows, I called the OFA and spoke with Dr. Keller. They couldn’t disclose the results of the elbows as the owner had not authorized the OFA to release the results…end of discussion. At this point we had bred the pair and really wanted to get to the bottom of this, and demanded the papers from the new owner/caretaker. Finally he retrieved them and brought the documents to us.

  • Hips: Good.
  • Elbows: Elbow Dysplasia Grade III (worst grade) Left and Right.
    Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) Left and Right.

The air left the room. This is not what we had anticipated. At this point we realized how grave a mistake it was to assume and take someone’s word that the X-rays were “all good”. We had all the upcoming pups spoken for, but after exploring all our options, we only had one course. The pregnancy was terminated and our female can no longer have pups, since the safest way to end a canine pregnancy is with a OVH, or complete hysterectomy. Telling many committed potential owners that there weren’t pups for them was difficult, but far worse for us was the loss of our best hunting female in our breeding program. We were and still are devastated.

We would like to see the OFA publish ALL results of submissions and not withhold information from people who need accurate information to make the best/most responsible choices they can. Hopefully our terrible misadventure will help someone else down the road.”

Legh and Jenn Higgins

In addition to driving home the importance of screening for ED, there are a couple more takeaways from this wrenching story:

  1. When a dog passes its final OFA evaluations the results will always be made available to the public. They can be verified by searching the OFA’s online database or by calling the OFA directly. If a dog’s results are not in the public database it was either never submitted, or it failed.
  2. Trust only OFA results that you have personally verified. From simple lies to forged OFA certificates, dishonesty regarding OFAs is all too common. It is an unfortunate fact that you must confirm OFA results via the OFA.

Obviously ED should be taken seriously and the Higgins’ experience is a wake up call for everyone interested in English setters. On the surface the fact that ED is relatively uncommon may sound like a reason to ignore the issue. However, in reality this makes an even stronger argument for screening in order to prevent Elbow Dysplasia from becoming a more significant health problem for our dogs. Our members agree that every breeding English setter should have its elbows evaluated by the OFA.


1JAVMA, 1997; 210: 215 – 221. Prevalence and inheritance of and selection for elbow arthrosis in Bernese Mountain Dogs and Rottweilers in Sweden and benefit: cost analysis of a screening and control program. Swenson L, Audell L, Hedhammar A.
2Elbow Dysplasia FAQS

Rymansetters.com Michigan Get Together

Rymansetters.com Michigan Get Together

The setting was the Historic North Branch Outing Club on the banks of the North Branch of the AuSable River in Lovells, Michigan. What started out as a thought of getting together with some out of state breeders coming to Michigan this fall for a small meeting turned into an event that exceeded all expectations. The last weekend of October brought out over 40 breeders, owners, acquaintances and 37 Ryman type setters. The ages ran from in the 80’s for Hugh Macmaster, who I call the Dean of Michigan Setters, to puppies just 3 months old.


John Nagel, who works at the Lodge in the Fly Shop and is a setter owner recommended that the lodge would be an appropriate place to hold the Get Together. What a perfect setting! Woodrow was the perfect greeter.

The activities started Friday evening with a few early arrivals who checked in at the Lodge and met up to have Setter Talk time and the Fish Fry at the Riverside Tavern. The local area has numerous tracts of public land open to hunting and a few of the attendees hit the woods Saturday morning in pursuit of grouse and woodcock despite the rainy conditions. The rain subsided in the afternoon as other breeders and owners began to arrive at the Lodge. Proprietor, Judy Fuller, welcomed all the attendees and allowed the dogs to make themselves at home.


As people arrived with their special setters, the magic began to unfold. There were no strangers, only new acquaintances, both human and canine species. By the time late afternoon rolled in there were people from Kansas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and both peninsulas of Michigan. Rymansetters.com members in attendance included Lynn Dee Galey, Chuck Robinson, Maureen Van Norman, Paul Nensewitz and Mark Altemann.

The connections that were renewed and created by these related setters made for unending conversations. The dogs were the common bond that touched all the attendees of all ages.

These Setters with their historic Ryman backgrounds moved some of the owners to bring fitting pictures from years gone by including Ribbons won by George Ryman in the early 1900’s and a cup won by Sir Roger DeCoverly that belong to John Nagel. Maureen Van Norman also brought a collage picture showing the late Joan Mizer with setters owned by her parents and herself in years past. Joan lived in Baldwin, Michigan and was a great resource for breeders as she knew the breeders and setters around the country. She bred one of her dogs to Chance from George Bird Evans Old Hemlock kennel that resulted in her favorite, Incredible Luck. She also was on a first name basis with Warren Scheckels from Pinecoble Setters. Without the efforts of these forerunners breeding efforts, we would not have had the opportunity to have this memorable event or enjoy our Setters today.

After a full afternoon of interactions with breeders, owners and canine companions, Judy served an outstanding sit-down chicken dinner in the dining area to the satisfaction of everyone.

In conclusion, this was the first attempt to convene a group like this, the turnout and response was indicative of the passion and dedication that this group has for their Ryman type setters. Hopefully it has sparked new relationships and thoughts that will provide continued energy to keep these lines of hunters and companions going strong into the future.

A big thanks to everyone who participated in the weekend festivities and to those who forwarded their pictures that were used in this article.

Sorry, the all of the pictures didn’t copy over, I will try to post them sepa

Beautiful Litter Of Ryman Type Setter Pups

Round River Outlaw Cole & Round River Bold Gem have produced a very nice, litter of puppies whelped 9-17-18  5M & 5F

Cole  (OFA Good) is a great dog, who loves to hunt. He is rock solid on his points , and is a natural in the field like his father was.

Cole’s sire is Heartland Outlaw “Jesse”

Cole’s Dam is Setter Hills “Rayne”

Gemma (OFA Excellent) is still a work in progress. Gemma is learning how much fun it is to hunt the fields. She has a strong prey drive, and wants to learn, and please you.  Both Sire & Dam should finish out this year.

Gemma’s Sire is Setter Hills “Remington”

Gemma’s Dam is Stevens Round River Babe

For more info on our dogs or puppies, please feel free to contact us at RndRiverSetters@aol.com

Meet Breeder Member: Parker Hollow English Setters, Chuck Robinson

Interview September 21, 2018 with:

Chuck Robinson, Parker Hollow English Setters, NJ

Thank you Chuck for doing this interview.  Can you tell us a little about your occupation and interests/hobbies?

I am an IT solutions architect.  I work as a consultant where I design, implement and migrate complex corporate directory and email systems.  For my work I travel about 40% of the time, traveling nationwide to our customer’s locations. My interests and hobbies are my family and kids, their sports, camping and outdoors as well as riding ATVs and occasional skiing, snowmobiling and fresh water fishing.  Recently we acquired 25 acres on a small lake in upstate NY with grouse and woodcock covers nearby. We are in the preliminary stages of designing a small cabin and a large garage where we will initially spend weekends and vacations but at some point we will live there for about half the year.  The property will be the future home of Parker Hollow English Setters, we will be building with the dogs in mind, with yards and a training area and we look forward to being close to grouse covers.

How did you come to have Ryman’s and how long have you had them? 

I started hunting as a kid, getting my license at age 10.  I spent nearly every weekend at our camp along the Delaware River with my uncle, who introduced me to the outdoors. I was always out in the woods looking for small game during the fall and winter.  At that time NJ had a decent grouse population and we would stumble across grouse and they got into my blood at that early age. Later we moved to the Catskills in upstate NY and there were grouse all around the property.  I hunted without a dog but developed a passion for grouse. I didn’t hunt much after college, but shortly after Larissa and I were married we got our first dog, a Cocker Spaniel named Dryefus. I was just getting back into hunting and tried him on birds.  Although he was not from hunting lines he worked out well and a few buddies and I decided to take a trip to NH since the grouse numbers in NJ were dwindling. After about 10 yrs. of hunting, Dryefus became a very good flushing dog and I was spending at least a week every year in NH to hunt grouse and woodcock.  During this time I started hunting with friends who had pointing breeds and I decided that my next dog was going to be one of the pointing breeds. After being around quite a few dogs of various breeds, I knew that I did not want a larger, high strung dog, instead I wanted a calmer dog that would also be good in the house. While at a local outdoors show, I happened to come across a Ryman breeder and I was immediately drawn to the Ryman type of dog.  A few years later after Dryefus passed I got my first setter Addie, who is now 11 years old, from that same breeder.   

How many dogs do you own and what is your average number of litters a year?

I have 3 dogs. When Addie was 4 years old we acquired our Belle, another Ryman-Type setter.  I also have Jersey, a 2 yr old female from Belle’s first litter. I have bred one litter so far and hope to breed a litter every 2 -3 years until I retire when I hope to breed more often.  

If you were to write a mission statement for your breeding program, what would it include?

To produce healthy, well conformed dogs that point naturally.  Dogs that can handle wild birds, especially grouse and that will hunt all day at a good pace.  I also want dogs that have temperaments that are a pleasure to have around the home and are easy to train.  I typically am able to hunt only 10-15 days/year due to work and family obligations so I want a dog that can become proficient on wild birds with that limited bird exposure.  With respect to the Ryman community we hope to gain from other breeders as well as to contribute when possible.

Where do you hunt and what is your favorite bird species to hunt?

I hunt NJ, NY, NH and recently MI. I also hunt KS when at the Ryman Breeders Gathering.  My favorite species to hunt is grouse and woodcock.

Of the species you hunt, which one do you feel is the most valuable for evaluating your dogs’ abilities, and why? 

Grouse, because they are challenging and leave little room for dogs to make mistakes such as getting too close.  I believe that birds that run and stop, over and over, are the ultimate challenge for the dog and require a dog to move cautiously without getting too close while at the same time not losing the bird.  In my eyes, to watch a dog effectively work and eventually hold a running grouse is as good as it gets.

Do you keep a journal or log of your hunts?

At times but I am not consistent, I’m certainly not as much as I would like to be.  I admire people who consistently keep a journal and hope to one day be better at keeping a journal myself.

Tell us about your training philosophy and approach to dog work on birds when hunting

I recently wrote an article for the RymanSetters.com blog which gives some insight into my abilities, methods and philosophy.  Overall, I believe less training is more with these dogs. I am a relatively inexperienced trainer. I have limited time and I also have to travel to where I can train. Because of that I believe in just teaching basic field commands, both verbal and whistle.  I teach come and a turning signal with a whistle. I introduce a dog to the gun as well as a limited number of training birds, after that I like to just take the dog hunting. I typically don’t start my dogs too young, right around 8 months old, although recently due to an upcoming trip we started Jersey and her littermate Sampson (owned by my hunting buddy) at 4 months so they would be at the point where we could take them hunting at 5 months on the trip.  At 5 months they handled fairly well in Kansas on wild quail. I believe in shooting only birds that are properly pointed and that by doing so, the dogs will learn that they cannot bust birds if they want to be rewarded.

I expect a dog to have some points during their first season but allow them to make mistakes with little to no correction.  By the second season they should start getting more reliable and I should start seeing them figuring things out and producing nice points.  By the third season and beyond they should be proficient and continue learning to handle tricky birds. From a training perspective, after the second season I am just tweaking things, but for the most part I believe that experience will teach them what they need to know.  I have yet to train a dog to be steady to wing or shot however that is my next goal with Belle and Jersey is to teach them steady to wing. The reason I feel that it is becoming a necessity is that later in the yr if I hunt a preserve or with less experienced/beginning hunters I feel that it would be safer and provide more shooting opportunity if the dog stays where they are and doesn’t chase the bird when it flushes.  

Thank you to Chuck for taking the time to do this interview.  Happy Hunting!