The Substantial Gordon

Here it is! The second in a series of articles by our Guest Blogger – Barbara Manson, Stoughton WI. Once again Barb shares insight about the Gordon Setter breed standard helping us to to put the words of the standard into perspective as it pertains to the many “styles” of Gordon we encounter.

The Substantial Gordon

Barbara Manson - photo by Silvia Timmermann 2014 GSCA National Specialty
Barbara Manson – photo by Silvia Timmermann 2014 GSCA National Specialty

by Barbara Manson

I want these articles to follow some kind of natural progression in regards to the way we normally assess our Gordons.  Once again, I’m targeting primarily the folks new to the sport but I hope everyone takes the time to read through this.  It is my intention to  provide a basis for later discussion and for mentoring our “newbies”.

If you asked anyone in Gordons to define substance, the conversation would always begin with bone.  This is the easiest part of substance to see.   Often we tend to look at big feet and the size of the forelegs and compare our dog, who seems well endowed, to a competitors dog who is smaller and who doesn’t appear to have as much as our boy does.  But, let’s stand back for a minute and really evaluate each dog rather than comparing them.  When evaluating the amount of bone, you have to take into consideration the size of the dog you are looking at.  Our standard describes “a good sized, sturdily built black and tan dog, well muscled, with plenty of bone and substance”.  I discussed size a couple of months ago and we know, as per standard, the boys can range from 24-27 inches at the withers and bitches can be 23-26 inches.  Those animals at the bottom of the standard are every bit as correct as those at the top and no preference as to size is stated in the standard.  Therefore, a 24 inch boy and a 23 inch girl are considered “good sized” in terms of height.  It would logically seem that the size of the feet and limbs on a 24 inch dog would not be what you would expect to see on a 27 inch dog.  By standing back and evaluating the individual, you get a better perspective.  Does the smaller dog look like his bone is big for his height?  Perhaps, the impression you get by evaluating in this manner will leave you with the feeling he has more bone than your own dog.  The amount of bone an individual dog has should always be evaluated in proportion to his height.  Here’s another point related to bone we need to consider.  In most species, there are gender differences as to size between males and females.  This, per standard, is also relevant to to Gordon Setters.  In other words, dogs should look like dogs and bitches should look like bitches.  In our breeding, we all will occasionally get a dog who looks a bit “bitchy” or a bitch who looks “doggy”.  We should not be striving for either.  One should know instantly whether he is looking at a dog or bitch without feeling for testicles.  The girls should never be expected to carry as much bone or head as their male counterparts, or vice versa.  The head piece should, first and foremost always fit the body.  I admit to personally being a sucker for a feminine Gordon head on the girls.

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This dog is bred by Debbie Cournoyer, NY. Photo by Lisa Croft-Elliot was used in a book published in the UK. Gordon Setter by Lavonia Harper.

The standard describes “plenty of bone and substance”.  So what constitutes substance.  There are several descriptive words and phrases in the standard that are meant to give the impression of substance.  “Weight for males 55-80 pounds; females 45-70 pounds.  The weight-height ratio make him heavier than the other setters.”  Nowhere in the standard does it say the Gordon is the tallest of the setters.  In fact, the “ideal” height for a male Irish Setter is 27 inches at the shoulder, which is considered the top of the range for a Gordon.  It follows that the impression of size in Gordons must come from other factors.  So what are these factors?  Once again, we look to the standard.

Body
“Body – short from shoulder to hips.  Chest – deep and not too broad in front; the ribs well sprung, leaving plenty of lung room.  The chest reaches to the elbows.  A pronounced forechest is in evidence.  Loins short and broad and not arched.”

Forequarters
“The angle formed by the shoulder blade and upper arm bone is approximately 90 degrees when the dog is standing so the foreleg is perpendicular to the ground.  Forelegs – big boned, straight and not bowed.  Pasterns are strong, short and nearly vertical with a slight spring.”

Hindquarters
“The hind legs from hip to hock are long, flat and muscular; from hock to heel, short and strong.”
The short body (short back) not only gives the impression of strength, but is a stronger back, less likely to breakdown over time.  As our dogs age, top lines tend to sag.  This is especially prevalent in a longer backed dog.  If we are using our Gordon in the field as they were intended, or for performance events, we want them to be sound into old age.

When viewing the dog from the side we should see a pronounced fore-chest.  This is the 90 degree angle formed from the top of the shoulder blade (scapula) or withers, to the upper arm (humerus) to the back or point of the elbow.  The upper arm should be approximately the same length as the shoulder blade, allowing for the front legs to be set well under the body with the elbow in an approximate line with the top of the wither.  The angle formed, ideally, should be about 90 degrees (please reference the drawing).  The front structure is one of those characteristics that defines a setter and sets them apart from other pointing breeds.  Hence, it is also very important to breed type.  I hope to discuss this further in the future.  The more front angle you have, the more the appearance of substance.  In the conformation ring, you may not be able to discern exactly how much fore-chest a dog has without putting your hands on him.  Skillful trimming can give him the illusion of more front, even when he doesn’t have enough.

The loin is the portion of the topline from the last rib to the sacral vertebrae or the area encompassing the lumbar vertebrae.  When viewed from the top, it should appear broad and substantial.  From the side, it should be relatively short.  The body should be deep, with brisket, or body, reaching to the elbow.  There should be sufficient spring of rib so the dogs body, when viewed from over the top, has dimension and definition, and does not appear as a long narrow tube.  When looking from the top, you should be able to see where the ribs end and there should be an indentation where the loin begins.  The tube look is often referred to as “slab sided” and is a look far too common in Gordons.  A breeder friend once referred to dogs like this as “cardboard cut out dogs”.  I found this very descriptive.

Short pasterns and short hocks are indicative stamina and not speed.  Compare the length of the hock in a Gordon to that of a sight hound such as the whippet or greyhound which were bred for speed.

Short pasterns and short hocks are indicative of stamina and not speed.  Compare the length of the hock in a Gordon to that of a sight hound such as the whippet or greyhound which were bred for speed.  We often hear the term wide thigh when referring to Gordon structure.  When viewed from the side, the thigh muscle should look “wide” and developed and when viewed from the back, we should see muscle definition on an adult, conditioned dog.  In general, when comparing Gordons to other breeds of setters, they should appear to have shorter, thicker musculature which leaves the impression of endurance rather than speed and this is most apparent in the rear muscling.  These shorter, thicker muscles require a heavier structure or frame for muscle attachment, hence we should see more bone on a Gordon than on an Irish who has longer, thinner muscles and a longer hock.  Both of these features are indicative of more speed.
The descriptions above are applicable to adult dogs and not necessarily to pups and adolescents.  If you are just getting started in this sport with a young show pup, be aware that it takes time for the youngsters to fully mature and accurate assessments are sometimes difficult, if not impossible on babies.  Also know that none of our dogs are perfect.  This information is intended to improve our understanding of the ideal and give us a basis for evaluating our breeding stock as well as sizing up the competition at the show.

Once again I encourage any feedback or clarification you may have to offer on this subject.  I want to encourage everyone to be involved in breeder education and your comments are welcome.  Please have them to Sue Drum by October 12th for the November News.

(If you are not a GSCA member or would prefer, you may enter your comments here on the blog as these will also be reviewed along with those submitted through the club venue.)

Barb Manson
Kilernan@yahoo.com.

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