Beauty, Brains and Bird Sense

For as long as anyone can remember, the motto of the Gordon Setter Club of America Inc. has been “Beauty, Brains and Bird Sense.” In the 1980s, Nancy Large, a Gordon owner and breeder from New Hampshire, suggested to the parent club that an award should be given to Gordons that exemplified those characteristics through their accomplishments.

Ask almost any Gordon owner about their dog and they will tell you that their own Gordon is beautiful, it is very smart (but stubborn), and it is always interested in birds. Even though this is probably more than some of them would say about their children (except perhaps the bit about the birds) it hardly qualifies as a basis for an award.

A committee was appointed and, after a bit of work, finally settled on the criteria for the award—and they were presented for the first time in 1986. Beauty, Brains and Bird Sense is not an easy title to achieve, nor is it a quick one.

Looking at the award in the order it’s stated in the title, the first criteria is Beauty. Even though there is nothing more beautiful than a Gordon running in the field in the fall (with its black and tan markings racing past the browns, reds, yellows, and oranges of fall colors), floating effortlessly around a show ring or sailing over jumps in an agility ring, the committee determined that a Gordon needed to be an AKC show champion to earn this part of the qualifications. Earning a show champion title takes some work and it must be done under at least three judges who are evaluating the dog based on the AKC standard approved by the parent club. Three opinions in this case are better than that of one owner or breeder who might have a tendency to be a wee bit biased.

The second part of the award is “Brains.” The committee determined that an AKC obedience title was the minimum requirement for this part of the award. Once again, this requires practice and a time commitment to achieve, even at the lowest level of Companion Dog. It isn’t like training your Gordon to roll over or fetch that bag of chips that is just out of your reach. (Gordons would charge you a fee for that little “chip trick.”) When Agility trials became an AKC sponsored sport, the award was changed to include those titles as well.

Once again, it required three legs to earn those certificates and it required effort in both time and training to achieve. With the advent of the AKC Hunting Tests, the number of Gordons working at basic levels in the field soared, and so did the number of dogs that have earned the Beauty, Brains and Bird Sense award.

Allow me to reiterate here—a Beauty, Brains and Bird Sense award is not easy to achieve.
The “Bird Sense” part of the award proved to be the most difficult to win approval. Obviously, an AKC Field Champion title would qualify, but at that time in the 1980s there were only a couple Gordons a year earning those titles. Field trials required horses, they were seasonal, and they were beyond the reach of most people. Also, at that point in time the AKC did not have the hunting dog program and the titles that are available now; that program was still several years away. However, the GSCA had in place a precursor to those hunting tests in the form of its Working Dog Certificate and Working Dog Certificate with Retrieve tests. Once again, it required three legs to earn those certificates and it required effort in both time and training to achieve. With the advent of the AKC Hunting Tests, the number of Gordons working at basic levels in the field soared, and so did the number of dogs that have earned the Beauty, Brains and Bird Sense award.

Listed here are the current requirements for the award; one title from each group:

Awarded to the owner of any Gordon that has attained an AKC Championship conformation title (CH) and…

Obedience, including Companion Dog (CD), Graduate Novice (GN), Graduate Open (GO), Versatility (VER), Rally Excellent (RE), Tracking (TD), Novice Agility (NA), or Open Agility Preferred (OAP)] and…
Field, including Junior Hunter (JH), Senior Hunter (SH), Master Hunter (MH), Field Champion (FC), Amateur Field Champion (AFC), GSCA Working Dog (WD) or GSCA Working Dog Retrieve (WDR) Certificate title.

Finally, some special mentions need to be made. Two dogs that had ended their careers prior to the establishment of the award were given full credit and received the first two awards. They were both Dual Champions with obedience titles; DC Gunbar’s Dare Devil CD, owned by Bill and Marge Platt of Illinois and whelped in 1952, and DC Shadowmere Ebony Shane CD, owned by Jack and Barbara Cooper of California and whelped in 1974.

One other Gordon deserves special mention. OTCH CH Chaparral Justin Time UDX MH, owned by Janie Bristow of North Carolina and Linda Sanders of Nevada, is the most-titled Gordon to earn the award—and is the only OTCH to earn it.

  • Jim Thacker has owned, bred, and campaigned Gordon Setters in the show ring and field since 1977 under the Dunbar kennel prefix. His dogs have earned titles in each part of the sport, including one Dual and Amateur Field Champion who was twice the parent club's Gun Dog of the Year. He previously judged AKC and American Field pointing breed trials and hunting tests, and has also judged Spaniel hunting tests. He is currently the Gordon Setter breed columnist for the AKC Gazette. He lives in southwest Ohio. Karolynne sits on the Board of the Irish Setter Club of America, and is the AKC Delegate to the breed. Additionally, Karolynne sits on the Board of the American Kennel Club and several of its entities. She is an AKC Judge of all sporting dogs, and the Sporting Group. Karolynne directs daytime streaming at the AKC National Championship and for Westminster Kennel Club. When not dealing with something that barks, she can be found conjuring up something good in the kitchen.

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