Tag Archives: breed type

Video – Internal View of Muscles – Dog in Motion

Thanks to Gary Andersen, Scottsdale AZ for recommending this video link for our blog!

Video provided by Veterinary Medicine – Facebook.

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.


Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Feature photo by Bob Segal, IL


Another chapter in our review of the Gordon Setter breed standard

Barb Manson

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.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty


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.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty

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.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty

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.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty

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.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty


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.

Photo by Ben Perez, 2016 GSCA National Specialty


The Hands On Experience

GSCA Breeder Education – 2016 GSCA National Specialty

By Sally Gift

To begin let’s start with excerpts from

Looking at Dogs in a Positive Light When Judging From the March 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine.

By Kathy Lorentzen

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.

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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”!

Breeders ed6 2016
Photo by Ben Perez


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 StandardProportion: 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!

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Front & Center

Barb Manson

Written by Barbara Manson

As you will recall, with the last article, we were standing at the front of the dog and examining the head.  Now it’s time to put our hands on his body to see if what our eyes have been telling us about him is really what he is.  Imagine a beautifully manicured and sculpted specials dog, perfectly stacked, in glorious flowing coat.  When we viewed him from the side, he appeared to have lots of forechest.  Now we’ll see if it’s an illusion of skillful grooming or if it’s the real deal.  We will not be fooled!

2015 North country
Photographer Bob Segal, 2015 North Country Specialty

Begin by running your hand from below the throat, down the front of the dog and between his front legs.  Note the pro-sternum.  It’s the prominent bump at the midline of the chest.  It’s the foremost point of the dogs body.  When viewed from the side, you will note that it arises at a level with, or slightly below, the point of juncture of the upper arm and the shoulder blade.  The standard says “Chest deep and not broad in front; the ribs well sprung, leaving plenty of lung room.  The chest reaches the elbows. A pronounced forechest is in evidence.”  The chest is an extension of the dogs body.  As you run your hand over this area, it should feel well developed and filled in, rather than as a hollow space between his front legs.  With your eyes, examine the dogs front feet.  Are they pointing straight ahead?  Is the handler having difficulty correctly stacking the front or is the dog having trouble maintaining that stack comfortably?  If the feet are pointing forward, and the dog is not toeing out, do the front feet appear to be rolling outward so the dog seems to be standing on the outside of his feet.  These are dead giveaways that all is not right with the front.  Most often this is caused by an underdeveloped chest, lack in depth of body or lack of spring of rib.  If the dog had these things, they would push the elbows outward and away from the body, so the front feet would be in proper alignment.  I should note here that this is not to be confused with the natural tendency of dogs, in a relaxed position, to toe out slightly.  Most will do this and, by itself, should not be cause for concern, though we would prefer not to show it to the judge in the ring.  Many puppies also go through developmental stages where this is common.

Photographer Bob Segal, 2015 North Country Specialty


Put your hand on the dogs body directly behind the elbow and note the depth of body.  The body, or brisket, should reach the elbow.  In practice, I’ve know some Gordons where the depth of body actually extended a little beyond the elbow.  Next, run your hand along the upper arm and the shoulder blade.  Is there approximately equal length from the point of the upper arm, down to the back of the elbow and from, once again, the point of the upper arm to the shoulder, to create the “90 degree angle” called for in the standard?  If you have these things, this dog will stand, when correctly stacked, with his front legs under his withers.  Imagine him, for a moment, without all the coat.  Let’s say you found that proper, well developed forechest and this dog has the correct front angles.  Because of these things, a “pronounced forechest will be in evidence”.  You felt it and if he didn’t have the coat, you could easily see it.  Given his angles, and substance, it will appear to be greater than that of the pointer.  In practice, and for the purpose of discussion, these aspects are often collectively referred to as the front piece and assessed as a unit rather than separately as forequarters and chest.  All the individual pieces are interrelated and responsible for how the front assembly functions.


Now, let’s turn our attention to the top line.  Step away from the dog and position yourself a few feet away, looking squarely at his profile.  Spend a minute or two assessing him.  Note his neck, “long, lean and arched to the head”.  If he is short on neck or his neck does not flow seamlessly into the topline (back) there is a problem with the shoulder.  Is the topline “moderately sloping” to the tail?  The standard calls for the loin to be “short and broad and not arched”.  The line from withers to croup should be solid, flat and straight. The standard calls for the croup to be nearly flat, with only a slight slope to the tailhead”.  The tail is an extension of the back. The standard says ” short and not reaching below the hocks”.  Notice the length of body.  The standard says the body should be “short from shoulder to hips”.  We are looking for a dog who appears to be about as long as he is tall.  At this point I will caution you not to let your eye wander to his rear extension.  On a well angulated dog, there is a tendency to be fooled on body length by what’s behind him and how far his handler has stretched his rear.  Look only at his height and his back to determine length of back.

North Country
Photo by Bob Segal 2015 North Country Specialty

So why is the topline so important?  Years ago, I attended a seminar given by Dr. Quentin Laham.  He was an expert on canine structure and movement.  He always brought with him a skeleton of his German Shepherd, who he maintained, when he was alive, was an excellent example of his breed.  In Dr Laham’s opinion, the back was the foundation on which the rest of canine structure was built, and I believe he was right.  Without soundness, our dogs cannot do the job they were bred to do.  With long backs, you can see toplines sag over time.  There is a natural dip in the center of the back which is the area affected.  There are exceptions to this though and I’ve known a few.  I’ve also known of many where this scenario played out and was indeed the case.  Short backs tend to be strong backs.  If you look at the skeletal photo provided in one of the early articles, you can see the natural dip followed by a rise and slight arch of the lumbar vertebrae over the loin.  The dip provides the dog with flexibility of the back for movement.  You can imagine how this is used if you think of the dog at a full gallop.  This area of the back and the loin are covered with muscle in a sound, fit and fully mature specimen of the breed, which lends itself to the flawless topline we are looking for.

North Country digger
Photo by Bob Segal, 2015 North Country Specialty

The tail should be straight.  I believe an older version of the standard made reference to “collie tails”.  Obviously we’ve made improvements because I haven’t seen one in years, but they are still back there.  We used to see more long tails and they were most generally found on long backed dogs.  The standard calls for the tail to “not be docked, thick at the root and finishing in a fine point”.  It’s common to dock the tip of the tail of a puppy born with a kink.  This can be done for aesthetic reasons or for the health of the puppy because, in the case of a tight kink, it can leave the pup open to skin infections at the site.  A judge running his hand down the tail and measuring it against the hock can easily tell the “fine point” is not there if the tail is docked.  We will talk more about tail carriage when movement is discussed in the future.  Of note to exhibitors, Gordon tails are to carried “horizontal or nearly so”, so when hand stacking your dog, keep this in mind.  This was definitely something I needed to work on!

75% Genes Fit
MY GENES FIT!  Artwork by Diane Nowak

I hope many of you are heading to Ohio for the National.  Please make note of our GSCA Breeder Education “Hands On” at the show site to be held Wednesday May 11, exact time to be determined.  We will be going over dogs and critiquing for positive attributes only.  Also, at various times throughout the National  and during  the Hands on Program we’ll be measuring heights and comparing to weight for our “My Genes Fit” program demonstrating the variance in size that is correct in the Gordon Setter breed. Bring your dogs by to participate and earn your dog’s fabulous My Genes Fit tags.

We invite everyone to drop by and bring a dog if you have one.  See you in Ohio!2016-national-logo

Barbara Manson, Stoughton WI

Photographer – Bob Segal , Chicago IL

Please note: The photos in this article are provided for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate any fault mentioned in the article.

The Ins and Outs of Pedigree Analysis


(This article is reprinted with permission of the Jerold M Bell DVM


As dog breeders, we engage in genetic “experiments” each time we plan a mating. The type of mating selected should coincide with your goals. To some breeders, determining which traits will appear in the offspring of a mating is like rolling the dice – a combination of luck and chance. For others, producing certain traits involves more skill than luck – the result of careful study and planning. As breeders, we must understand how we manipulate genes within our breeding stock to produce the kinds of dogs we want. We have to first understand dogs as a species, then dogs as genetic individuals.

The species, Canis familiaris, includes all breeds of the domestic dog. Although we can argue that there is little similarity between a Chihuahua and a Saint Bernard, or that established breeds are separate entities among themselves, they all are genetically the same species. While a mating within a breed may be considered outbred, it still must be viewed as part of the whole genetic picture: a mating within an isolated, closely related, interbred population. Each breed was developed by close breeding and inbreeding among a small group of founding canine ancestors, either through a long period of genetic selection or by intensely inbreeding a smaller number of generations. The process established the breed’s characteristics and made the dogs in it breed true.

When evaluating your breeding program, remember that most traits you’re seeking cannot be changed, fixed or created in a single generation. The more information you can obtain on how certain traits have been transmitted by your dog’s ancestors, the better you can prioritize your breeding goals. Tens of thousands of genes interact to produce a single dog. All genes are inherited in pairs, one pair from the father and one from the mother. If the pair of inherited genes from both parents is identical, the pair is called homozygous. If the genes in the pair are not alike, the pair is called heterozygous. Fortunately, the gene pairs that make a dog a dog and not a cat are always homozygous. Similarly, the gene pairs that make a certain breed always breed true are also homozygous. Therefore, a large proportion of homozygous non-variable pairs – those that give a breed its specific standard – exist within each breed. It is the variable gene pairs, like those that control color, size and angulation, that produce variations within a breed.


Outbreeding brings together two dogs less related than the average for the breed. This promotes more heterozygosity, and gene diversity within each dog by matching pairs of unrelated genes from different ancestors. Outbreeding can also mask the expression of recessive genes, and allow their propagation in the carrier state.

Most outbreeding tends to produce more variation within a litter. An exception would be if the parents are so dissimilar that they create a uniformity of heterozygosity. This is what usually occurs in a mismating between two breeds. The resultant litter tends to be uniform, but demonstrates “half-way points” between the dissimilar traits of the parents. Such litters may be phenotypically uniform, but will rarely breed true due to the mix of dissimilar genes.

A reason to outbreed would be to bring in new traits that your breeding stock does not possess. While the parents may be genetically dissimilar, you should choose a mate that corrects your dog’s faults but phenotypically complements your dog’s good traits.

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It is not unusual to produce an excellent quality dog from an outbred litter. The abundance of genetic variability can place all the right pieces in one individual. Many top-winning show dogs are outbred. Consequently, however, they may have low inbreeding coefficients and may lack the ability to uniformly pass on their good traits to their offspring. After an outbreeding, breeders may want to breed back to dogs related to their original stock, to increase homozygosity and attempt to solidify newly acquired traits.

Linebreeding attempts to concentrate the genes of a specific ancestor or ancestors through their appearance multiple times in a pedigree. The ancestor should appear behind more than one offspring. If an ancestor always appears behind the same offspring, you are only linebreeding on the approximately 50 percent of the genes passed to the offspring and not the ancestor itself.

It is better for linebred ancestors to appear on both the sire’s and the dam’s sides of the pedigree. That way their genes have a better chance of pairing back up in the resultant pups. Genes from common ancestors have a greater chance of expression when paired with each other than when paired with genes from other individuals, which may mask or alter their effects.

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A linebreeding may produce a puppy with magnificent qualities, but if those qualities are not present in any of the ancestors the pup has been linebred on, it may not breed true. Therefore, careful selection of mates is important, but careful selection of puppies from the resultant litter is also important to fulfill your genetic goals. Without this, you are reducing your chances of concentrating the genes of the linebred ancestor.

Increasing an individual’s homozygosity through linebreeding may not, however, reproduce an outbred ancestor. If an ancestor is outbred and generally heterozygous (Aa), increasing homozygosity will produce more AA and aa. The way to reproduce an outbred ancestor is to mate two individuals that mimic the appearance and pedigree of the ancestor’s parents.

Inbreeding significantly increases homozygosity, and therefore uniformity in litters. Inbreeding can increase the expression of both beneficial and detrimental recessive genes through pairing up. If a recessive gene (a) is rare in the population, it will almost always be masked by a dominant gene (A). Through inbreeding, a rare recessive gene (a) can be passed from a heterozygous (Aa) common ancestor through both the sire and dam, creating a homozygous recessive (aa) offspring. Inbreeding does not create undesirable genes, it simply increases the expression of those that are already present in a heterozygous state.

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Inbreeding can exacerbate a tendency toward disorders controlled by multiple genes, such as hip dysplasia and congenital heart anomalies. Unless you have prior knowledge of what milder linebreedings on the common ancestors have produced, inbreeding may expose your puppies (and puppy buyers) to extraordinary risk of genetic defects. Research has shown that inbreeding depression, or diminished health and viability through inbreeding is directly related to the amount of detrimental recessive genes present. Some lines thrive with inbreeding, and some do not.


Geneticists’ and breeders’ definitions of inbreeding vary. A geneticist views inbreeding as a measurable number that goes up whenever there is a common ancestor between the sire’s and dam’s sides of the pedigree; a breeder considers inbreeding to be close inbreeding, such as father-to-daughter or brother-to-sister matings. A common ancestor, even in the eighth generation, will increase the measurable amount of inbreeding in the pedigree.

The Inbreeding Coefficient (or Wright’s coefficient) is an estimate of the percentage of all the variable gene pairs that are homozygous due to inheritance from common ancestors. It is also the average chance that any single gene pair is homozygous due to inheritance from a common ancestor. In order to determine whether a particular mating is an outbreeding or inbreeding relative to your breed, you must determine the breed’s average inbreeding coefficient. The average inbreeding coefficient of a breed will vary depending on the breed’s popularity or the age of its breeding population. A mating with an inbreeding coefficient of 14 percent based on a ten generation pedigree, would be considered moderate inbreeding for a Labrador Retriever (a popular breed with a low average inbreeding coefficient), but would be considered outbred for an Irish Water Spaniel (a rare breed with a higher average inbreeding coefficient).

For the calculated inbreeding coefficient of a pedigree to be accurate, it must be based on several generations. Inbreeding in the fifth and later generations (background inbreeding) often has a profound effect on the genetic makeup of the offspring represented by the pedigree. In studies conducted on dog breeds, the difference in inbreeding coefficients based on four versus eight generation pedigrees varied immensely. A four generation pedigree containing 28 unique ancestors for 30 positions in the pedigree could generate a low inbreeding coefficient, while eight generations of the same pedigree, which contained 212 unique ancestors out of 510 possible positions, had a considerably higher inbreeding coefficient. What seemed like an outbred mix of genes in a couple of generations, appeared as a linebred concentration of genes from influential ancestors in extended generations.

The process of calculating coefficients is too complex to present here. Several books that include how to compute coefficients are indicated at the end of this article; some computerized canine pedigree programs also compute coefficients. The analyses in this article were performed using CompuPed, by RCI Software.

[RCI Note: CompuPed computes Wright’s Inbreeding Coefficient faster and more accurately than any other PC program available. ]

Pedigree of: “Laurel Hill Braxfield Bilye”

( a spayed female Gordon Setter owned by Dr. Jerold and Mrs. Candice Bell, and co-bred by Mary Poos and Laura Bedford.)

Bell 6 Pedigree

To visualize some of these concepts, please refer to the above pedigree. Linebred ancestors in this pedigree are in color, to help visualize their contribution. The paternal grandsire, CH Loch Adair Foxfire, and the maternal grandam, CH Loch Adair Firefly WD, are full siblings, making this a first-cousin mating. The inbreeding coefficient for a first cousin mating is 6.25%, which is considered a mild level of inbreeding. Lists of inbreeding coefficients based on different types of matings are shown in the table below.

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In Bilye’s pedigree, an inbreeding coefficient based on four generations computes to 7.81%. This is not significantly different from the estimate based on the first-cousin mating alone. Inbreeding coefficients based on increasing numbers of generations are as follows: five generations, 13.34%; six generations, 18.19%; seven generations, 22.78%; eight generations, 24.01%; ten generations, 28.63%; and twelve generations, 30.81%. The inbreeding coefficient of 30.81 percent is more than what you would find in a parent-to-offspring mating (25%). As you can see, the background inbreeding has far more influence on the total inbreeding coefficient than the first-cousin mating, which only appears to be its strongest influence.

Knowledge of the degree of inbreeding in a pedigree does not necessarily help you unless you know whose genes are being concentrated. The percent blood coefficient measures the relatedness between an ancestor and the individual represented by the pedigree. It estimates the probable percentage of genes passed down from a common ancestor. We know that a parent passes on an average of 50% of its genes, while a grandparent passes on 25%, a great-grandparent 12.5%, and so on. For every time the ancestor appears in the pedigree, its percentage of passed-on genes can be added up and its “percentage of blood” estimated.

In many breeds, an influential individual may not appear until later generations, but then will appear so many times that it necessarily contributes a large proportion of genes to the pedigree. This can occur in breeds, due to either prolific ancestors (usually stud dogs), or with a small population of dogs originating the breed. Based on a twenty-five generation pedigree of Bilye, there are only 852 unique ancestors who appear a total of over twenty-million times.

Pedigree Analysis of Laurel Hill Braxfield Bilye
(computed to 25 generations)

1st Generation

Linebred Ancesters

Percentage of blood

Appearance in pedigree

# times in pedigree

CH Afternod Drambuie 33.20% 6 33
CH Afternod Sue 27.05% 7 61
CH Afternod Callant 26.56% 5 13
“Grand-Parents” 25.00% 2 1
CH Sutherland Gallant 25.00% 3 2
CH Sutherland MacDuff 25.00% 3 3
CH Sutherland Lass of Shambray 25.00% 3 2
CH Wilson’s Corrie, CD 22.30% 7 200
CH Afternod Buchanon 20.22% 7 48
Loch Adair Diana of Redchic 17.97% 5 12
CH EEG’s Scotia Nodrog Rettes 17.76% 8 181
Afternod Ember of Gordon Hill 17.14% 8 76
CH Afternod Hickory 16.21% 6 27
CH Black Rogue of Serlway 15.72% 9 480
CH Afternod Woodbine 14.45% 6 15
CH Fast’s Falcon of Windy Hill 13.82% 8 66
Afternod Fidemac 13.67% 5 7
CH Page’s MacDonegal II 13.43% 7 56
Afternod Hedera 13.38% 7 56
CH Downside Bonnie of Serlway 12.90% 10 708
Peter of Crombie 12.76% 11 3,887
“Great-Grand-Parents” 12.50% 3 1
CH Afternod Amber 12.50% 5 5
Ben of Crombie 11.83% 11 7,584
Stylish William 11.18% 13 23,764
Stylish Billie 11.08% 14 70,542
Stylish Ranger 10.80% 15 297,331
CH Afternod Kate 10.74% 6 17
Heather Grouse 10.61% 16 1,129,656
Afternod Hedemac 10.45% 7 28

The above analysis shows the ancestral contribution of the linebred ancestors in Bilye’s pedigree. Those dogs in color were present in the five-generation pedigree. CH Afternod Drambuie has the highest genetic contribution of all of the linebred ancestors. He appears 33 times between the sixth and eighth generations. One appearance in the sixth generation contributes 1.56% of the genes to the pedigree. His total contribution is 33.2% of Bilye’s genes, second only to the parents. Therefore, in this pedigree, the most influential ancestor doesn’t even appear in the five-generation pedigree. His dam, CH Afternod Sue, appears 61 times between the seventh and tenth generations, and contributes more genes to the pedigree than a grandparent.

Foundation dogs that formed the Gordon Setter breed also play a great role in the genetic makeup of today’s dogs. Heather Grouse appears over one million times between the sixteenth and twenty-fifth generations, and almost doubles those appearances beyond the twenty-fifth generation. He contributes over ten percent of the genes to Bilye’s pedigree. This example shows that the depth of the pedigree is very important in estimating the genetic makeup of an individual. Any detrimental recessive genes carried by Heather Grouse or other founding dogs, would be expected to be widespread in the breed.


Many breeders plan matings solely on the appearance of a dog and not on its pedigree or the relatedness of the prospective parents. This is called assortative mating. Breeders use positive assortative matings (like-to-like) to solidify traits, and negative assortative matings (like-to-unlike) when they wish to correct traits or bring in traits their breeding stock may lack.

Some individuals may share desirable characteristics, but they inherit them differently. This is especially true of polygenic traits, such as ear set, bite, or length of forearm. Breeding two phenotypically similar but genotypically unrelated dogs together would not necessarily reproduce these traits. Conversely, each individual with the same pedigree will not necessarily look or breed alike.

Breedings should not be planned solely on the basis of the pedigree or appearance alone. Matings should be based on a combination of appearance and ancestry. If you are trying to solidify a certain trait – like topline – and it is one you can observe in the parents and the linebred ancestors of two related dogs, then you can be more confident that you will attain your goal.


Some breed clubs advocate codes of ethics that discourage linebreeding or inbreeding, as an attempt to increase breed genetic diversity. This position is based on a false premise. Inbreeding or linebreeding does not cause the loss of genes from a breed gene pool. It occurs through selection; the use and non-use of offspring. If some breeders linebreed to certain dogs that they favor, and others linebreed to other dogs that they favor, then breed-wide genetic diversity is maintained.

In a theoretical mating with four offspring, we are dealing with four gene pairs. The sire is homozygous at 50% of his gene pairs (two out of four), while the dam is homozygous at 75% of her gene pairs. It is reasonable to assume that she is more inbred than the sire.

A basic tenet of population genetics is that gene frequencies do not change from the parental generation to the offspring. This will occur regardless of the homozygosity or heterozygosity of the parents, or whether the mating is an outbreeding, linebreeding, or inbreeding. This is the nature of genetic recombination.

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There is a lack of gene diversity at the first (olive) gene pair, so that only one type of gene combination can be produced: homozygous olive. As the sire is homozygous lime at the third gene pair, and the dam is homozygous blue, all offspring will be heterozygous at the third gene pair. Depending on the dominant or recessive nature of the blue or lime genes, all offspring will appear the same for this trait due to a uniformity of heterozygosity.

If offspring D is used as a prolific breeder, and none of the other offspring are bred to a great extent, gene frequencies in the breed will change. As dog D lacks the orange gene in the second pair and the purple gene in the fourth pair, the frequencies of these genes will diminish in the breed. They will be replaced by higher frequencies of the red and pink genes. This shifts the gene pool, and the breed’s genetic diversity. Of course, dogs have more than four gene pairs, and the overuse of dog D to the exception of others can affect the gene frequency of thousands of genes. Again, it is selection (for example of dog D to the exception of others), and not the types of matings he is involved in that alters gene frequencies.

Breeders should select the best individuals from all kennel lines, so as to not create new genetic bottlenecks. There is a tendency for many breeders to breed to a male; who produced no epileptics in matings to several epileptic dams, to an OFA excellent stud, or to the top winning dog in the show ring. Regardless of the popularity of the breed, if everyone is breeding to a single studdog, (the popular sire syndrome) the gene pool will drift in that dog’s direction and there will be a loss of genetic diversity. Too much breeding to one dog will give the gene pool an extraordinary dose of his genes, and also whatever detrimental recessives he may carry, to be uncovered in later generations. This can cause future breed related genetic disease through the founders effect.

Dogs who are poor examples of the breed should not be used simply to maintain diversity. Related dogs with desirable qualities will maintain diversity, and improve the breed. Breeders should concentrate on selecting toward a breed standard, based on the ideal temperament, performance, and conformation, and should select against the significant breed related health issues. Using progeny and sib-based information to select against both polygenic disorders and those without a known mode of inheritance will allow greater control.

Rare breeds with small gene pools have concerns about genetic diversity. What constitutes acceptable diversity versus too restricted diversity? The problems with genetic diversity in purebred populations concern the fixing of deleterious recessive genes, which when homozygous cause impaired health. Lethal recessives place a drain on the gene pool either prenatally, or before reproductive age. They can manifest themselves through smaller litter size, or neonatal death. Other deleterious recessives cause disease, while not affecting reproduction.

Problems with a lack of genetic diversity arise at the gene locus level. There is no specific level or percentage of inbreeding that causes impaired health or vigor. It has been shown that some inbred strains of animals thrive generation after generation, while others fail to thrive. If there is no diversity (non-variable gene pairs for a breed) but the homozygote is not detrimental, there is no effect on breed health. The characteristics that make a breed reproduce true to its standard are based on non-variable gene pairs. A genetic health problem arises for a breed when a detrimental allele increases in frequency and homozygosity.


The perceived problem of a limited gene pool has caused some breeds to advocate outbreeding of all dogs. Studies in genetic conservation and rare breeds have shown that this practice actually contributes to the loss of genetic diversity. By uniformly crossing all “lines” in a breed, you eliminate the differences between them, and therefore the diversity between individuals. This practice in livestock breeding has significantly reduced diversity, and caused the loss of unique rare breeds. The process of maintaining healthy “lines” or families of dogs, with many breeders crossing between lines and breeding back as they see fit maintains diversity in the gene pool. It is the varied opinion of breeders as to what constitutes the ideal dog, and their selection of breeding stock that maintains breed diversity.

The Doberman Pincher breed is large, and genetically diverse. The breed has a problem with vonWillibrands disease, an autosomal recessive bleeding disorder. Some researchers estimate that up to 60% of the breed may be homozygous recessive for the defective gene, and the majority of the remaining dogs are heterozygous. Therefore, there is diminished genetic diversity in this breed at the vonWillibrands locus. A genetic test and screening program now exists for Doberman Pincher breeders. They can identify carrier and affected dogs, and decrease the defective gene frequency through selection of normal testing offspring for breeding. By not just eliminating carriers, but replacing them with normal testing offspring, genetic diversity will be conserved.

Dalmatians have a high frequency defective autosomal recessive gene controlling purine metabolism. Homozygous recessive individuals can have urinary problems due to urate bladder stones and crystals, and an associated skin condition (Dalmatian Bronzing Syndrome). At one time, the breed and the AKC approved a crossbreeding program to a few Pointers, to bring normal purine metabolism genes into the gene pool. The program was abandoned for several reasons, but it was accepted that the number of individual Dalmatians with two normal purine metabolism genes far exceeded the few Pointers that were being used in the program. The impact of other Pointer genes foreign to the Dalmatian gene pool could have had a greater detrimental effect than the few normal purine metabolism genes being imported through the program.


Decisions to linebreed, inbreed or outbreed should be made based on the knowledge of an individual dog’s traits and those of its ancestors. Inbreeding will quickly identify the good and bad recessive genes the parents share in the offspring. Unless you have prior knowledge of what the pups of milder linebreedings on the common ancestors were like, you may be exposing your puppies (and puppy buyers) to extraordinary risk of genetic defects. In your matings, the inbreeding coefficient should only increase because you are specifically linebreeding (increasing the percentage of blood) to selected ancestors.

Don’t set too many goals in each generation, or your selective pressure for each goal will necessarily become weaker. Genetically complex or dominant traits should be addressed early in a long-range breeding plan, as they may take several generations to fix. Traits with major dominant genes become fixed more slowly, as the heterozygous (Aa) individuals in a breed will not be readily differentiated from the homozygous-dominant (AA) individuals. Desirable recessive traits can be fixed in one generation because individuals that show such characteristics are homozygous for the recessive genes. Dogs that breed true for numerous matings and generations should be preferentially selected for breeding stock. This prepotency is due to homozygosity of dominant (AA) and recessive (aa) genes.

If you linebreed and are not happy with what you have produced, breeding to a less related line immediately creates an outbred line and brings in new traits. Repeated outbreeding to attempt to dilute detrimental recessive genes is not a desirable method of genetic disease control. Recessive genes cannot be diluted; they are either present or not. Outbreeding carriers multiplies and further spreads the defective gene(s) in the gene pool. If a dog is a known carrier or has high carrier risk through pedigree analysis, it can be retired from breeding, and replaced with one or two quality offspring. Those offspring should be bred, and replaced with quality offspring of their own, with the hope of losing the defective gene.

Trying to develop your breeding program scientifically can be an arduous, but rewarding, endeavor. By taking the time to understand the types of breeding schemes available, you can concentrate on your goals towards producing a better dog.

Further Reading:

If you are interested in learning more about these subjects, consult the following books:

  • Abnormalities of Companion Animals: Analysis of Heritability
    C.W. Foley, J.F. Lasley, and G.D. Osweiler, Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa. 1979.
  • Genetics for Dog Breeders
    F.B. Hutt, W.H. Freeman Co, San Francisco, California. 1979.
  • Veterinary Genetics
    F. W. Nicholas, Clarendon Press, Oxford England. 1987.
  • Genetics for Dog Breeders
    R. Robinson, Pergamon Press, Oxford England. 1990.
  • Genetics of the Dog (equally applicable to cats & other animals)
    M.B. Willis, Howell Book House, New York, New York. 1989.

Dr. Bell is director of the Clinical Veterinary Genetics Course for the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and national project administrator for numerous genetic disease control programs of pure-bred dogs. He performs genetic counseling through Veterinary Genetic Counseling and practices small animal medicine in Connecticut. He and his wife breed Gordon Setters. This article can be reprinted with the permission of Dr Bell (Jerold.Bell@tufts.edu)

Hands On – Breeder/Exhibitor Chat at the National

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!)

Photo courtesy of Silvia Timmermann


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!2016 National logo

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photos courtesy of Silvia Timmermann



Heads Up

(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.

old prints4The 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.

old pritns5“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.

old printsThe 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)

Happy head hunting everyone!

Barbara Manson, Stoughton WI

Let’s Talk Angles

by Barbara Manson

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.

Barb article 3
“Drake” Quail Hollow Genesis JH photo courtesy of Kevin & Samantha Freeburn




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”.

Barb article 1
Photo of “Erro” courtesy of Oddur Orvar



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.


Barb article 2
Photo courtesy of Oddur Orvar

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.

Barbara Manson, Stoughton WI

Faults of Type

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.
breed-style 2
Photo by Bob Segal taken at the 2015 GSCA National Specialty

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.

“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