The View by Dan Voss

Dan voss preferredI am so pleased to welcome today’s Guest Blogger – Dan Voss, Otsego, MN who sent us this thought-provoking article about the “one size fits all” approach to the judging of all-breed field events. Thank you so much for sharing this with us Dan, and just so you know, we all hope you will continue to send us field related content – our readers do love it!

Dan Voss, Otsego MN
The view from the back of the gallery was breathtaking. The sun was low in the evening sky, casting long shadows from the horses. A slight breeze fanned the steam rising from the sweating horses. Whispers in the gallery had a sense of excitement. One of the handlers eagerly called his dog on point, quickly we rode to the find hoping not to miss a single second of this performance. The handler dismounted and casually strode to the front of the dog, the bird was flown and all was in order. The dog was sent on, and while the handler moved to the front time was called and the gallery was alive with chatter. “Who’s going to beat that?” said one. Somebody else was overheard, “I don’t know, that’s the best dog I’ve seen.” And so it goes at every field trial that I’ve had the pleasure of riding. The discussion usually centers around whose dog did the “best” job.

dan dog fieldBest. That’s quite a term. Best for what? Best for a Pointer? Best for a Gordon Setter? Or, as seems to be the case today, best for a pointing dog. There seems to be an unwritten standard by which all pointing dogs are to be judged. I’d like to quote two paragraphs from the Melting Pot, an editorial written by Craig Doherty.

‘When we get to the aesthetic values of a competitive performance there is a set of universal criteria that all seem to agree on. We admire a dog that goes to the objectives with a fast and fluid gait. We expect the dog to work to the front and have eye appeal both in motion and on point. A dog that hits its bird hard and has great style on point is going to be more impressive than a dog that slows and potters around before it finally points. We want a dog that will handle even at extreme distance. A dog that goes out on a limb and holds bird until found is also going to impress the majority. And possibly most important, we want to see the dog finish its hour going away.’

‘If this trend continues, the distinctions between the breeds will diminish to the point where the only way you can tell the difference between an Irish, Gordon or English setter will be by the color of it’s hair, while the only way you’ll be able to tell the difference between an English and German pointer will be the length of its tail. From the perspective of someone breeding show dogs, this is a serious problem – for the rest, it may just be the final step in the naturalization of the various continental breeds to becoming American dogs. Although the melting pot theory of explaining the history of the United States may be extreme suspect when it come to people, open and fair field trial competition may turn out to be a true melting pot for bird dogs.’

Dan Voss article irish n gordonIf Mr. Doherty is correct, and I believe he is, there is an unwritten standard to which all pointing dogs are judged. These unique breeds share one common feature, pointing upland birds. Isn’t it odd that unique breeds, originally bred for specific terrain, climate or working manner are all judged to the same unwritten standard? Should they be subjected to some arbitrary standard in the field that covers all pointing breeds? As an example, the Spinone Italiano recognized by the AKC in 2000, has been characterized as a dog “…that does not hunt for themselves but for their master” and is “not too fast in their speed while searching out game.” (source SCOA) While the AKC breed standard states, “He has a remarkable tendency for an extended and fast trotting gait.” Now, how will that measure up to the unwritten standard applied in an all-breed stake? Well the answer will be, it doesn’t. Should people who have Spinone’s really care if their dogs can win in all pointing breed competition? I rather think, they don’t.

Dan dog horseAre restricted breed trials the answer? Well, yes and no. Conceivably restricted breed trials face a problem, lack of dogs in the area. What does a person do if the their area of the country doesn’t have enough of “their” breed to hold a trial, or maybe there is a small group of dogs but not enough to make a major stake? In the AKC a dog needs a win in a stake that has 13 or more starters, without a major a Championship cannot be awarded. All-breed trials would then be their only venue. Yes, there will be individuals that manage to hold their own in all pointing breed competition and these very dogs, when entered in restricted breed trials, can help keep the bar high when entered in the restricted breed trial. Looking back at the Spinone example, how will they fair in all-breed competition? It’s quite possible that in an area of a larger population of dogs, enough to have Spinone only trials, dogs of lesser caliber could become Field Champions. Dogs of higher caliber in areas with smaller populations competing in all-breed trials may not be able to finish titles. The dog world is pretty fickle when it comes to breeding dogs. Most people seem unable to see the quality of the dog unless it has a title. I’m not advocating making it easier to finish Field Champions, just that in the scope of dog breeding, advances may be brought about faster by breeding to the better dogs and a restricted breed stake can identify those animals and help accomplish that goal.

Dan n dogIn a perfect world we could have competitive field trials and award Field Championships without having a “Melting Pot” effect. Is such a system conceivable? I guess it is, but I rather doubt it ever could be practical. Judges would have to be versed in each breed’s working standard and not reward dogs that trend to the unwritten standard that is in use today.

In closing, a couple of questions need to be answered.

Is the only method for breed improvement through all-breed competition or can the breed be improved through a restricted breed format?

Are there performance qualities unique to Gordon Setters? And if so, isn’t it time that we put that to paper?

By doing nothing we stand to lose some of the qualities that we hold dear, and that my friend, will be a sad day.

© 2004 Dan Voss
The Melting Pot, an editorial by Craig Doherty, Field Trial Magazine Summer 2001

15 thoughts on “The View by Dan Voss”

  1. Well, some of us do try to judge by the breed. I will never forget a judging partner one day who said “don’t you just love that high tail?”. And I said “actually, I prefer the dog to carry his tail as the standard describes”. And he then asked, “What is the standard for the English Setter?”. I said “straight off the back, a continuation of the topline of the dog, horizontal, like the other setters”. Would not have been so bad, except the guy runs English Setters.


    1. Well, when “you” judge a FT, you are certainly welcome to apply the bench standard for the breed to the field performance.

      My intent here is to relay that there is no field “standard” to which Gordon Setters are to be judged. That remains my interpretation. Your mileage obviously varies.


  2. I can state with some confidence that in well run NSTRA field trials that each dog is judged with it’s breed and not to some pointing standard. Every breed has unique qualities, the only standard I’ve ever seen them judged by is being truly “steady” on point. No tail wiggles or pelvis wiggles for the cropped breeds. A high tail is critical in the English, but the Gordon is cut a little more slack on that.


    1. Totally agree with Dan here I have ran NSTRA with my Boy River he consistently gets better scores than the other dogs do, but usually only finds two birds as he is just a very slow & biddable hunting dog, But he also won three ribbons in an AKC trial this last year with a 9 o’clock tail.


  3. Dan,

    I am looking to breed my Gordon who is out of Dan Frees line and Dam TYomason’s line. I am looking for a dog that does not throw pups with white on them. Any suggestions? What is the closest bloodline to the Duke of Gordon’s dog. I think when you breed an English, for example, with a Gordon and re-bred four times and now it is recognized as a Gordon is cheating. I realize that all setters are diluted in a sense. Any thoughts? Tommy Shaffer, 724-322-4861


    1. Hi Tom, as you know, I replied to you privately, but I’m going to recap my reply here as well.

      Firstly. I think the best route is to discuss your thoughts with the breeder of your dog. They are the ones that likely have the most knowledge of the line. ie: the good and the bad.

      Addressing your question regarding bloodlines that “closest” to the Duke of Gordons line.

      The dispersal sale of the Duke of Gordon was held in 1836…a 180 years ago. Now it might not have been a complete dispersal of all the dogs, but I would find it hard to believe that the Duke’s “line” was carried forward for more than 3-4 generations. Then we have to realize what impact various wars had on the Gordon genepool as well.

      Long story short, it’s my opinion that our dogs today are vastly superior to the dogs of 1930…much less 1830.

      And to your last statement about getting a registry to recognize an “outcross” breeding after breeding true for 3 generations. AKC will never recognize the subsequent dogs as purebred. American Field however does have a procedure in which it is allowable, or used to be allowable, to do as you propose….but only within the setters I seem to recall. That is really a question that needs to be asked of the American Field and the Field Dog Stud Book. (FDSB)

      I hope I have been helpful.


  4. Nice article, and one question Dan speaks off:
    Are there performance qualities unique to Gordon Setters? And if so, isn’t it time that we put that to paper?

    Is there an answer to this ?


    1. Hi Morten,

      At this time I do not know of any AKC breed club that has a written standard of performance for performance events.


  5. Very well said Dan, I have a Gordon who is 6 years old and weighs 70 to 75 lbs he is not real fast at working a field and does not have high tail. I got him his Senior hunter title and he is a good bird dog, but I was told not to bother entering him in AKC field trials, something that I wanted to do. So I didn’t, but this year I was wanting something else to do with him and entered him into Local NSTRA events. While he has always been a bird short of placing he has scored well as the judges asked me if he was suppose to have a high tail (First Gordon some had ever judged here in Arkansas) I explained the field dogs tend to have high tail while the dual dogs don’t. They were fine with that and his scores are as good or better than dogs placing just always a find or two short. I don’t mind losing, I am just happy to have a place where I have a chance to win and judges who are willing to give me that chance.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wendy,

    The only thing that has changed is that I have gone to a more, or strictly bred, field dog.

    Field trials are still judged on the mythical standard. Some would call that the Pointer standard.

    Is that wrong? If you look at how all the pointing breeds have been Americanized, I think it’s fine. Surely there will be some disagreement though.


      1. Janet, in 1983 I purchased my first pointing dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer. I’ve always trended to the performance side of the sport.

        I do love the dual Gordons dearly and they will always have a special place. But, I am extremely competitive as well. And as much as I like the dual Gordon, they simply aren’t as competitive as the field bred dogs are…in the sport of field trialing.


  7. Dan sent this to me for publication with only one slight change from the original piece that was published in ’04. So I’m thinking that not much has changed in that time Wendy. I’ll send your question on to Dan to see if he has any additional comments to add here. Thanks so much for asking!


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