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.
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.
“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 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?!