Tag Archives: substance

“Do the Math” and Simplify Substance (required reading for every breeder!)

Just so you all know, if you’re not on Facebook, or are on Facebook and haven’t joined our Gordon Setter Students and Mentors Group, then you missed all the fun we had this week debating size and substance – again – for the millionth time – OK the billionth time – because that’s what we  like to do, and we all have our own vision of “size” and “substance” so it gives us a lot to talk about!

That's me (Sally) in the middle, looking dazed and confused as usual! Photo by Bob Segal who is not to be held accountable fault for my silly expression!
That’s me (Sally) in the middle, looking dazed and confused as usual! Photo by Bob Segal, who is not to be held accountable for my silly expression!

First off the Gordon Breed Standard gives us a wide (for most breeds) 3 inch spread in height guidelines, and I’m here to say that 3 inches makes it very tough for the eye to evaluate proper size and substance in a ring full of Gordon Setters, which in turn leads to all those debates we hold!

This time though, I came to the discussion armed for debate with words (the breed standard) and a calculator, because gosh darn it, there’s math involved in reading that thing (the standard) and I hate math! Just in case you missed that last sentence – I HATE MATH! You should know then, that it causes me great pain and much discomfort to be writing about it here!

There are many phrases, quotes and other descriptions that are used by us when we debate the “how much substance” and “how big” question, and that is what gives rise to trends in our breed.  Often the words “The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters.” become an assumption that to be “correct” our Gordon absolutely must appear taller, bigger and heavier than all of the other Setter breeds, but is that how we should be reading the standard?

Just because our standard says that the Gordon is “heavier than other setters” does not mean that the standard was written to imply we should use only this line to judge the proper size and substance of a Gordon – what if those other Setter breeders are wrong and they are breeding their Setters to be larger than what is called for in their breed standard?  What if the majority of their breeders are breeding and exhibiting their setter breeds above breed standard, do we then jump off that same bridge in order to retain our place as “heavier than other setters” or do we breed true to our standard? And that brings us right back to what is appropriate size and substance?


Before I begin my math lesson (see how I’m avoiding the math part) I’ll share with you some of what our discussion group said around what we all believe to be contributing factors in the Gordon appearing heavier or having more substance.

Beverly Garaux I don’t think I interpret it as a weight issue either. If you have all three setters 24″ tall the only way the Gordon would be heaviest would be for it to have bigger bone and more substance. That is my interpretation. If you have silhouettes of all three setters you should easily be able to pick out each breed. The Gordon should have the largest bone and most body. His bone structure is what makes him the heaviest not necessarily his height.

Sally Gift agreed Beverly, but if you have bigger bone and substance wouldn’t that also mean more weight? <grin>

Beverly Garaux – yes.

Beverly Garaux  – I said what you said in a different way. <smile>

Sally Gift yes you did! <smile>

Barbara Manson – The weight on the Gordon’s can be quite deceptive. A lot of it is in muscle mass.

Barbara Manson – … some of the English. They have as much bone as some pretty large Gordon’s. I personally don’t feel we should be judging the size in our breed by comparing it to the other setters we see. If they are moving away from their standard, it doesn’t mean we should. This kind of thing has been going on for years.

Dianna Ellis – “Heaviest of the setters” IMHO means that there is more to them, more breadth of head, more depth of head/muzzle/flew, broader in the rear skull than the other setters; more neck, not length, but thicker, hence more muscle to hold up that head and more to them, more breadth of head, more depth of head/muzzle/flew, broader in the rear skull than the other setters; more neck, not length, but thicker, hence more muscle to hold up that head and muscle to help the front reach; more body, not narrow like the Irish, but my no means barrel chested, more width, short backed, cobby; rears with flat croup and wide thighs, can’t have one without the other, those wide thighs will have more bone and much more muscle, short thick hocks…hence they are the heaviest!

Sally Gift – According to many of these comments I think we are all on the same page. We agree that when describing the Gordon as heavier than other setters – “The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters.” line in the standard – we included many things like the thickness (including also the height) of his skeleton, head structure, along with his heavier muscling giving us the “good-sized, sturdily built” and “suggests strength and stamina rather than extreme speed” descriptions in the breed standard, because we all know and agree that muscle mass and thickness of bone add weight to every animal. (You mind the word weight now, because it’s going to come up in our math exercise.


So, moving on and getting to that math problem (dang it), let’s learn how to do a bit of simple math to see what the standard could be saying about how to measure the Gordon so that we can judge if he is bred correctly to the standard and meets the definition of “heavier than other Setters”.

In my eyes, (and maybe because I hate math so I noticed that darn math immediately) the writers of our breed standard gave us a measurement to define what they meant to be understood and followed as a guideline to appropriate size and substance. The standard authors went one step further than descriptive words such as “good sized, sturdily built…well muscled, with plenty of bone and substance, but active, upstanding and stylish…head is fairly heavy“. They gave us a mathematical description that we could use to describe size including “substance” in a measurable unit when they wrote: “The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters.”  That’s nothing new you’re thinking! But, many folks are only remembering heavier and are forgetting that the word ratio was included. While the word ratio doesn’t give a good visual to use, and neither does its expression as 24:55, we can use those numbers instead to calculate the Gordon Setter’s weight per inch (height) and then we have something we can measure and visually see when we assess our own dogs or our competitors.  Here it comes then, the “do the math” portion of our show!

Gordon Setter Male – standard says “Shoulder height for males, 24 to 27 inches” and “Weight for males, 55 to 80 pounds”. Pounds per inch calculation at the shortest height would be completed by taking the lowest or 55 pound weight divided by the corresponding lowest height of 24″ which equals 2.3 pounds per inch. (It’s really easy this math, I don’t know why I hate it so much!) The bone and substance, of our smallest Gordon Setter should be no less than 2.3 pounds for every inch he is tall.  And the largest Gordon Setter at the tallest  27″ height divided by the 80 pound weight guide will weigh no more than 3 pounds per inch. These numbers, smallest and largest, tell us that to exhibit the correct size, bone, and substance as described in the Gordon Setter Breed Standard an ideal male would stand no less than 24 and up to  27 inches tall and weigh no less than 2.3 and no more than 3 pounds per inch, assuming that the dog is in proper weight and condition as also described in the standard.

Gordon Setter Female – “females, 23 to 26 inches” “45 to 70 pounds” and using the same calculation we find that the breed standard tells us an ideal Gordon Setter female would stand no less than 23 and no more than 26 inches tall and at the shortest and tallest heights would weigh no less than 2 pounds and no more than 2.7 pounds per inch.

Now mind you, I am not trying to rework the standard here by inserting number definitions, I am simply showing you how using the numbers provided by the standard will help you to attain a measurement that visually defines correct substance. And let us be clear, just as there can be too little substance on a Gordon Setter there also exists a point where there is too much substance. A 24″ bitch at 70 pounds is within the height and weight guidelines, however she would weigh 2.9 pounds per inch, exceeding our 2.7 maximum limit. At 2.9 pounds we are moving toward the place where her substance is closer to that of a heavier working breed or that of a male (“doggy bitch”). Will this in turn, affect her ability and performance in the field where she belongs? This point should be equally attributed to a dog. There is no place in the standard where it is stated that Gordon Setters measuring at the taller heights and heavier weights are more correct in their type than those on the opposite side of those measurements. “Heavier” is defined by the guidelines provided in the height to weight RATIO and should not be interpreted as meaning the bigger dog is more correct.

Using this formula to determine substance is simple, the tools are a wicket and a scale and a dog in proper weight. Weigh the dog, measure the height with the wicket and be certain you know the sex of the animal (grin)! Take the weight measurement, divide by the height and the sum will be the number of pounds per inch. If your dog is male who falls within the height guidelines, and the resulting sum falls within 2.3 – 3 pounds per inch your dog is of correct size and substance. If a bitch is being measured the sum obtained should fall within the 2 – 2.7 pound measure. These animals would all have proper type as pertains to substance according to the standard. Now then, if you prefer your style of Gordon with a heavier look your dogs may be measuring in at the top of pounds per inch. For a male that would be closer to the 3 pounds per inch and for a female closer to 2.7 pounds. Of course, the opposite would hold true if your style leans toward a more moderated appearance. The point would be that neither of those styles would be more correct than the other, nor would they be wrong as pertains to size and substance, they all fall within the dictates of the standard. See how easy this can be!

Sara patioThis now brings me to another point which I believe warrants attention; the pounds per inch we just calculated indicate that we now know, based on the math, that our bitch’s substance as written in the standard is supposed to be .3 pounds LESS per inch than the dog’s. Maybe, that doesn’t sound like much, but in an animal the size of a dog/bitch it does make a clear difference to the eye. This shows us that the substance and bone of the bitch, as defined by the breed standard, are not expected to be equally as substantial as that of the dog. Her height is lower, and while we may have assumed that the lesser weights were a result of the shorter stature, that is at not everything that was meant to be understood by the definition of size and substance. Using pounds per inch we can see that the authors of the standard also defined the bitch as having a lower weight to height ratio, so she should appear smaller in stature, not simply shorter, but also a bit less substantial. (approximately 11-15% less substantial than the male). If you think about this with an eye to nature, you will realize that this follows the rest of the animal kingdom. Mares are not built like stallions, cows are not built like bulls, the doe is not built like the stag and the bitch is not built like the dog. Hey, girls will be girls!

There were those who joined our discussion who also show English Setters. They mentioned that in the English Setter it is common practice to include the height and weight of the dog in their advertising, including the pictorial. What a marvelous idea! Instead of guessing if a dog is of proper size and substance when viewing a photo, we could use our simple math to answer that question and decide more accurately if the dog in the picture fits our style, and is also within standard for size and substance. Wouldn’t that be better than guessing or relying on word of mouth if you hadn’t seen the dog? How simple is that? Why aren’t we doing it or why don’t we start?

Someone recently asked me what I considered “moderate” for a Gordon Setter when I mentioned I preferred (and bred) with an eye for moderation. Moderation to me means neither too large, nor too small, a dog whose parts all fit smoothly together with no “jarring” piece that stands out or appears out of place. The moderate dog appears symmetrical and balanced in all parts, bone to height, head to body, front angle to rear, no exaggerations in any one area, which again includes size. If your eye is drawn to any one particular part of the dog, chances are that part may lack moderation.

Sara BOB GSCA Specialty
Sara – bred by Sally Gift & Mary Ann Leonard, owned by Sally Gift and Bev & Gary Andersen. A moderate bitch.

So using the formula I gave you, and looking at the photos of Sara, I’m sharing a “moderate” bitch, who is clearly a girl. Sara stands 25 inches at the shoulder and weighs 64 pounds and that is at a trim weight. Even if I subtract 4 pounds of that weight for hair and toenails (I’m horrible about keeping her nails short) Sara would still weigh in at 60 pounds. I know for some this may be hard to imagine, but she’s weighed at at vet’s office many times and that’s what the scale reads. She always takes off her shoes to be weighed and is sensitive about the subject of her weight, as are most ladies!

With the wind blowing her coat aside, this photo clearly outlines the angles of the front assembly and allows us to see, as the standard requires “a pronounced forechest is in evidence.” This is Sara, a moderately constructed bitch.

Does Sara have enough substance for a Gordon? Well her weight and height are both within standard, and if we use the pounds per inch measure to confirm substance, Sara weighs 2.4 pounds per inch. Sara is right in the middle of the size range for both height and weight, and her substance measured as pounds per inch falls right in the middle of that range (2 – 2.7) pounds also. The size of her head fits nicely with the size of her body, as well as the size of the neck that carries it. Her angles front to rear are equal, properly balanced and fit the standard’s ideal. There are no glaring parts to draw your eye from the symmetry of the whole bitch, the entire picture fits together smoothly. This, to me, is a moderate Gordon Setter, not a small, not a large but one perfectly and well within the breed standard and not at either end of the spectrum. My preferred “style” of Gordon. Is she perfect? Well no, but I’m not about to say anything bad about her, she is standing here, right next to me and giving me that “I adore you” look!

Plan to earn your FABULOUS button, have some fun and talk more on this and topics like this at the “My Genes Fit”  gathering hosted by Breeder Education at the 2016 GSCA National.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

The Substantial Gordon

Here it is! The second in a series of articles by our Guest Blogger – Barbara Manson, Stoughton WI. Once again Barb shares insight about the Gordon Setter breed standard helping us to to put the words of the standard into perspective as it pertains to the many “styles” of Gordon we encounter.

The Substantial Gordon

Barbara Manson - photo by Silvia Timmermann 2014 GSCA National Specialty
Barbara Manson – photo by Silvia Timmermann 2014 GSCA National Specialty

by Barbara Manson

I want these articles to follow some kind of natural progression in regards to the way we normally assess our Gordons.  Once again, I’m targeting primarily the folks new to the sport but I hope everyone takes the time to read through this.  It is my intention to  provide a basis for later discussion and for mentoring our “newbies”.

If you asked anyone in Gordons to define substance, the conversation would always begin with bone.  This is the easiest part of substance to see.   Often we tend to look at big feet and the size of the forelegs and compare our dog, who seems well endowed, to a competitors dog who is smaller and who doesn’t appear to have as much as our boy does.  But, let’s stand back for a minute and really evaluate each dog rather than comparing them.  When evaluating the amount of bone, you have to take into consideration the size of the dog you are looking at.  Our standard describes “a good sized, sturdily built black and tan dog, well muscled, with plenty of bone and substance”.  I discussed size a couple of months ago and we know, as per standard, the boys can range from 24-27 inches at the withers and bitches can be 23-26 inches.  Those animals at the bottom of the standard are every bit as correct as those at the top and no preference as to size is stated in the standard.  Therefore, a 24 inch boy and a 23 inch girl are considered “good sized” in terms of height.  It would logically seem that the size of the feet and limbs on a 24 inch dog would not be what you would expect to see on a 27 inch dog.  By standing back and evaluating the individual, you get a better perspective.  Does the smaller dog look like his bone is big for his height?  Perhaps, the impression you get by evaluating in this manner will leave you with the feeling he has more bone than your own dog.  The amount of bone an individual dog has should always be evaluated in proportion to his height.  Here’s another point related to bone we need to consider.  In most species, there are gender differences as to size between males and females.  This, per standard, is also relevant to to Gordon Setters.  In other words, dogs should look like dogs and bitches should look like bitches.  In our breeding, we all will occasionally get a dog who looks a bit “bitchy” or a bitch who looks “doggy”.  We should not be striving for either.  One should know instantly whether he is looking at a dog or bitch without feeling for testicles.  The girls should never be expected to carry as much bone or head as their male counterparts, or vice versa.  The head piece should, first and foremost always fit the body.  I admit to personally being a sucker for a feminine Gordon head on the girls.

This dog is bred by Debbie Cournoyer, NY. Photo by Lisa Croft-Elliot was used in a book published in the UK. Gordon Setter by Lavonia Harper.

The standard describes “plenty of bone and substance”.  So what constitutes substance.  There are several descriptive words and phrases in the standard that are meant to give the impression of substance.  “Weight for males 55-80 pounds; females 45-70 pounds.  The weight-height ratio make him heavier than the other setters.”  Nowhere in the standard does it say the Gordon is the tallest of the setters.  In fact, the “ideal” height for a male Irish Setter is 27 inches at the shoulder, which is considered the top of the range for a Gordon.  It follows that the impression of size in Gordons must come from other factors.  So what are these factors?  Once again, we look to the standard.

“Body – short from shoulder to hips.  Chest – deep and not too broad in front; the ribs well sprung, leaving plenty of lung room.  The chest reaches to the elbows.  A pronounced forechest is in evidence.  Loins short and broad and not arched.”

“The angle formed by the shoulder blade and upper arm bone is approximately 90 degrees when the dog is standing so the foreleg is perpendicular to the ground.  Forelegs – big boned, straight and not bowed.  Pasterns are strong, short and nearly vertical with a slight spring.”

“The hind legs from hip to hock are long, flat and muscular; from hock to heel, short and strong.”
The short body (short back) not only gives the impression of strength, but is a stronger back, less likely to breakdown over time.  As our dogs age, top lines tend to sag.  This is especially prevalent in a longer backed dog.  If we are using our Gordon in the field as they were intended, or for performance events, we want them to be sound into old age.

When viewing the dog from the side we should see a pronounced fore-chest.  This is the 90 degree angle formed from the top of the shoulder blade (scapula) or withers, to the upper arm (humerus) to the back or point of the elbow.  The upper arm should be approximately the same length as the shoulder blade, allowing for the front legs to be set well under the body with the elbow in an approximate line with the top of the wither.  The angle formed, ideally, should be about 90 degrees (please reference the drawing).  The front structure is one of those characteristics that defines a setter and sets them apart from other pointing breeds.  Hence, it is also very important to breed type.  I hope to discuss this further in the future.  The more front angle you have, the more the appearance of substance.  In the conformation ring, you may not be able to discern exactly how much fore-chest a dog has without putting your hands on him.  Skillful trimming can give him the illusion of more front, even when he doesn’t have enough.

The loin is the portion of the topline from the last rib to the sacral vertebrae or the area encompassing the lumbar vertebrae.  When viewed from the top, it should appear broad and substantial.  From the side, it should be relatively short.  The body should be deep, with brisket, or body, reaching to the elbow.  There should be sufficient spring of rib so the dogs body, when viewed from over the top, has dimension and definition, and does not appear as a long narrow tube.  When looking from the top, you should be able to see where the ribs end and there should be an indentation where the loin begins.  The tube look is often referred to as “slab sided” and is a look far too common in Gordons.  A breeder friend once referred to dogs like this as “cardboard cut out dogs”.  I found this very descriptive.

Short pasterns and short hocks are indicative stamina and not speed.  Compare the length of the hock in a Gordon to that of a sight hound such as the whippet or greyhound which were bred for speed.

Short pasterns and short hocks are indicative of stamina and not speed.  Compare the length of the hock in a Gordon to that of a sight hound such as the whippet or greyhound which were bred for speed.  We often hear the term wide thigh when referring to Gordon structure.  When viewed from the side, the thigh muscle should look “wide” and developed and when viewed from the back, we should see muscle definition on an adult, conditioned dog.  In general, when comparing Gordons to other breeds of setters, they should appear to have shorter, thicker musculature which leaves the impression of endurance rather than speed and this is most apparent in the rear muscling.  These shorter, thicker muscles require a heavier structure or frame for muscle attachment, hence we should see more bone on a Gordon than on an Irish who has longer, thinner muscles and a longer hock.  Both of these features are indicative of more speed.
The descriptions above are applicable to adult dogs and not necessarily to pups and adolescents.  If you are just getting started in this sport with a young show pup, be aware that it takes time for the youngsters to fully mature and accurate assessments are sometimes difficult, if not impossible on babies.  Also know that none of our dogs are perfect.  This information is intended to improve our understanding of the ideal and give us a basis for evaluating our breeding stock as well as sizing up the competition at the show.

Once again I encourage any feedback or clarification you may have to offer on this subject.  I want to encourage everyone to be involved in breeder education and your comments are welcome.  Please have them to Sue Drum by October 12th for the November News.

(If you are not a GSCA member or would prefer, you may enter your comments here on the blog as these will also be reviewed along with those submitted through the club venue.)

Barb Manson