For those who are visual learners like me, this video specifically highlights the various muscles in sequence as the dog moves. Watch as the next muscle to do a job turns red as it’s function comes into play. Understanding how the muscles work together to create the forward drive of the dog enables breeders to establish a clear picture of how and why the angulation and structure described in the standard are important to proper proper movement and breed type.
Many thinks to Jill Pauline for sharing this article with me, so I could in turn, share it with you. There are many pearls of wisdom for all breeders found in this piece written by Kathy Lorentzen, whether new at this game or at it for decades.
Thanks also to Ben Perez for sharing these photos from the 2016 GSCA National Specialty.
Photographs are included here for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate any material contained in this article.
I smiled as I read Kathy’s words regarding picking puppies, as what she said reminded me of Loree Ragano. I never saw Loree stack a puppy when we evaluated litters together. We always put them down to play, sometimes separating male from female, and occasionally then sorting them down to the 2 or 3 that we liked the most, but I don’t recall ever putting them on a table. Loree always told me she picked them on the ground and believed this to be the best way to do it.This article certainly brought that lesson back to mind as Kathy said “Don’t just put your puppies up on a table, shove them into a stack, look at them in the mirror and convince yourself that you have a keeper. Let others look at them and most importantly watch them on the ground. Have you heard the old adage, “Sell them on the table, pick them on the ground”? Do I believe picking puppies on the ground is sound advice – bet your bottom dollar! This is good advice that I still follow today.
So, on to Kathy’s article. I hope you enjoy!
Keeping Ourselves Honest as Dog Breeders
The only real road to success as a dog breeder is the one where you force yourself to be honest about what you are doing and why you are doing it.
That old saying, “My momma didn’t raise no fools,” doesn’t necessarily apply to all of us in the sport of purebred dogs. We all get foolish, full of ourselves and kennel-blind at one time or another in our careers as dog breeders. Regardless of someone’s early success as a breeder, I’ve long felt that you have to get at least 15 years down the road in a breeding program in order to have enough wisdom to look back and see just how many mistakes you have made and realize that you are going to make many more.
I had early success with my English Springer Spaniels. Goodness, my first dog, whelped in 1972, was a multiple BIS and Specialty BOB winner, and a top-producing sire. Boy, didn’t I start out with the world by the tail, and wasn’t I just so smart? As I learned later, not so much. I got extremely lucky with that first dog. He was a natural-born show dog, and I just held on to the end of his lead and let him do his thing. And great, he was an outstanding sire, but I didn’t have anything to do with that, either. He had the genes that clicked with a lot of differently bred bitches. Lucky me, again.
Getting a Wake-Up Call
When you start with a dog like that, time shows you that you probably have nowhere to go but down. I didn’t have a beginning breeding program at all. I had this dog, one of his full sisters and one of his half-sisters. I bred the sister to a top-producing dog in the breed, and though there was one champion in the litter, there were also a myriad of problems that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t see them because I didn’t know nearly enough about the genetics and the history of the pedigrees I was working with. I hadn’t been honest with myself about admitting that there was so much more I needed to learn before I started having litters. The problems that showed up (and fairly early) in that first litter were the beginning of my wake-up call. Oh and I got more wake-up calls, and shortly.
I very stupidly bred the half-sister to a dog on the opposite coast that I had never seen. But his ads were great, and his photos were quite lovely. His pedigree was mostly West Coast dogs that I had virtually no experience with. (I said I was starting to get a wake-up call, but I didn’t say I was totally awake yet.) Those puppies, though healthy and with good temperaments, were pretty poor quality. They didn’t look much like their mom, and they sure didn’t look like the photos of their sire! How could this be? Here’s how. About six months after that litter was born, my then-husband was in California on business and went to visit the sire of the litter. To say he was a bit taken aback by the actual dog might be an understatement. He really didn’t resemble his photographs at all. Serious dog-breeding lesson number one: Don’t breed to a photograph! Even back then, creative photography existed. This dog had been retouched and photographed at specific angles to make him look much different. When we put all this newly acquired knowledge together, it made perfect sense that the puppies looked as they did. Since that time, I have never bred to a dog that I or my breeding partner (my daughter) have not personally seen, touched and spent time with.
Yet over and over again I see people breeding to dogs that they have never seen in person. One dog in my breed a few years ago was used quite extensively and mostly by people who had not only never seen the dog but had never even seen a photo of him! After being finished by a handler, he went home to the kennel and was never seen again until he was of a fairly advanced age and taken to one Specialty as a Veteran. I actually saw a post on a public forum where someone who had bred to the dog was looking for a photo of him because she had never seen him; and shortly after another person chimed in that she had bred to the dog too and would love to see what he looked like. I almost fell off my chair.
Choosing a Good Stud Dog
Just because a dog has produced a few offspring that you find attractive does not automatically qualify that dog to be the right one for every bitch out there. And if you think it does, then you are not being honest with yourself about what you are doing. Do you really think that your bitch is so perfect that she can be bred to any dog to give you more just like her? Maybe you should step back and take a long look at your bitch. And be brutally honest with yourself about how she stacks up to the breed standard. Maybe you don’t want more just like her. It might be better if you admitted to yourself that there is room for improvement. If you are so blind to your bitch’s faults and failings (and they all have some!), then go to someone who has a long and successful background in the breed and ask for help and advice. In fact, seek out two or three long-time dog breeders, as each will have a different perspective.
People who truly love your breed want to see more good-quality, healthy dogs produced. They know how to think outside the box when breeding. If you run into someone who only wants to talk to you about their own stud dogs, move on. That person doesn’t want to help you do anything but line their own pockets. You do not have to let somebody else tell you what to do, but you should let someone else tell you what they see. They might know far more than you do about the pedigree that you are working with. They may be able to offer up suggestions about what you should be looking to strengthen in your bitch and where you might be able to find the dog or dogs that can do it. If you are just breeding to a dog because some other people bred to it, then you are wearing blinders and not being honest with yourself at all. And guess what, your dogs won’t get better. But you probably won’t realize it. You cannot live on a secluded island in your own mind and be a knowledgeable, successful dog breeder. It takes a village, and there are many people out there who want to help you be part of that community.
Letting Them Go
Back to that second litter of puppies of mine sired by the West Coast dog. Not a single one of those puppies ever hit the show ring. Not only was this a lesson learned about not breeding to an unknown dog, it was also a lesson learned in realizing and admitting that the entire litter needed to go to pet homes. This is a mistake that I’ve seen happen over and over again in our sport. People plan a breeding, have a litter and convince themselves that because the puppies exist, there must be some really good ones to keep and show and go on with. Just because you have a litter of puppies doesn’t mean that there will be one or more in the litter that will be useful to you in moving forward as a breeder. We all breed with the hope that there will be something good enough to keep. But we have to recognize if we are going backward instead of forward. It’s difficult to look at a litter that grew up under your feet and admit to yourself that there really isn’t one in there to move you further ahead.
Be honest with yourself about the quality of your puppies. And if you can’t be, have a puppy party and invite those same breeders that you talked with before when searching for a stud dog. Invite them to look at and watch your puppies and discuss them with you. Get the right people together and you will have a wonderful learning experience. Don’t just put your puppies up on a table, shove them into a stack, look at them in the mirror and convince yourself that you have a keeper. Let others look at them and most importantly watch them on the ground. Have you heard the old adage, “Sell them on the table, pick them on the ground”? Well, it is so true. You can make almost any puppy look good enough on the table to “sell” it. But the honesty in the situation comes when you put that puppy on the ground and stand back and just watch it. Can it carry a correct profile? Does it move freely and easily at a trot with coordination and balance? Does it maintain its proportion on the ground? Eight-week-old puppies should stand and move correctly for their breed. If they don’t at 8 weeks, please don’t try to convince yourself that they will “grow into it.” You will be in for a disappointment.
“If you are dragging a dog to show after show with poor results, take a step back. Perhaps the dog just isn’t good enough. In that case, let it go to a loving pet home.”
I am fortunate because I have a breeding partner who happens to be my daughter. I was raised in the sport by wonderful mentors who taught me to be realistic about my dogs above all. I raised my daughter the same way. We are so lucky that we can bounce ideas off one another, discuss plans, look at puppies, make choices and most importantly disagree with one another! We spend hours and hours driving to dog shows discussing our dogs, where we are in our program, what we need to improve and how to go about getting it. We have a very similar eye but some differing priorities, which makes for lively conversation and more learning for both of us.
Realize that even a promising puppy can go wrong at some point during its growth and may not make the grade. Even the best, most well-made puppies can disappoint. Of course, you have to differentiate between a growth spurt and a puppy really losing its early promise. Know the difference and know when to place that dog. Don’t get so invested in it that you convince yourself that it is a great one! I see this again and again too. Bred it, kept it, grew it up, and it has to be a champion even if it goes to 50 dog shows to finish that title. Oh, gosh yes, then by all means breed it because it’s a champion! Any well-trained dog that is in good condition and properly shown that takes more than about 15 to 20 shows to finish is probably not a very good one.
If you are dragging a dog to show after show with poor results, take a step back. Perhaps the dog just isn’t good enough. In that case, let it go to a loving pet home. Try again and keep trying, and keep learning until you have gained the knowledge that will allow you to have confidence in your breeding program and the ability to discuss in breed-specific terms what you are doing and why you are doing it. Recognize that just because a dog has a champion title and its health clearances, it is not necessarily a good breeding prospect. If it took 30 shows to finish a dog in a breed where it only takes six to make a major, and your dog had a very hard time winning those majors, maybe you should step back and honestly assess the quality of the animal that you are considering breeding. Do you want another one that will take so many shows to finish? If not, if you really want to improve the quality of the dogs that you will go forward with, it might be wisest to place that dog with the hard-earned champion title in a pet home and go in a different direction. Disappointing? Yes, but it is absolutely the best thing you could do for yourself and the future of the breed.
We all know that dog breeding is fraught with heartache and setbacks. The only real road to success is the one where you force yourself to be honest about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Make those difficult decisions as a breeder who truly has the best interests of the breed at heart, not as an owner who loves a dog too much to let it go to a wonderful home. Or keep it and love it but don’t breed it. Long, long ago I told my husband something that he has never forgotten. “It’s just as easy to love the great ones as it is to love the mediocre ones.” What I meant was, love them all, but be aware that many dogs will move through our household and few will stay their entire lives. Enjoy them while they are here, but be willing to let them go to make room for progress and improvement. We have lived by that rule for 36 years, and it has served our breeding program very well.
From the July 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribeto receive 12 months of Dogs in Reviewmagazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.
Another chapter in our review of the Gordon Setter breed standard
Written by Barbara Manson
There are a few things that we need to tie together in regard to the standard. I’ve discussed most of the pieces but we need to see how they work together to create a good quality Gordon Setter. As breeders and exhibitors, it’s important that we not “fool” ourselves as we evaluate our own dogs and those of our competitors. We want what’s best for our breed and we need to be confident and articulate in regards to our choices. We must also establish, in our own minds, what represents a correct Gordon Setter and what is simply personal preference. These can be two separate things. By so doing, we are keeping our minds open and we are better able to evaluate the qualities found in competitors dogs. This is vital if we are to advance our breed.
What does the judge see when he/she is evaluating our dogs on the go around. We all know he sees dogs who may be limping. These dogs are usually excluded from competition because they are considered unsound on that day. If you’re new, and this happens to you, don’t worry. This has happened to most of us at one time or another. Though disheartening, you will compete another day. There are many other things that can be seen from the judge’s vantage point. Under general appearance, size is mentioned. I’ve covered this previously, but the judge can do an initial comparison between competitors at this point. He should also see an “active, upstanding and stylish” dog ” appearing capable of doing a full day’s work in the field”. Balance, and how all the pieces I’ve discussed fit together, is also apparent. A “long, lean” neck, a “rather short back” and “a short tail” can be seen along with a correct topline on the move. The expectation is a “high head carriage” and a back that remains relatively level on the move, not running down hill or overly slopingshoulder to rear. The correctness of the tailset and its relationship to the croup is in evidence at this point. The tail should appear as an extension of the back and be “carried horizontal or nearly so”. The gait should be “bold, strong, driving and free-swinging”. The tail flags constantly while the dog is in motion”. So what constitutes a “free-swinging” gait? It is a “smooth flowing, well balanced rhythm, in which the action is pleasing to the eye, effortless, economical and harmonious”. The dog moves so easily it seems as though he is floating and could move that way all day without tiring. If you’re the handler of such a dog, you can actually feel him ” collect” himself as he starts to move.
Temperament also comes into play here. He appears, at this point, “alert, gay, interested and confident”. He is “fearless and willing”. Many of us have had the experience of trying to show a dog who was not exactly “willing”. It’s not what we want to see in the ring but when this happens, I prefer to think of them as “strong minded enough to stand the rigors of training”. Some are just more strong minded than others. We’ll discuss training techniques another day but this can be one of the challenges of showing a Gordon Setter. It may take time and patience, but even the tough nuts can be cracked. As you consider the importance of these impressions, remember, they are the first thing the judge sees on the initial go around. He sees them again when your dog is evaluated individually, and they are the last thing he sees before he points his finger. These impressions are big clues as to the dog’s ability to withstand a long day in the field. Dogs who exhibit these attributes are a pleasure to watch and they draw your eye to them. They may seem elegant but closer examination should reveal substance. They are, after all, Setters.
I’ve had a couple of people bring up the amount of coat we are seeing in the ring today. Heavily coated dogs are certainly much more prevalent today than they were when I came into the breed. You can look back through old reviews and see how this factor has changed. The current standard only addresses coat as “soft and shining, straight or slightly waved, but not curly”. It goes on to describe where the long coat appears, but gives no parameters regarding how much coat our dogs should carry. It was once said, you could hunt with your Gordon on Saturday and show him in the ring on Sunday. That’s definitely harder to do today. I truly believe you can still finish a championship on a well constructed dog, under knowledgable judges, without an over abundance of coat.
Once you move to the specials ring, the game is stepped up a bit. To compete in today’s groups, coat and presentation become big factors. I believe it would be very hard to pull out group placements and specialty breed wins without it. It’s become an expectation. The dogs who are truly competitive at this level, generally have more than coat and meticulous grooming going for them. I urge breeders and newcomers to politely seek out opportunities to examine as many of these dogs as possible. I will bet you find “hidden” attributes you didn’t know were there. That said, if you bought a dog with an abundance of coat for hunting, but you also want to show him in the breed ring, be prepared to take measures to protect the coat or make choices as to which endeavors you wish to pursue and when. I don’t think we will be returning to the way things were in the sixties or seventies.
I really enjoyed seeing many of you at the National. The committee did a great job and I enjoyed the low key atmosphere. It was so nice, as it always is, to see the dogs. Thank you to all who participated in the hands on breeders education and a special thank you to those who shared their dogs with us. Without you, it would not have been a success.
Barbara Manson, Stoughton WI
Photographs by Ben Perez are shared for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate any specific point in this article.
Positive and clearly explained judging can only be good for both judges and breeders, and for our breeds as well.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is for people to look at a dog and immediately point out what they don’t like about that dog? I think most often the first comments made by many people about a dog are negative. We hear an awful lot of “I don’t like” in conversations about dogs.
Probably we are all guilty of falling into the trap of finding fault, both as breeders and as judges, because finding fault is easier than finding virtue. Common faults are easily seen and identified by almost everyone, while breed-specific virtues can only be seen and appreciated by those who truly understand the breed they are looking at…Even judges (sic Breeders) with years of experience were tongue tied when forced to discuss their placements by pointing out only the virtues of each dog. They all wanted to fall back into the “I don’t like” syndrome.
…The positive mindset is not only important for judges but for breeders as well. How many times have I asked a fellow breeder, “What do you think of that dog?” only to have the first sentence come back starting with, “Well, I don’t like…” After my years of learning about positive judging and critiquing, my immediate reaction is to say, “But I want to know what you do like about that dog.” The look I get is generally priceless, but my question usually results in a thoughtful discussion of the virtue of the dog and a learning experience for both of us.
Not everyone will see the exact same virtues in every dog, and not everyone will place the same priorities on those virtues. That is why different dogs win on different days, and when the judging is positive and can be clearly explained, then no one is wrong. But regardless of differing viewpoints and priorities, striving to see dogs in a positive light can only be good for both judges and breeders, and for our breeds as well.
In forming our concept of the Hands On experience, and in addition to focusing on judging dogs positively, we also wanted to encourage breeders and exhibitors to take the time to put their hands on dogs owned and bred by others; to learn how to feel breed specific qualities to recognize correct structure (breed type), to learn a variety of ideas and concepts from others, and to learn how to see good qualities in all dogs, our own as well as those owned by others – to learn how to develop an unbiased eye.
Now let’s move on to highlights from the Hands On experience!
I can’t possibly write about all the topics we covered, nor all the positives of the dogs presented for exam. But if I haven’t covered a topic or a point that you want to see shared here please offer that in the comment section of this article.
The Hands On experience was open forum, and participants were encouraged to come and go at will, so the group size and the participants fluctuated throughout the program. Some brought dogs who were stacked in front of the group while other participants went over those dogs, the Hands On part. Then, those who examined were asked to share their view of the positive qualities they found on the dog they examined. Discussion about the positives followed with the group at large joining the talk. While committee members, Barb Manson, Peggy Nowak and I moderated to keep things on track, the teachers here were actually the participants, the many breeders and exhibitors who shared their dogs, views, and experience. The Hands On experience lead to many various, thought provoking and enlightening discussions. The participants and their dogs were the shining stars of the experience, and we thank each and every one of you for making this one of the best GSCA Breeder Education events. We have heard a magnitude of positive feedback, and what we heard most often was indeed “best Breeder Education program ever” and “let’s do it again”!
Topics that were covered during the experience
Esther Joseph (Australia) shared many interesting points about length of body and the length and structure of the rib cage. She noted that when compared to other countries, the American Kennel Club (AKC) Gordon Setter Standard, is the only standard to to call for a length approximately to equal height, interpreted by many to mean we seek a “a square dog”.
AKC Standard – Proportion: The distance from the forechest to the back of the thigh is approximately equal the height from the ground to the withers.
Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) Standard – Body: Moderate length.
One of the key takeaways that I would mention is the wording in the AKC standard, wording that says approximately equal, as this wording gives the Gordon room for sufficient length of body to allow for the driving stride he will exhibit if properly angled front and rear. A dog whose body is too short for the angulation of his rear can not move properly. If we were to breed for a completely square Gordon we would need to breed that dog with less angulation in the rear, so his rear stride does not interfere with his front. Perhaps we need to focus on the standard saying approximately equal and eliminate the word square from our lingo?
The AKC standard says Gordon Setter movement should be: A bold, strong, driving free swinging gait…The hindquarters reach well forward and stretch far back, enabling the stride to be long and the drive powerful. If, for example, a Gordon moves wide in the rear, or perhaps he crabs, we might consider that one of the causes could be that Gordon has too much rear angulation for the length of the body. Is this dog then too short in length (too square)?
(NOTE – as a question was raised, I did confirm the information I gave you regarding how to measure the dog’s length. I was correct, it is measured from the point of the forechest and never from the point on the shoulder joint)
Another discussion ensued on proper length, depth, and spring of rib. Here again Esther opened the chat and spoke in detail about the length of the rib cage and it’s importance for the protection of the Gordon’s vital organs (heart and lungs) when hunting in dense brush and brambles. To completely shield those organs the ribcage must be long from front to back, and we should measure this not simply by looking at the length from the side view of the dog, but also by reaching down under the dog to note how how far back the sternum extends. (The sternum being the floor of the chest, where the ribs meet underneath the dog.) The Gordon Setter needs not only his prominent forechest (for proper muscle attachment to provide reach) but also good length of the ribcage; a sternum whose length extends it’s boney protection to completely cover sensitive organs. A ribcage and which allows for the lung capacity he needs by it’s spring as well as depth for working in harsh terrain.
Barbara Manson began a discussion about short hocks by demonstrating that good quality on her dog. This led into a more in depth conversation among the group about the complete rear assembly, angulation, length of hock and sickle hocks. When viewing rear angulation we’d start at the highest point, the femur (think upper thigh) which has always been considered as the longest bone in the dog’s anatomy. The tibia and fibula (second thigh) should be second in length to the femur, and are attached to the hock which should be the shortest in this group of leg bones that contribute to rear angulation. Simple so far, right?
Standing around at rest (as opposed to lusting after a hot smelling bitch which brings every hot blooded dog up on his toes) a well built dog will naturally stand with the rear foot in a somewhat perpendicular line on the ground, right under the boney protuberance that ends at the point of the buttocks. Just like humans, dogs stand around with their feet almost directly under their butts. Why? Because that’s the dog’s column of support. So, if the second thigh (tibia and fibula) is longer than the upper thigh (femur), opposite the normal length of these bones, the only way the dog can reach his column of support is if the hock is long enough to get the foot where it needs to be – underneath the dogs butt. Proper ratio of length between upper thigh and lower thigh gives us the shorter hock we expect on our Gordon Setter. To sum it, a Gordon needs to have an upper thigh (femur) that is longer than the lower thigh (tibia and fibula), ending with a hock that is shorter than both of those bones. As a general rule, the genes that control the length of one bone are often linked to the genes that control the length of the corresponding bones so Mother Nature provides compensation when the ratio in the length of these bones gets out of whack, grow a lower thigh that’s too long for the upper thigh and Mother Nature will give you a longer hock to compensate.
Standing around ringside, looking at dogs standing in a relaxed state, the well put together dogs will be standing with their rear feet underneath the back half of the pelvis and their hocks slightly sloping – we should be able to see light between the ground and the entire length of dog’s hock. If a dog is standing with his hocks nearly flat to the ground, odds are excellent that we are looking at excessive angulation (a lower thigh that is longer than the femur).
Sickle hocks are a result of these over angulated rears. For me, sickle hocks are easily seen on the backward swing of the rear leg during movement. Instead of the joint between the lower thigh and the hock opening up into a nearly straight extended line, where the pads on the bottom of the foot end in a position that is nearly straight up (or reaching toward the sky), the sickle hock, due to the imbalanced length of the bones, at fullest rearward extension ends in a shape resembling a sickle – slightly curved instead of fully extended. No glimpse of the sky for the pads on these feet. The rear movement on the sickle hocked dog looks like the swinging of an old fashioned sickle when viewing the sickle from the side.
Our group also spent a bit of time discussing feet. We’re not going to cover all of that discussion here as this article has grown quite long. I did want to mention that I remember a brief conversation around the use of the term “cat foot”. Perhaps I remember wrong but I thought I heard someone say that “cat foot” no longer appeared in our standard. You were right, cat foot isn’t exactly right, but a reference to cat does appear. The standard says “Feet catlike in shape”.
I’m splitting this report into sections as it’s growing long, keep an eye out for Part II – The 2016 National Specialty Hands On experience in a future issue. In Part II I’ll share other discussions we held on topics like the width of jaw, angle of croup, block on block heads and vitiglio.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ GSCA Breeder Education Committee Chair
Photos by Ben Perez
A slide show of random photos from the BOB class at the ’16 GSCA National Specialty courtesy of Ben Perez. We’ll be sharing more of these in future articles. Thanks Ben!
Learning to see the positive qualities of a dog can be challenging and we plan to help you see the best in every dog during our “Hands On” chat session.
Seeing is believing and touching is allowed during our interactive Breeder/Exhibitor Program coming to you at the 2016 GSCA National Specialty (presented by the GSCA Breeder/Exhibitor Education committee). Whether you’re new to exhibiting and breeding or a veteran at this game you’ll enjoy participating!
We encourage learners to attend, those who are willing to bring their questions, and those who are willing to bring their dogs for hands on exams and discussions.
And we can’t do this alone so we also need you experienced folks (mentors) to attend, bring a dog or two for others to examine, be prepared to discuss their good fronts or rears or top lines, feet, rib spring, substance, size (you get the drift). Share your expertise. (Dogs needn’t be great in every area mind you, we are teaching how to find what’s good!)
We’re calling this a chat for a reason, it’s a group of breeder/exhibitors sharing knowledge, asking and answering questions while learning how to “go over a dog” with your hands to find those qualities we want and need to preserve. How to get your “Hands On” a dog and understand what you are finding through that touch.
NOTE: There will be absolutely NO FAULT FINDING comments or discussions allowed in this session – we are teaching how to find the right qualities. Learning to judge faults is easy, truly understanding how to recognize a dog’s good qualities by sight and touch is a learned art, an art we will discuss in depth during this program.
Our Hands On Breeder/Exhibitor Chat will be held on Wednesday, May 11th – Meet me at the FAIR!
(Editors note: antique print illustrations were added by the publisher for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate points in the author’s article)
by Barbara Manson
Up to this point, we have only visually examined dogs, much of it from across the ring. Now it’s time to take a closer look. In this article, I would like us to step to the front.
Imagine yourself looking down at a well groomed and stacked dog before you. The first aspect you will notice of the Gordon before you is the head. If you’re like me, you will be immediately drawn to the eyes and expression. The standard says the eyes are “of fair size, neither too deep-set nor too bulging, dark brown, bright and wise. The shape is oval rather than round. The lids are tight.” Eyes come in all shades of brown. The darker they are, the more pleasing the expression to most of us. This is purely esthetic as color of the eye does not affect the dogs ability to function. However, the prominence of bulging eyes would seem to present an increased possibility of injury in the field and dogs with eye lids that are not “tight” (drooping lower lid with mucous membrane showing) or too deep-set, would leave open the possibility of chaff collecting in the lower lid while the dog is in the field. Round eyes also can change the dogs expression, but once again, is esthetic only.
The standard also calls for the ears to be “set low on the head approximately on line with the eyes, fairly large and thin, well folded and carried close to the head. Most breeders will see, from time to time, a dog with shorter, thicker ear leather. I have one right now and I need to be vigilant about cleaning and caring for her ears because the thickness seems to lend itself to ear infections, especially in hot, humid weather. These short ears are also not as pleasing to look at, particularly when she chews the hair off! A high ear set also negatively impacts expression.
The standard goes on to say the skull should be “nicely rounded, good sized, broadest between the ears. Below and above the eyes is lean and the cheeks as narrow as the leanness of the head allows. The head should have a clearly indicated stop.” The skull should broaden out to its widest point at the between the ears but this should be a gradual widening and when viewed from the top, the head should not look like a large slice of pie or a giant wedge of cheese. This look is often referred to as “wide in the back skull”.
A definite stop between the eyes is ideal, but if it is too deep or severe, it can give the look of a hard expression and not the typical softness desired.
“Muzzle – fairly long and not pointed, either as seen from above or from the side. The flews are not pendulous. The muzzle is the same length as the skull from the occiput to stop and the top of the muzzle is parallel to the line of the skull extended. The lip line from the nose to the flews shows a sharp, well-defined square contour.” This is easier to visualize if you think of it as a brick on brick look when viewed from the side. It’s common, but not correct, to see dogs when viewed from the side with the top of the skull level, that will have a muzzle that is not parallel to the top of the skull but instead is pointing slightly downward. This look is referred to as down faced or it can be said that the dogs head does not have parallel planes. As our dogs get larger, so do heads, and with that seems to go a tendency for pendulous flews. Many times this occurs in conjunction with seemingly too much skin, including loose lower eye lids and throatiness (extra skin on the neck, under the jaw). I can cite examples of throaty dogs from the past that didn’t have loose eyes or dogs with loose eyes and pendulous flews that weren’t particularly throaty, but there were far more who carried all three. A previous edition of our standard referred to houndiness (think Bloodhound here) as being undesirable. I think it’s wise to remember ideal dogs need to look as though their skin fits like spandex and not sweats.
Our standard describes a bite where the teeth meet in front in a “scissors bite with upper incisors slightly forward of lower incisors. It also says a “level bite”, where teeth meet evenly in the front, is not to be considered a fault.
The standard is specific as to color on the face and I won’t go into much detail here except for a couple of points. Young dogs with mahogany markings tend to darken with age, especially on the face. This is not a fault, but in my mind, an expectation. Also, you can often find a young pup with a small stripe of tan over the top of the muzzle at the nose. This may well disappear or greatly diminish with age and should not be faulted.
As you sit ringside or wander the grooming area, you will see many different heads. Take note of them. Notice if the bitches heads look feminine and the boys look masculine. Notice if the head fits the body. We often hear “that dog doesn’t have enough head or that bitch looks doggy”. Is that true or does the head fit the body for that style of dog. In some lines, young animals gain head and flew with age and in others, the heads are large early and the body needs to grow to fit them. Typically, heads, and even in some cases, bites, can change until the age of three. When evaluating an adult, it’s very important to overall balance that a dogs head looks like it’s the one he or she should have for their body type. Check out the expressions and note the ones you like or dislike and attempt to ascertain what it is about the expression that impacts you.
I have not included photos of heads here because there are many looks that can be considered correct by standard. It’s important, as breeders, that we take a look around and widen our horizons by taking note occasionally of stock, other than that in our own kennels, and try to develop an appreciation of the efforts of other breeders. In some lines, it may be the heads that catch your eye and in another, it may be another trait that earns your admiration. These are all useful bits of information to file away and may lend direction to the search for the best sire for a litter not yet thought of. (editors note; antique prints were added by the publisher for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate points in the author’s article)
Why do I have pictures of an English Setter and a Pointer in my article about Gordon Setters? Good question. They are here so we can discuss how angles function and their importance to breed type.
To summarize, from the last article, we know that the angle formed from the top of the shoulder blade (withers) to the to the humorous to the back of the elbow (in practice refered to as upper arm) should be approximately ninety degrees. To add to this, the length of the blade should be approximately equal to the length of the upper arm. We can hopefully see this from looking at the dogs stacked from across the ring or from the judges perspective as he evaluates them from the middle of the ring. There are other things we can see to help us evaluate the correctness of the angle. Does the dog appear to have sufficient length of neck or does it seem short in relationship to his body? The standard says, “Shoulders – fine at the points, and laying well back. The tops of the shoulder blades are close together. When viewed from behind, the neck appears to fit into the shoulders in smooth, flat lines that gradually widen from neck to shoulder”. If the portion of the angle created by the shoulder blade is too wide so the blade is more upright, the neck can appear short or you may get the impression the way the neck fits into the shoulder is less than pleasing and somehow out of balance with the rest of the dog. This is more often seen in Irish Setters. More commonly in Gordon Setters, when the neck appears short, it’s because the shoulder blade is too short. If we were able to look at this dog from over the top, we would find excessive width between the shoulder blades. Many years ago, it was felt the correct distance between the shoulder blades should be no more than two fingers and this was thought to be universal among all breeds. I personally don’t believe, in practice, this works for Gordon’s. The standard calls for “ribs well sprung, leaving plenty of lung room”. If this shoulder blade is to “lay well back”, it has to accommodate for a rather robust body which may require more width. Maybe two fingers isn’t the proper width between the shoulder blades for this breed but neither should we be able to place a whole fist between the blades. The width should be just enough to accommodate the body so that “The tops of the shoulder blades are close together”. The standard also calls for the shoulders to be “fine at the points.” The neck into the shoulder should always appear smooth and seamless. If the blade is not long enough or the shoulder blades are not fine at the points, the dog will appear rough in shoulder. Another dead giveaway that the shoulders are incorrect, if you are close enough to observe it, is a tendency for there to be a roll of skin over the shoulder blades when the head is positioned normally. The width between the shoulder blades at the withers and the fineness of the points is often referred to as the lay on of shoulder. A well layed back shoulder blade and good lay on of shoulder contributes the most to to the dogs ability to “reach far forward to accommodate for the driving hindquarters”.
The other part of the front angle, the upper arm, may also add a little more reach, but its primary importance in the setter is the flexibility it adds to the front allowing the Setter to “set” rather than point with the more upright stance of the pointer. I chose to use the English Setter to demonstrate this because the photo was not only incredibly good, but the coloring of the white dog made it easier to see. Compare the English Setter to the photo of the Pointer, who is also pointing, and notice the structural difference of the front assembly. This length of upper arm is very important to breed type. It’s the major structural characteristic that separates the setters from the pointers and in these days of declining numbers of Gordon Setters, care must be taken so we don’t loose this as its already hard to find.
Rear angulation is the easiest to see and assess. The standard says “The hind legs from hip to hock are long, flat and muscular; from hock to heel, short and strong. The stifle and hock joints are well bent and not turned either in or out. When the dog is standing with the rear pastern perpendicular to the ground, the thigh bone hangs downward parallel to an imaginary line drawn upward from the hock.” The impression you should have, when viewing a correct rear from the side, is one of power and flexibility. It should be able to reach far forward and drive far back to help propel the dog. Note the photo of the Gordon. Look at the length of the upper arm and also the flexibility the angle allows in the rear. Maximum angle and balance from front to rear would allow this dog to “set”.
We’ve talked about correct angles but I would be remiss if I didn’t add a bit about balance. When visualizing a relatively square, short backed dog, imagine for a moment how this dog would move if he had more angle in the front than the rear or more in the rear than the front. Somehow, that dog would have to compensate for his unbalanced angles when moving. We will talk more about the impact on movement later, but for the sake of function, balance, regardless of angle, is most important. However, to have a truly good specimen of the breed, we must strive for correct, balanced angles and we must be striving to keep correct upper arm.
Angulation serves another very important function. From “a slight spring” of the pastern through the correct series of angles, our dogs are equipped with a remarkable set of shock absorbers. These angles absorb the pounding and stress of hard work and allow this heavy boned, muscular dog to put in a full day in the field. A dog so endowed should not tire easily, provided he is fit. This, along with the ability to set, are examples of where form meets function and that is indeed breed type.
I would like to thank Oddur Orvar Magnusson for the use of the photographs of the English Setter, “Erro”, and the Gordon Setter. I would encourage you to take a look at his videos (English Setter Iceland) on You Tube. They are amazing examples of English Setters, and an occasional Gordon, doing what they were bred to do. They will do a wonderful job of demonstrating the impact of angles on Setters.
Also thank you to Kevin and Samantha Freeburn for the photo of the pointer, “Drake”, Quail Hollow Genesis, JH. In my opinion, these photos have created great visuals for learning purposes.
“Assessing virtue is the essence of the whole judging process. However, the assessment of faults is also a part of that process.” Ann Gordon, Dachshund Club of America, February 2013 AKC Gazette
New dog show exhibitors will soon find that it is relatively easy to learn about, recognize and evaluate faults in construction. Soundness, proper construction, is a virtue that is necessary in any breed and is especially so for our Gordon Setters who are bred as hunters. Noting constructional faults during judging, like weak top-lines, poor tail-set, flat feet, or an incorrect bite; these things help a judge (and a breeder) to evaluate the dog against the typical competition.
What is also important though, what can pose a problem is the dog who is structurally sound but departs from an ideal type. An example might be the Gordon Setter with less than ideal angulation both front and rear who moves very clean coming and going, from the side however, this dog does not have the appropriate reach and drive of the Gordon Setter and does not display the outline of breed, this dog instead resembles more closely the Irish Red & White. In this case the dog would not be considered wholly typical, he lacks breed type, he has a fault of type.
Whether we are new to breeding or have spent years putting puppies on the ground, we must always maintain perspective in the assessment of faults. When a dog possesses a fault that detracts from the very essence of Gordon Setter breed type, then both breeders and judges will need to be cautious in their assessment of that particular animal; and breeders need to be extra cautious as to the judicious use and the depth to which those faulty genes are going to be introduced into the gene pool, if at all.
Let’s be honest, there are many dogs who are very glamorous, who have beautiful showmanship and when those qualities are added to the fundamentals of breed type that dog is a sight to behold for breeders and judges alike. Where we need to be cautious is in viewing the dog who is superficially attractive but missing a fundamental quality of breed type, we must learn to see beneath the flash and glamor to the place where breed type is also needed to assess the overall quality of the dog and his use for breeding. (remember that the word “dog” used here is equally as applicable to a bitch)
In weighing faults of type one must include in the assessment, all the attributes this dog brings to the breed in order to properly determine the judicious use of the dog and the legacy left in the gene pool. If this dog is a top winner and breeders all rush to use him, then it is his owner who may be holding the reins that guide the future direction of the breed through the gene pool, especially if other breeders do not make appropriate choices for their bitch.
On the flip side, we must also understand that it is not always the top winning dog, lacking in type, who negatively impacts the gene pool, though it is easier to hold them accountable as their high profile makes them more obvious targets. Sometimes faults of type are being replicated litter after litter in a more prolific manner by those who fail to recognize the qualities of breed type, and therefore, unaware that they are replicating fault, continue to put multiple litters on the ground with faults of type.
So we must all, new and experienced, understand faults, both in soundness and in type, and we must all recognize that we each have a grip on the reins guiding the future of the breed. And most importantly for those who are experienced, we must be there to guide and mentor those with less experience as they may quickly learn to see soundness but breed type is best learned through the guiding eyes of others.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photos by Bob Segal are for viewing pleasure only and are not intended to illustrate points in this article.
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
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.
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 – 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.”
“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.”
“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.)
I started a new discussion group that you may find totally useful if you’re seriously into breeding and/or competing with your Gordon Setter. Now, I realize that many of you are not on Facebook and may well have sworn never to go there BUT you don’t have to turn into a Facebook junkie, nor do you need to accumulate a slathering of friends, but you will need to set up a Facebook account in order to view and post to the group. There are already fabulous discussions starting, questions being posed, and pictures being shared of dogs from way back, all things educational can be shared here.
Welcome Gordon Setter students and mentors! This group is meant to serve as a resource and learning tool for Gordon Setter fanciers who are serious students or experienced breeder/exhibitors willing to join forces where everyone can learn about and mentor the art of breeding better Gordon Setters. A place also to fine tune our skill and expertise when competing in conformation, performance or field events. Topics might include such things as genetics, structure, pedigrees, ancestors, health, and proper care, grooming, as well as training tips pertaining to competition in conformation, performance and field events. To make the most of this forum you are encouraged to submit questions, content and photos to provide examples as well as actively participate in discussions with helpful answers and guiding principles.
Things to keep in mind:
No personal attacks, ridicule, or harassment on or about another member’s post. You will be removed from the group and blocked. We don’t always need to agree and various opinions on a topic are encouraged to promote a learning environment, however remember when you are expressing an opinion to please do so in a tactful and polite manner.
Since this group is meant to serve educational purposes only, please do not submit your win photos and brags, we do love to see those and are very happy for you, but let’s post them on other forums to maintain focus here. The same would be true of those happy Gordon photos we post just for fun.
Please focus on the positive traits of any dog pictured. If you have constructive criticism always be considerate and tactful in your comments to ensure you are providing encouragement as well as an educational experience for the student. Please do share educational articles and links to other sites that will educate and promote better breeding and competition practices.
No SPAM or ads to promote the sale of merchandise or dogs. Spammers will be removed.
No personal attacks on other members! We are here to help each other learn and we will respect everyone and treat each other with dignity because of our differences, a different view could be where a new learning begins.
We are dedicated to building a knowledge base and a sharing site for those who are involved in all of the various aspects of competition with Gordon Setters, competitions that showcase the Gordon Setter’s Beauty, Brains and Bird-Sense.