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.
“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!
Let’s get right to the tough stuff today. One of the hardest things for a breeder to accomplish is to consistently breed and retain excellent front end assemblies generation after generation. There are just so very many moving parts to the front. In my mind, as Gordon Setter breeders we will never be able to take our eye off the mark if we are going to continue to produce sound Gordon Setters who are capable of performing in the field as intended.
We’ll do our best on this blog to present as much resource material for your learning experience as we can, obviously it will take time to accumulate that material. Today I’m starting a discussion on fronts with two well written articles by Patricia V. Trotter, a longtime breeder of Norwegian Elkhounds who is approved to judge more than 20 breeds. She is the author of Born to Win.
In the first article titled Putting Up a Good Front Patricia makes a point that rang true for me “Among the experts whom you should treasure and whose opinions you should utilize are those who truly understand front-end assembly and who reward it in the ring whenever possible.”
Patricia went on to say “a correctly made animal with functional and efficient side gait has much more opportunity for error when viewed coming toward you than a straighter-angled dog has.” Let’s not make the mistake in our Gordon Setters of assuming every clean moving front coming toward us is properly angled with appropriate reach off the side.
I agree with Patricia when she says “as guardians of our breeds, we must explore what we can do as fanciers to protect well-made fronts“.
The second article by Patricia It’s Whats Up Front That Counts she continues to provide us with sound advice on the importance of the properly constructed front and makes a very valid point in reference to Setters. “For example, consider the three setter breeds, which were bred to crouch near the birds while the hunter quietly approached with nets to throw over the dogs and the birds. These flexible sporting dogs further utilized their correct angles to lower themselves and crawl out from under the nets in that pre-gun era, leaving the captured birds for the huntsman. Now flash forward to a lineup of setters standing tall and proud in the modern show ring. Chances are that only a precious few have correct shoulder angulation, while there are others that stand out because they are jacked up on incorrect, upright shoulders that contribute to the facade of the show dog.”
I’ll let you go now so you can read Patricia’s words of wisdom. I hope we’ve provided some food for thought here today, and that you’ll share your own comments, opinions, or questions in our comment section below to keep the dialog going!
To go directly to the AKC website where these articles are located move your cursor to the title of the article and click on the underlined title.
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!
Understanding correct structure and movement in our Gordon Setter and understanding how that relates to breed type is a topic I’ve heard debated many a time, as I bet, have you. The article I’m sharing with you today “Movement: Very “Much a Part of Type” written by Richard G. (“Rick”) Beauchamp addresses that topic in a fairly simple, straightforward manner.
I’m not going to review Mr. Beauchamp’s article here, I’m simply recommending you read it for yourself. I will however, pull out a few of my favorite quotes…just because I just can’t stop myself from chatting!
“Is it possible for a dog to be typey without correct movement? The answer to that question could be yes if our task was simply to evaluate a dog stacked or standing in a well-taught position.”
“Changing movement changes type.”
“…there wouldn’t be English and Gordon Setters if the developers of the respective breeds weren’t attempting to create a dog of a different kind and of different purpose.”
“The purpose of the Gordon Setter is significantly different from that of his Irish cousin. The Gordon worked the rocky, frequently inhospitable terrain of the Scottish Highlands. Care and deliberation in movement were important to the breed. Running headlong across the moors could prove extremely dangerous to the dog’s legs and feet, to say nothing of the hunter trying to keep up with the dog in such difficult terrain.”
“The movement of these three setters should prove the very point of their existence. One breed moving like the other proves how wrong the individual dog is.”
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?!