“Do the Math” and Simplify Substance (required reading for every breeder!)

Just so you all know, if you’re not on Facebook, or are on Facebook and haven’t joined our Gordon Setter Students and Mentors Group, then you missed all the fun we had this week debating size and substance – again – for the millionth time – OK the billionth time – because that’s what we  like to do, and we all have our own vision of “size” and “substance” so it gives us a lot to talk about!

That's me (Sally) in the middle, looking dazed and confused as usual! Photo by Bob Segal who is not to be held accountable fault for my silly expression!
That’s me (Sally) in the middle, looking dazed and confused as usual! Photo by Bob Segal, who is not to be held accountable for my silly expression!

First off the Gordon Breed Standard gives us a wide (for most breeds) 3 inch spread in height guidelines, and I’m here to say that 3 inches makes it very tough for the eye to evaluate proper size and substance in a ring full of Gordon Setters, which in turn leads to all those debates we hold!

This time though, I came to the discussion armed for debate with words (the breed standard) and a calculator, because gosh darn it, there’s math involved in reading that thing (the standard) and I hate math! Just in case you missed that last sentence – I HATE MATH! You should know then, that it causes me great pain and much discomfort to be writing about it here!

There are many phrases, quotes and other descriptions that are used by us when we debate the “how much substance” and “how big” question, and that is what gives rise to trends in our breed.  Often the words “The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters.” become an assumption that to be “correct” our Gordon absolutely must appear taller, bigger and heavier than all of the other Setter breeds, but is that how we should be reading the standard?

Just because our standard says that the Gordon is “heavier than other setters” does not mean that the standard was written to imply we should use only this line to judge the proper size and substance of a Gordon – what if those other Setter breeders are wrong and they are breeding their Setters to be larger than what is called for in their breed standard?  What if the majority of their breeders are breeding and exhibiting their setter breeds above breed standard, do we then jump off that same bridge in order to retain our place as “heavier than other setters” or do we breed true to our standard? And that brings us right back to what is appropriate size and substance?


Before I begin my math lesson (see how I’m avoiding the math part) I’ll share with you some of what our discussion group said around what we all believe to be contributing factors in the Gordon appearing heavier or having more substance.

Beverly Garaux I don’t think I interpret it as a weight issue either. If you have all three setters 24″ tall the only way the Gordon would be heaviest would be for it to have bigger bone and more substance. That is my interpretation. If you have silhouettes of all three setters you should easily be able to pick out each breed. The Gordon should have the largest bone and most body. His bone structure is what makes him the heaviest not necessarily his height.

Sally Gift agreed Beverly, but if you have bigger bone and substance wouldn’t that also mean more weight? <grin>

Beverly Garaux – yes.

Beverly Garaux  – I said what you said in a different way. <smile>

Sally Gift yes you did! <smile>

Barbara Manson – The weight on the Gordon’s can be quite deceptive. A lot of it is in muscle mass.

Barbara Manson – … some of the English. They have as much bone as some pretty large Gordon’s. I personally don’t feel we should be judging the size in our breed by comparing it to the other setters we see. If they are moving away from their standard, it doesn’t mean we should. This kind of thing has been going on for years.

Dianna Ellis – “Heaviest of the setters” IMHO means that there is more to them, more breadth of head, more depth of head/muzzle/flew, broader in the rear skull than the other setters; more neck, not length, but thicker, hence more muscle to hold up that head and more to them, more breadth of head, more depth of head/muzzle/flew, broader in the rear skull than the other setters; more neck, not length, but thicker, hence more muscle to hold up that head and muscle to help the front reach; more body, not narrow like the Irish, but my no means barrel chested, more width, short backed, cobby; rears with flat croup and wide thighs, can’t have one without the other, those wide thighs will have more bone and much more muscle, short thick hocks…hence they are the heaviest!

Sally Gift – According to many of these comments I think we are all on the same page. We agree that when describing the Gordon as heavier than other setters – “The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters.” line in the standard – we included many things like the thickness (including also the height) of his skeleton, head structure, along with his heavier muscling giving us the “good-sized, sturdily built” and “suggests strength and stamina rather than extreme speed” descriptions in the breed standard, because we all know and agree that muscle mass and thickness of bone add weight to every animal. (You mind the word weight now, because it’s going to come up in our math exercise.


So, moving on and getting to that math problem (dang it), let’s learn how to do a bit of simple math to see what the standard could be saying about how to measure the Gordon so that we can judge if he is bred correctly to the standard and meets the definition of “heavier than other Setters”.

In my eyes, (and maybe because I hate math so I noticed that darn math immediately) the writers of our breed standard gave us a measurement to define what they meant to be understood and followed as a guideline to appropriate size and substance. The standard authors went one step further than descriptive words such as “good sized, sturdily built…well muscled, with plenty of bone and substance, but active, upstanding and stylish…head is fairly heavy“. They gave us a mathematical description that we could use to describe size including “substance” in a measurable unit when they wrote: “The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters.”  That’s nothing new you’re thinking! But, many folks are only remembering heavier and are forgetting that the word ratio was included. While the word ratio doesn’t give a good visual to use, and neither does its expression as 24:55, we can use those numbers instead to calculate the Gordon Setter’s weight per inch (height) and then we have something we can measure and visually see when we assess our own dogs or our competitors.  Here it comes then, the “do the math” portion of our show!

Gordon Setter Male – standard says “Shoulder height for males, 24 to 27 inches” and “Weight for males, 55 to 80 pounds”. Pounds per inch calculation at the shortest height would be completed by taking the lowest or 55 pound weight divided by the corresponding lowest height of 24″ which equals 2.3 pounds per inch. (It’s really easy this math, I don’t know why I hate it so much!) The bone and substance, of our smallest Gordon Setter should be no less than 2.3 pounds for every inch he is tall.  And the largest Gordon Setter at the tallest  27″ height divided by the 80 pound weight guide will weigh no more than 3 pounds per inch. These numbers, smallest and largest, tell us that to exhibit the correct size, bone, and substance as described in the Gordon Setter Breed Standard an ideal male would stand no less than 24 and up to  27 inches tall and weigh no less than 2.3 and no more than 3 pounds per inch, assuming that the dog is in proper weight and condition as also described in the standard.

Gordon Setter Female – “females, 23 to 26 inches” “45 to 70 pounds” and using the same calculation we find that the breed standard tells us an ideal Gordon Setter female would stand no less than 23 and no more than 26 inches tall and at the shortest and tallest heights would weigh no less than 2 pounds and no more than 2.7 pounds per inch.

Now mind you, I am not trying to rework the standard here by inserting number definitions, I am simply showing you how using the numbers provided by the standard will help you to attain a measurement that visually defines correct substance. And let us be clear, just as there can be too little substance on a Gordon Setter there also exists a point where there is too much substance. A 24″ bitch at 70 pounds is within the height and weight guidelines, however she would weigh 2.9 pounds per inch, exceeding our 2.7 maximum limit. At 2.9 pounds we are moving toward the place where her substance is closer to that of a heavier working breed or that of a male (“doggy bitch”). Will this in turn, affect her ability and performance in the field where she belongs? This point should be equally attributed to a dog. There is no place in the standard where it is stated that Gordon Setters measuring at the taller heights and heavier weights are more correct in their type than those on the opposite side of those measurements. “Heavier” is defined by the guidelines provided in the height to weight RATIO and should not be interpreted as meaning the bigger dog is more correct.

Using this formula to determine substance is simple, the tools are a wicket and a scale and a dog in proper weight. Weigh the dog, measure the height with the wicket and be certain you know the sex of the animal (grin)! Take the weight measurement, divide by the height and the sum will be the number of pounds per inch. If your dog is male who falls within the height guidelines, and the resulting sum falls within 2.3 – 3 pounds per inch your dog is of correct size and substance. If a bitch is being measured the sum obtained should fall within the 2 – 2.7 pound measure. These animals would all have proper type as pertains to substance according to the standard. Now then, if you prefer your style of Gordon with a heavier look your dogs may be measuring in at the top of pounds per inch. For a male that would be closer to the 3 pounds per inch and for a female closer to 2.7 pounds. Of course, the opposite would hold true if your style leans toward a more moderated appearance. The point would be that neither of those styles would be more correct than the other, nor would they be wrong as pertains to size and substance, they all fall within the dictates of the standard. See how easy this can be!

Sara patioThis now brings me to another point which I believe warrants attention; the pounds per inch we just calculated indicate that we now know, based on the math, that our bitch’s substance as written in the standard is supposed to be .3 pounds LESS per inch than the dog’s. Maybe, that doesn’t sound like much, but in an animal the size of a dog/bitch it does make a clear difference to the eye. This shows us that the substance and bone of the bitch, as defined by the breed standard, are not expected to be equally as substantial as that of the dog. Her height is lower, and while we may have assumed that the lesser weights were a result of the shorter stature, that is at not everything that was meant to be understood by the definition of size and substance. Using pounds per inch we can see that the authors of the standard also defined the bitch as having a lower weight to height ratio, so she should appear smaller in stature, not simply shorter, but also a bit less substantial. (approximately 11-15% less substantial than the male). If you think about this with an eye to nature, you will realize that this follows the rest of the animal kingdom. Mares are not built like stallions, cows are not built like bulls, the doe is not built like the stag and the bitch is not built like the dog. Hey, girls will be girls!

There were those who joined our discussion who also show English Setters. They mentioned that in the English Setter it is common practice to include the height and weight of the dog in their advertising, including the pictorial. What a marvelous idea! Instead of guessing if a dog is of proper size and substance when viewing a photo, we could use our simple math to answer that question and decide more accurately if the dog in the picture fits our style, and is also within standard for size and substance. Wouldn’t that be better than guessing or relying on word of mouth if you hadn’t seen the dog? How simple is that? Why aren’t we doing it or why don’t we start?

Someone recently asked me what I considered “moderate” for a Gordon Setter when I mentioned I preferred (and bred) with an eye for moderation. Moderation to me means neither too large, nor too small, a dog whose parts all fit smoothly together with no “jarring” piece that stands out or appears out of place. The moderate dog appears symmetrical and balanced in all parts, bone to height, head to body, front angle to rear, no exaggerations in any one area, which again includes size. If your eye is drawn to any one particular part of the dog, chances are that part may lack moderation.

Sara BOB GSCA Specialty
Sara – bred by Sally Gift & Mary Ann Leonard, owned by Sally Gift and Bev & Gary Andersen. A moderate bitch.

So using the formula I gave you, and looking at the photos of Sara, I’m sharing a “moderate” bitch, who is clearly a girl. Sara stands 25 inches at the shoulder and weighs 64 pounds and that is at a trim weight. Even if I subtract 4 pounds of that weight for hair and toenails (I’m horrible about keeping her nails short) Sara would still weigh in at 60 pounds. I know for some this may be hard to imagine, but she’s weighed at at vet’s office many times and that’s what the scale reads. She always takes off her shoes to be weighed and is sensitive about the subject of her weight, as are most ladies!

With the wind blowing her coat aside, this photo clearly outlines the angles of the front assembly and allows us to see, as the standard requires “a pronounced forechest is in evidence.” This is Sara, a moderately constructed bitch.

Does Sara have enough substance for a Gordon? Well her weight and height are both within standard, and if we use the pounds per inch measure to confirm substance, Sara weighs 2.4 pounds per inch. Sara is right in the middle of the size range for both height and weight, and her substance measured as pounds per inch falls right in the middle of that range (2 – 2.7) pounds also. The size of her head fits nicely with the size of her body, as well as the size of the neck that carries it. Her angles front to rear are equal, properly balanced and fit the standard’s ideal. There are no glaring parts to draw your eye from the symmetry of the whole bitch, the entire picture fits together smoothly. This, to me, is a moderate Gordon Setter, not a small, not a large but one perfectly and well within the breed standard and not at either end of the spectrum. My preferred “style” of Gordon. Is she perfect? Well no, but I’m not about to say anything bad about her, she is standing here, right next to me and giving me that “I adore you” look!

Plan to earn your FABULOUS button, have some fun and talk more on this and topics like this at the “My Genes Fit”  gathering hosted by Breeder Education at the 2016 GSCA National.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

3 thoughts on ““Do the Math” and Simplify Substance (required reading for every breeder!)”

  1. The Russians use ratios, at least on the working breeds. Ratios will be different for the various breeds, can be used with either sex. Weight can change, ratios are more constant.

    Bone index: The relative development of the skeleton based on the ratio of the pastern with the height at the withers: metacarpus X 100/ height at the withers.
    Massiveness index: the relative development of the trunk, the ratio of chest circumference to height at withers, chest circumference X 100/height at the withers.


    1. So often we hear people ringside and talking among themselves who might see a bitch of Sara’s size and comment that she is “too” small or “lacks substance”, this is because their only reference is in comparison to many bitches out in competition who might be at the top of the standard. This is an example of how easily the eye alone can be deceived into misjudging size and substance. It is so easy to miscalculate size and substance unless one actually measures and develops that “eye” for the dog by viewing a mixed group of sizes, who fit the standard, with mind that is open to understanding the variances that fall within the standard.


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