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The Laverack Setter / The Original English Setter Was a Hunting Dog

The Laveracks, Like All Early Setters, Were Serious Hunting Dogs

For hundreds of years the various setter strains of the British Isles were bred to find and point birds for the hunter. Because Edward Laverack’s strain excelled in these abilities, and in beauty, crosses with them became the foundation of the modern English setter.

Everything changed when shows and field trials were invented in the mid 1800s and breeders shifted their focus to winning in competition. Field trial dogs became more and more specialized for style and other qualities that can be seen and judged in a trial. Shows became dominated by people (and their dogs) who may or may not have ever even hunted. Over time these factions have drifted further and further away from the original purpose of the breed.

By the early 1900s there was a strong contingent of American hunters who didn’t care about competition. They wanted English setters that were good hunting dogs. They appreciated the looks and personality of the setter, but also wanted a dog that went out and just did the job for them. This is where George Ryman entered the picture.

So Did Ryman Really Develop a New Type to Meet This Demand?

Well, yes. And no.

How you answer this question depends on your perspective. At a time when setters were drifting away from their original purpose – producing birds for the gun – Ryman abandoned competition and focused on breeding dogs that excelled at consistently handling birds for hunters. They did so instinctively and intuitively, with little or no training, and at an early age. So from the perspective of bird hunters of the time, yes this was a new type specialized for hunting.

However looking at this question from a historical perspective what Ryman actually did was restore the original abilities English setters possessed before the advent of competition. So no, he didn’t so much invent a new type as reinvent the wheel.

Bred To Hunt

Emphasis on competition necessarily changed the dogs’ performance so some of those original characteristics, some of which were very much undesirable for the new purposes, began to disappear. By ignoring competition (he bitterly complained about the quality of show and field trial dogs) in favor of selecting for hunting ability, Ryman was successful in restoring the original hunting abilities of the English setter.

Let’s take a closer look. Ryman bragged that his dogs were early developing natural bird finders that didn’t need much “commanding”. He wrote of his customers “in a few days of shooting on birds, a season’s work, they have a better dog on game than any dog they have ever saw with three seasons’ experience“. When we originally read this we thought it was just hype because we lacked the experience and knowledge to understand what he was saying. In reality, this is exactly what an English setter was supposed to do because it’s what English setters were originally bred to do.

By way of illustration, in his book The Setter (1872, Chapter 7, page 38) Edward Laverack wrote “I have frequently shot over setters at nine and eleven months old, as steady as need be…” then “My breed hunt, range, point, and back intuitively at six months, and require comparatively little or no breaking.” Sound familiar? It’s pretty much what Ryman said about his dogs 80 years later. Laverack also stressed, over and over, the importance of endurance and the ability to hold up in many different types of terrain – not for an hour or two but all day for days on end – so it should be no surprise to see dogs like this depicted in his book.

The illustrations included here are of “Laveracks” from The Setter. Because they were bred for endurance they had appropriate conformation for a hunting dog. Contrast that with these setters from a recent Westminster show.

Modern Show Dogs
Modern Show Dogs

While the name “Laverack” is often considered synonymous with show dogs, the modern show English setter is a far cry from the dogs Laverack was producing in the 1800s.

Not by coincidence, today’s Ryman-type breeders are producing English setters very much like those of George Ryman and Edward Laverack – English setters that conform to the original intent and abilities of the breed. These abilities are maintained in hunting lines by breeders who understand and focus on them. Otherwise they are inevitably lost.


  1. Bill Ingraham

    Your book indicates some outcrossing to bring some show confirmation into Ryman’s breeding program—is that correct??

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      October Setters

      Hi Bill. I would put it differently than that. Rather than developing a line that he outcrossed from, Ryman was constantly crossing various lines and types, and he used any that would produce what he was looking for. Plus you can’t relate today’s competition setters to the ones he used. Some of the show dogs he used were “Laverack” types, some were field trial/Llewellins, and some were crosses between the two. And although there were extremes among both the field trial and show dogs, most had similar body conformation that was still generally in line with the Laveracks.

      When I say conformation here I’m not talking about the head. From the neck down the dogs in Ryman’s sales brochures were closest in conformation to the field trial lines he used, so it might be the opposite of what you’re thinking- he used field trial dogs to improve conformation for hunting. However, the show lines he had weren’t drastically different until the late 1930s (which he corrected with the Sport’s Peerless cross). The show dogs really began to diverge from hunting conformation after the field faction in the breed lost all influence on the show standard in 1931. Ryman stopped adding any new show lines in the mid 40s, and it was after this that he complained about their structure and field abilities.

      So from the neck down, if you look at Laveracks, most early show dogs, most early field trial dogs, Rymans, and today’s true Ryman-types, they all have a similar type of body conformation that gives them agility and endurance for hunting.


  2. Gary Bagnall

    Hi Folks,
    I am with the Museum of Aquarium & Pet History (, and we just received an antique dog license for the City of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1884.
    This license is for a “Lavrich” (sp?) Setter and I am wondering if there is such a dog or if this was a misspelling for the Laverack Terrerier(?)

    • Avatar photo
      October Setters

      There has never been any type of setter referred to as “Lavrich”, so if the dog was a setter I would say that’s a misspelling of “Laverack”. If so, it would have been registered as an English setter, which would actually be the correct breed. The 1880s was during the era of early imports of the Laverack type of English setter, including some that were descended directly from the Laverack kennel. Edward Laverack developed the strain before there were any registries or official breeds, and people sometimes still referred to the strain rather than the breed recognized by the registries.

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