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!
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.
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.
General Appearance: The Gordon Setter is a good-sized, sturdily built, black and tan dog, well muscled, with plenty of bone and substance, but active, upstanding and stylish, appearing capable of doing a full day’s work in the field. He has a strong, rather short back, with well sprung ribs and a short tail. The head is fairly heavy and finely chiseled. His bearing is intelligent, noble, and dignified, showing no signs of shyness or viciousness. Clear colors and straight or slightly waved coat are correct. He suggests strength and stamina rather than extreme speed. Symmetry and quality are most essential. A dog well balanced in all points is preferable to one with outstanding good qualities and defects. A smooth, free movement, with high head carriage, is typical.
Size, Proportion, Substance: Size– Shoulder height for males, 24 to 27 inches; females, 23 to 26 inches. Weight for males, 55 to 80 pounds; females, 45 to 70 pounds. Animals that appear to be over or under the prescribed weight limits are to be judged on the basis of conformation and condition. Extremely thin or fat dogs are discouraged on the basis that under or overweight hampers the true working ability of the Gordon Setter. The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters. Proportion The distance from the forechest to the back of the thigh is approximately equal the height from the ground to the withers. The Gordon Setter has plenty of bone and substance.
Head: Head deep, rather than broad, with plenty of brain room. Eyes 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. Ears set low on the head approximately on line with the eyes, fairly large and thin, well folded and carried close to the head. Skull 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. 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 occiput to stop and the top of the muzzle is parallel to the line of the skull extended. Nose broad, with open nostrils and black in color. The lip line from the nose to the flews shows a sharp, well-defined, square contour. Teeth strong and white, meeting in front in a scissors bite, with the upper incisors slightly forward of the lower incisors. A level bite is not a fault. Pitted teeth from distemper or allied infections are not penalized.
Neck, Topline, Body: Neck long, lean, arched to the head, and without throatiness. Topline moderately sloping. 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. Croup nearly flat, with only a slight slope to the tailhead. Tail short and not reaching below the hocks, carried horizontal or nearly so, not docked, thick at the root and finishing in a fine point. The placement of the tail is important for correct carriage. When the angle of the tail bends too sharply at the first coccygeal bone, the tail will be carried too gaily or will droop. The tail placement is judged in relationship to the structure of the croup.
Forequarters: 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. The angle formed by the shoulder blade and upper arm bone is approximately 90 degrees when the dog is standing so that the foreleg is perpendicular to the ground. Forelegs big-boned, straight and not bowed, with elbows free and not turned in or out. Pasterns are strong, short and nearly vertical with a slight spring. Dewclaws may be removed. Feet catlike in shape, formed by close knit, well arched toes with plenty of hair between; with full toe pads and deep heel cushions. Feet are not turned in or out.
Hindquarters: 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 thighbone hangs downward parallel to an imaginary line drawn upward from the hock. Feet as in front.
Coat: Soft and shining, straight or slightly waved, but not curly, with long hair on ears, under stomach and on chest, on back of the fore and hind legs, and on the tail. The feather which starts near the root of the tail is slightly waved or straight, having a triangular appearance, growing shorter uniformly toward the end.
Color and Markings: Black with tan markings, either of rich chestnut or mahogany color. Black penciling is allowed on the toes. The borderline between black and tan colors is clearly defined. There are not any tan hairs mixed in the black. The tan markings are located as follows: (1) Two clear spots over the eyes and not over three quarters of an inch in diameter; (2) On the sides of the muzzle. The tan does not reach to the top of the muzzle, but resembles a stripe around the end of the muzzle from one side to the other; (3) On the throat; (4) Two large clear spots on the chest; (5) On the inside of the hind legs showing down the front of the stifle and broadening out to the outside of the hind legs from the hock to the toes. It must not completely eliminate the black on the back of the hind legs; (6) On the forelegs from the carpus, or a little above, downward to the toes; (7) Around the vent; (8) A white spot on the chest is allowed, but the smaller the better. Predominantly tan, red or buff dogs which do not have the typical pattern of markings of a Gordon Setter are ineligible for showing and undesirable for breeding. Predominantly tan, red or buff dogs are ineligible for showing and undesirable for breeding.
Gait: A bold, strong, driving free swinging gait. The head is carried up and the tail “flags” constantly while the dog is in motion. When viewed from the front, the forefeet move up and down in straight lines so that the shoulder, elbow and pastern joints are approximately in line. When viewed from the rear the hock, stifle and hip joints are approximately in line. Thus the dog moves in a straight pattern forward without throwing the feet in or out. When viewed from the side, the forefeet are seen to lift up and reach forward to compensate for the driving hindquarters. The hindquarters reach well forward and stretch far back, enabling the stride to be long and the drive powerful. The overall appearance of the moving dog is one of smooth flowing, well balanced rhythm, in which the action is pleasing to the eye, effortless, economical and harmonious.
Temperament: The Gordon Setter is alert, gay, interested, and confident. He is fearless and willing, intelligent and capable. He is loyal and affectionate, and strong minded enough to stand the rigors of training.
Disqualification: Predominantly tan, red or buff dogs.
Scale of Points
To be used as a guide when judging the Gordon Setter:
“The leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone…”
That quirky little song from my childhood keeps bopping about my brain as I’m trying to focus on writing to you all about how structure, specifically a straight shoulder, restricts the Gordon Setter’s reach in the front. If you’re showing or breeding Gordon Setters then you must certainly be aware of the Breed Standard, and thus are also aware of the angulation that is in order for the shoulder assembly.
“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. 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.”
Now reading the words, looking at the dog, watching the dog move, and understanding why it is that a straight shoulder restricts the dog from reaching in the front, well that’s just not as easy as it sounds. To get where we need to go we’ll look under the skin and down to the bone for a clear picture of what we’re breeding, how it works, and why it works the way it does.
First off, obviously a person or an animal with a longer stride covers more ground with less effort, and thus we have energy savings resulting in the ability to cover longer distances with fewer steps (must picture long-legged runners…not my stubby short legs). Hunting dogs such as our Gordon Setters need to be able to go long distances for long periods of time, so they need to have efficient structure that helps to retain their energy for the work at hand. Now actually, long legs don’t really have anything to do with shoulder assembly, and very little to do with the dog’s reach (I was just “pulling your leg” so to speak), but the reference did get you thinking about how the bones play the major role in how well the dog does, or does not, cover ground with the least amount of energy expended. That my friends was step one of this lesson. Maybe we all had that one down, but it’s always best to start at the beginning, right?
The dog’s shoulder assembly is unique as compared to the human shoulder as it is not actually connected by a joint, you know, like ” the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone…” Think about it, the shoulder lies flat against the rib cage, and it is not connected to the skeleton, neither the rib cage nor backbone, not by any type of joint like those found at the hip/thigh/backbone. The front assembly, shoulder, upper arm and leg literally float on the body attached only by muscles and ligaments. This assembly is perfectly suited for the dog, a predator, as it gives the dog maximum cushioning and the flexible and agile movement that is needed to chase and catch prey, which for the Gordon Setter would translate into searching out and “setting” on wild game birds.
So what is the function of the angulation (bones meeting at angles to each other) between the shoulder and the upper arm? First of all the angled bones provide levers on which the muscles exert force, which in turn changes their position to allow movement of the leg which propels the dog in the direction they wish to go. The two bones when properly angled to each other provide a much larger and broader canvas for the musculature that attaches the front assembly to the chest, rib, back and neck area, more space for muscle to attach provides more strength, more flexibility, and more agile movement.
For the second function provided by this angulation one can look at the front to see that the angle between the shoulder and upper arm acts like a leaf spring (like the leaf springs on a carriage, wagon, or car) to provide shock absorption. Did you realize that the front of the dog carries anywhere from 65% to 75% of the dog’s weight? So without the flex provided by the two bones meeting together at an angle, the weight of the dog when moving would quickly break down the front.
On a side note the shoulder-blade in a young puppy starts out fairly short and upright for maximum weight-bearing and later, as the puppy grows and uses his legs more over a period of months (years for a Gordon Setter) the muscles mature and define the adult shoulder placement. Yes, shoulder placement (angulation) can change in your growing Gordon Setter puppy and the muscling they develop affects this. The shoulder muscles and the angles between the bones develop by responding to the need for shock absorption during the stresses of gait. This is one very important reason why proper exercise during the growth period needs to be attended to, it does have some effect on the final structure of the adult dog. And while we’re on the subject of the front assembly let me draw your attention to that shoulder-blade (scapula). It is a very large bone, and is one of the slowest growing bones in the dog’s body because of that size. It takes longer for the shoulder-blade to reach its full length, longer than other bones in the body. You may find in the Gordon Setter that a young immature dog with what appears to be a wide shoulder (too much space between the tips of the shoulder-blade) at a year to eighteen months of age may continue to grow more length to those shoulder blades, so that by the age of two or three they have developed a much smoother looking shoulder assembly. This change happens as the shoulder blades on each side of the body grow longer, and as the these bones are angled on the body toward each other at the tip, the additional length that is added with maturity closes the distance between the shoulder-blade tips. This can be why puppies may look chunkier or rough over the shoulder, their shoulder blades are somewhat shorter in proportion to what will be the shoulder’s adult length, and so with full maturity of the bone structure and musculature one may see improvement and smoothing of this area from puppy-hood to the finally full-grown adult dog.
Now then, to get back to the straight shoulder and why it restricts reach. So, if there is no actual joint anchoring the shoulder and front leg assembly in place on the body, one would think that perhaps the shoulder would be able to swing more freely as it’s held in place by muscle, which would allow every dog to open up or reach out regardless of the angulation. Why then does a straight shouldered dog have less reach than one with the proper lay-back, what restricts or stops forward reach of the leg?
First lets take a look at the principle muscles that work together to move the front leg forward shown in this illustration. There are many other muscles filling in this area on the body, those shown here are the primary labeled with their function.
The joint that has the most impact on the amount of reach, or extension of the leg is the joint between the shoulder-blade and the upper arm. Here we go now with a bit of a geometry lesson as it applies to our Gordon Setter’s front. The muscles on the dog, when moving can rotate the shoulder-blade up to 15 degrees from the standing position of a 30 degree angle (from the vertical). Adding the additional 15 degrees of rotation when the assembly is at its maximum extension you get the 45 degrees which is the angle of the maximum stride length shown below on the first row of drawings illustrating a well angled dog. Note on the second row of drawings how the straight shoulder is limiting the reach. The straight shoulder is also limited to that 15 degrees of rotation but is starting from a steeper and more upright angle which, in turn, does not allow the leg to get as far out from under the body.
Looking at the drawing below one can note the lack of balance found in the muscling of the dog who lacks proper angulation (is straight) in the front. Because the shoulder-blade is in a more upright position there is a more limited area for the attachment of muscles, the angles are just too steep to allow full development and proper length of the muscling. And, because of the angles at which the muscles are attached to the bones, there are limits to their mechanical advantage as well. (Think about using a lever and the effect the length and angle has on the power or movement at the opposite end).
The end result is that the first dog (see length of stride illustration) the one with proper shoulder angulation, will be able to move easily on a loose lead with his head held at a higher (90 degree) angle to the axis of the shoulder-blade. This dog has a long stride (good reach) and will demonstrate a fluid, effortless gait assuming the rear is equally balanced and properly constructed. On lead and off this dog will look great, easy free-floating movement.
The dog with the straight front assembly will be limited, having trouble extending his front legs and because of the steep angle he will probably lower his head which is needed to get more effective use of the muscles which move the leg forward. Dogs with straight shoulders often look like they are “hanging” on the leash as they use this device to assist themselves in getting the front more airborne. Because the dog has a shortened front stride, the rear legs, rather than reaching under the dog may kick up more behind, or the dog may move wide in the rear rather than single tracking to get the rear legs out of the way of the front legs when moving. If the dog is kicking up in rear to get those legs out of the way you may see that this dog moves “high in the rear” when looking at his topline. Sometimes dogs with straight shoulders may tolerate being trained to move “strung up” on the leash, and as the handler is helping him get his front off the ground by holding it in the air, this may allow the rear legs freedom to propel the dog forward. While this may look flashy at times, it is ineffective movement and a loose lead will show the true story.
So, what exactly stops the dog from flexing the joint between the shoulder and the upper arm more than 15 degrees which would allow more reach if the dog is straight shouldered? The amount of extension for this joint is controlled by means of a notch on the top of the humerus.
This notch stops the joint so that it can never open to 180 degrees, it is stopped about 15 degrees short of that angle. Thus the maximum angle of the upper arm very much depends on the angle at which the shoulder-blade is set on the body.
Take a look at the illustration below for clarification. It compares the shoulder and upper arm connection on two dogs, the top row of drawings shows a dog reaching with a properly angled shoulder, and the bottom row shows the effect of the straight shoulder. In this illustration, you are looking at the shoulder (scapula) connected to the upper arm (humerus) connected to the leg (radius). Starting at the top left the first drawing illustrates the joints as the dog is standing, moving to the right is the assembly as it is beginning to flex, and on the far right as it is fully extended with the notch on the end of the upper arm closing the gap between itself and the shoulder.
Next, by looking closely at the inner view of the shoulder to upper arm joint (provided in the blue circle in the very middle of the illustration), you will see that notch on the top of the upper arm bone, the built-in stopping mechanism that prevents the dog from extending the upper arm past a certain point as the dog reaches out when moving. So, in the moving dog, as the shoulder rotates in an upward motion pulling the upper arm out and forward (creating the forward reach of the leg below) the amount of outward movement, the outward reach of the leg below, is restricted when that notch on the upper arm bone is stopped by closure with the shoulder bone to which it is attached. The blue circle to the left shows the notch while the dog is standing still. The circle on the right shows the shoulder/upper arm joint fully extended as the dog reaches during movement and here you see that the notch has closed the gap, stopping any further outward movement of the leg below.
Moving down now to the bottom row of drawings in this illustration we see the effect the straight shoulder will have on the amount of reach that is allowed by this construction. The shoulder cannot rise to the same height as a properly angled shoulder due to it’s more upright starting position (see how much further that shoulder needs to rise up in order to move the upper arm outward) as the upper arm stops that upward and outward movement by the notch on its end closing with the shoulder-blade. Final result is that the leg bone (the part we are most likely to be watching when evaluating movement) cannot reach out as far … “to a place well under or past the dog’s nose”… like the well angled shoulder allows.
Photos by Bob Segal from the 2015 GSCA National Specialty
Gordon Setter photos are included for viewing pleasure only and are not intended to illustrate any material presented here.
PS Nope, never said I could draw. If there are artists in the crowd who are now cringing because of my illustrative artwork please do consider donating your more polished renditions …they would be appreciated by everyone, I’m sure!
Peg McIntyre shared this comment below, we’re adding it and the photo she refers to here so you can all see what she’s referring to:
I’m back again to share another of Peter Frost’s excellent handling blogs. This time he shares with us advice on the speed at which we should be moving our dogs, a very frequent question. For those of you learning to handle your own dog or those who are spiffing up your skills, I think Peter is offering some top notch advice and am grateful he is taking the time to share with us all!
A fantastic illustration of a dog at optimum speed. Handler is Grant Gibson.
Why too fast is better than too slow.
One of the most frequent questions that I’m asked in handling training sessions is, “How do I know the right speed to run my dog?” Every dog – regardless of breed – has its own optimum speed in the trot gait that best demonstrates its conformation while moving. When this speed is achieved, the dog will exhibit their maximum reach, drive, and ‘trueness’ of movement i.e. not overstepping; not to mention their most correct top line, head carriage and tail set.
My answer to this question is this: “Too fast is better than too slow, however, your dog’s optimum speed is always the best”.
Firstly, why is too fast better than too slow? My reasoning is this: If asked by a judge to show your dog on the…
It’s a simple request, we all know it’s coming. When we enter our Gordon Setter in a dog show this inevitable request is certain to be uttered at least once by the judge, at least it will if you’ve been able to get through the judge’s examination! So, if we all know it’s coming, why oh why are dogs presented so poorly, so often when exhibiting their gait? Entry fees are expensive, food, gas, motels, all those expenses add up to this 30 seconds or so at a trot. If we blow this part we’re going home without the win we came to collect.
Before we move on to Peter Frost’s excellent advice, let’s start with a couple of easy pointers.
You have to teach your puppy (or dog) to move at your side on a loose lead, not a dragging on the ground, waving in the air loose lead, but one that is not pulling the dog off-balance.
If you haven’t taught your dog to move easily beside you, go back to step one and accomplish that. Hopefully you started this training when your puppy was a baby just learning to walk…well maybe not quite that young!
If you don’t know how to teach your Gordon Setter to move on a loose lead please find yourself a good class or an instructor, be it conformation or obedience, but find someone who can teach you and your dog how to move together as a team.
Now then, Peter’s advice just as I promised. I’ve included links to Peter’s blog here Straight out and back Part I and Straight Out and Back: Part II. He covers tips that will help you learn how to keep your dog on the straight and narrow path that you should be on during this most important part of the judging.
It isn’t about how well your dog stacks, or how long he stands still that is going to earn you the win under most judges. It’s most likely to come down to whether you can present your dog in motion to his best possible advantage. That free-flowing movement, that is what will capture the judge’s eye each and every time. Have fun learning everyone and best of luck to you all!
When it comes to mentoring new Gordon Setter exhibitors I’m asking all experienced breeder/exhibitors to join us in our “it takes a village” approach on this blog. For this article I’ve started a list of video links, books, DVD’s and articles that I’ve located related to canine structure and gait. These are all-breed reference materials, not Gordon Setter specific, hopefully we will have breed specific material to add to this site soon.
What is needed from you, “the village”, would be your comments regarding whether you have read or viewed any of these references and if you found them helpful or maybe not so good. This way our learners will have your experience and advice to guide them.
Also, if you can add any items to this list I hope you will share those. Please add your insight by posting in the comment section that follows the article.
Online Videos Simply move your cursor to the title and click to go directly to the item.
I sure hope I’m still on good terms with my guardian angel because I’m about to walk barefoot on hot coals. Now folks, before I move on, you need to know, I love my fellow breeder/exhibitors and am not, in any way, shape, or form finding fault with anyone’s breeding or dogs. What I do intend is to help newbies learn what more experienced breeders and judges see as they wade through a class of Gordon Setters or sort through a litter of puppies. So bear with me, and know that I’ve randomly chosen from a huge group of photos. I did the best I could to crop those photos to prevent identification, so if you spot your own dog and don’t like the way it looks…KEEP QUIET…you can pretend it’s not your dog and no one will be any wiser! Also, everyone needs to remember that this is one shot, a blink of the eye, this particular dog may actually move beautifully but in the instant that the shutter snapped something not so great may have been captured…remember all those awful photos your mother took of you when you were little? And finally, I’m asking all my photographers to forgive me for not identifying their work in this particular article, there are those who would go hunting through Facebook photos and the like to try to figure out which dog belongs to who, and our purpose is to educate, not to find fault!
Well, now that I’ve filled a page creating a disclaimer hoping to survive yet another day, let’s move on to the subject itself, learning to understand the breed standard and apply it to a living, moving Gordon Setter. I decided to start the movement discussion with what I consider to be the easiest thing for everyone to see when watching a class of dogs move, that being the topline. The topline can tell you so much about what’s going on under the dog as far as the reach and drive we expect to find. A properly moving Gordon Setter will display a good moving topline and a good topline is an indicator of balanced angulation front to rear. Remember, we are not talking about the dog’s topline standing still, we want to learn to look at that topline while the dog is moving.
If a Gordon Setter has a proper front assembly and a proper rear structure with corresponding angulation that is in balance on both ends, the topline will appear as one smooth, moderately downward sloping line that literally appears to be floating around the ring. By looking at the topline first you will soon learn where to look next for good reach and drive under the dog. Dogs who move carrying the correct topline will be the ones most likely to exhibit the correct reach and drive underneath the body. If, for example, you see a dog moving high in the rear, you are likely to notice that they lack reach in the front, the rear being over angulated as compared to the front, rises as the dog must compensate somewhere to keep his hind legs on their forward drive (with their longer stride) from striking the front legs (because of their shorter stride). A dog who roaches, or arches over the loin may do this because of improper or unbalanced angulation or because of improper structuring of the back. Generally the Gordon Setter, like many breeds, will have a front assembly that lacks proper structure more often than the rear, but that my friends is a story for a different day.
So first some quick excerpts from the Gordon Setter Breed Standard to remind you of some things we should be looking to find during our topline study.
“Topline moderately sloping… Body short from shoulder to hips. Loins short and broad and not arched. Croup nearly flat, with only a slight slope to the tailhead. Tail short… carried horizontal or nearly so…The placement of the tail is important for correct carriage. When the angle of the tail bends too sharply at the first coccygeal bone, the tail will be carried too gaily or will droop. The tail placement is judged in relationship to the structure of the croup.Gait: A bold, strong, driving free-swinging gait. The head is carried up and the tail “flags” constantly while the dog is in motion. When viewed from the side, the forefeet are seen to lift up and reach forward to compensate for the driving hindquarters. The hindquarters reach well forward and stretch far back, enabling the stride to be long and the drive powerful. The overall appearance of the moving dog is one of smooth-flowing, well balanced rhythm, in which the action is pleasing to the eye, effortless, economical and harmonious.”
Now let’s move on to look at some moving photos to see if we happen to agree on the things that stand out. Let’s also remember, this is what the judge sees on that first go-round, many a win is earned on the first impression.
Time for all of you to chime in with questions, comments, or additions to the information this is meant to be a quick easy lesson and by no means covers all we need know about movement and structure, that’s what the comment boxes are for…share your input and ask your questions!
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.
I guess it is safe to say that I’ve become a layperson-student of canine anatomy and locomotion. After reading this article last night and looking at this photo just now, it might be safe to say this is a perfect-to-near perfect shoulder assembly doing its job. I had to laugh though… I don’t know where all of her hard muscle disappeared to in this photo! Her forearm looks like it’s all bone and coat here, doesn’t it?!