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Are showbred red setters ‘just red dogs, not setters’?

The showbred Irish setter is under fire. In his recently published book ‘The Irish Red Setter’, Raymond O’Dwyer states they “lack the conformation of a galloping dog that is clearly required of a setter”.

According to the author, chairman of the Irish Red Setter Club so motherclub of all FCI-countries, responsible for the standard in most of the world, differences in colour, size, conformation, energy and mental attitudes between showbred Irish setters in the English speaking world and workers/duals are “enormous”. He warns for the effect when this policy is continued.

What is your opinion? Is the showbred animal “just a red dog” and not an Irish setter anymore, like the book suggests?

More info on the book with reviews: http://www.corkuniversitypress.com

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Replies to This Discussion

I guess in this modern world it inevitable that we’ll see more and more gundogs owned by people that don’t own a gun. In other words - breeds (like the Irish Setter) that were developed specifically for hunting will increasing be owned by non-hunters. Naturally this will have (is having) a huge impact on breed.

Whether or not these new non-hunting dogs are still the same breed as their forbears depends on how you define a breed. If it’s simply a matter of genetics, then certainly they are of the same breed. If there’s also a question of functionality, then the case is less clear-cut. Since the development of most breeds, including ISs was driven by function, I’m definitely in favour of a functional component to the breed definition. Since most of the largest kennel clubs in the world are primarily show dogs organisations, they have little interest in moving away from the current genetic based definition.

I guess whether or not you consider the new non-hunting Irish Setters to be true Irish Setters largely depends on whether you’re attempting to preserve an ancient hunting dog, or breed beautiful and mild mannered dogs that are suitable pets for the modern owner
I guess whether or not you consider the new non-hunting Irish Setters to be true Irish Setters largely depends on whether you’re attempting to preserve an ancient hunting dog, or breed beautiful and mild mannered dogs that are suitable pets for the modern owner

I hope you realise that you are entering a tricky area here Rob. We have had previous discussions were the hunting section claims that their dogs make excelent companions (without being hunted).
I claim the opposite.
I am now ONLY talking about scandinavian FT-bred dogs (I have no insight in hunting setters anywhere else). These dogs are brilliant at what they are bred to do, but hard work for anyone that will just give the dog the average type of excersise. Thus giving setters a rumour of being impossible to deal with and practically climbing the walls. Nothing wrong with the dogs, they have just ended up with the wrong owners.

I for one think there is nothing desperatly wrong with the breed being divided as it is now.
There are many types of irish setters, but to me they are all irish setters.
I choose to breed the type I prefer, which (although I do work my dogs - but not in the field) happens to be the english/european show-type.
Had only the scandinavian-type FT-setter been available, I would certainly not have had setters for the last 30 years.
Once again I want to stress the point I think FT-setters are great = doing what they are bred to do...

So yes, you may say I should not have setters.
A valid point, but the division was there long before I entered the breed and as I keep saying, nothing is static...things change.
So also all breeds of dogs.
I would start by saying that in my experience (limited to just two Scandinavian FT ISs) these dogs are wound a little tighter than the Irish bred dogs.

I agree working/hunting setters make outstanding companions provided their owners are committed to meeting the above average need of these dogs for mental and physical stimulation. These are energetic and intelligent animals, if you don't provide mental and physical stimulation then I’d expect they could be a handful to live with. Mine go without hunting for six months of the year and are still great to live with during that time, but if they go for more than a few days without a good long free running gallop they start to get restless and increasingly vocal.

I don't know I think there's anything desperately wrong with the current state of the breed either, provided everybody is caring for and enjoying their dogs, joining ranks against the forces of darkness that would ban all pet ownership and being very honest about the type of dogs they're breeding. It does p*ss me off when show breeders sell their "lesser quality" pups to unsuspecting hunters, telling them what great hunting dogs they'll make.

nothing is static...things change. So also all breeds of dogs.
I agree, things do change, but does that mean that in 20-50 years the "function" of every breed is to be a pet/companion? If that's the case, then it seems likely our beloved purebreds will be replaced by Designer Dog craze that is currently sweeping the world. If somebody is "just" looking for a companion, why would they choose a Setter?
Rob said:
It does p*ss me off when show breeders sell their "lesser quality" pups to unsuspecting hunters, telling them what great hunting dogs they'll make.

Could not agree with you more! I have lots of new friends among setterowners that have gone/are living in that "hell", sorry to say it so coarsely. They have in their hands a dog they do absolytely nothing with, it is just a pet and sometimes even this pet is so lame by nature that the owner gets frustrated by its lazyness. Those are,I hope, the negative sides of the showbred dogs. And yes I´m still talking about setters...

So if one does breed show/petSetters why on the face of this earth does it have to be sold as a huntingdog?
I have absolutely no clue?

As for what Ursula thinks of FT-type setters, you haven´t seen mine or those quite a few hundreds living/bred in Finland. My dogs never climb the walls, they adapt to the circumstances they´re living with. They might get sad if I get sick and can not give them their daily run, but they never climb the walls.
It is also a matter of how the dogs are brought up. I believe honestly that there are those that climb the walls but I suppose their owners children do that too. So it has a lot to do with upbringing and educating.
I have had those examples in my house learning to live in a manner that is accepted. And it has happened in a week, the wild ones are tamed and have learned to live like any other suitable familydog, which my dogs are. Suitable, well-mannered, obedient huntingdogs as familydogs. And yes FT-bred... ;-)

I have seen from quite near the difference in people while living here up north. The difference in norwegian families and finnish families and in the upbringing of children. It differs hugely. I take it is quite correctly transferred into dogtraining and especially how they are handled in the house. Those dogs can be unbelievably obedient in the field but same does not go in the house. That puzzles me??
Mine are always handled the same.

so could it be that?
I can only speak for my own breeding and the dogs I personally have bred.
I would NEVER sell to a hunter.
No due to the fact that I dont like them, but due to the fact that I feel you should know what you are getting. Well as much as you can tell when it comes to live animals.

One hunter persisted and promised faithfully to keep the dog as a pet if it did NOT hunt. Well it did, and as he kept telling me, better than his previous FT-types. But when he came back for a new puppy, I sent him away to a reputable breeder of FT-setters instead.
And insisted he should buy there instead of one of mine.
You can only be lucky so many times...and thats how I think it is, if one of my setters would be good at hunting, that would be luck.
And I have also (as mentioned before in earlier discussions) seen the other side. FT-setters bred for maximum speed and endurance sold as pets only. (Without a mention as to the puppies background) Not many of those that I have seen have been what their owners expected.

Yes, its a matter of upbringing as well. But not ONLY.
Sorry, I dont buy that one.
If that was so, all dogs (disregarding breed) would be the same with the same owner.
And things are not quite like that.
I have had lots of dogs and also a fair admount of breeds.

Function = pet/companien for all breeds in the future?
Well, just look around at some other breeds where for instance aggression has been toned down considerably. We live in a differant society than say 100 years ago, and just as we have to adapt, so has the dog!

And there are still enough FT-type dogs about to satisfy every hunters need.
And enough variation within show-types to satisfy me, and the LAST thing I want is a totally passive pet!
I am enjoying this discussion! Thanks Rob.

As you and Ursula both agree on, we live in a modern world and all things change.
It is clear that different types of setters DO exist: some are little Ferraris bred with the sole intent of high speed field trialling, others are ideal for a full day's shooting out on the moors, again others are better suited for the occasional day out hunting but mainly being a pet at home and finally the type of setter with no interest whatsoever in hunting.

These different types do exist and they are all Irish Setters. I believe as long as breeders question the buyer about what he is looking for and also advise the potential buyer of the type of setter the breeder has, many a misunderstanding or wrong expectation could be avoided. This is one of many responsibilities the breeder has. The same goes for the breeder of 'field only' setters...

Talking of Switzerland, where there are practically no possibilities for working a Setter, the setter breeds would become extinct were we to intensify breeding for the field and limit the sale to hunters only. Hunting for deer and wild boar is not a setter's job.

Having said that I still feel the mental attitude of the dog should be that of an active and intelligent dog capable of being trained. Personally I don't want my setters to become dopey dogs...
Hi Rob - told ya you'd like this website ;-) Thanks for the comments btw. I appreciate your point of view, even if I don't always agree. I do believe, though, that it's good for everyone to see both side of the debate - and certainly good for us show-loving types to keep the breed's original purpose in mind at all times.

Another question: To the best of my (albeit limited) knowledge, I always thought the term "setter" came from the fact that the dogs used to drop to the ground, and have a net thrown over both them and the birds by the hunter? I thought this was the origin of the word "set." Am I wrong? If this is the case, then are the "pointing" types of setters any more "setters" than the show types? (I understand that of course each type still must use its nose to locate the game, and not just rely on sight-pointing...but I'm talking purely semantics here.)
A setter is still setting itself when approaching the birds. Setters and pointers vary very much when they take the scent of the game...
Like this

Hi Melinda - Don't take offence at the way I write, I know it can be very direct, but I don't mean any harm.

Your understanding of Setter history (re nets etc) and the origin of the term "set" is basically the same as mine. The working standard states that standing or crouching on set are equally acceptable (Standing or crouched settings are normal attitudes. ) so neither position is "more setter like" than the other. Some Setters raise one of their front legs in a "Pointer like" pose, while others don't, again neither is more correct than the other. What matters is that the dogs find the birds, and hold them, until the hunter gets there.

The pic posted by Katariina is a good one and I would consider that a typical set of a good field dog. Looking at the dog I would say it has found birds that are still some distance away, I'd not be surprised to see the dog continue to road in before flushing the birds. The head is beautifully parallel to the ground, again suggesting the birds aren't "right under the dog's nose" as typically happens with sight pointing.


PS I just reread your post. In regard to the pointing stance of show setters, it's not the position (standing, crouching etc) of the show setters' set that's the problem. The problem is that these dogs frequently don't set (using scent) at all!!
Rob knows what he´s talking about! A hunter who knows how the dog behaves can read the dog even from a picture and of a dog he/she does not personally know...

You´re absolytely correct that the birds were not in front of the dog. The dog had to sneak away like a snake quite a few metres before to birds were nailed down, as we say. Sometimes the dog wants to wait for me to approach her/him and she/he can even lie down while waiting. Though that is not quite common.
It was not a sight point but the scent was pretty strong because of the wind that was quite hard.
Hi Rob - actually, I don't mind your style of writing at all. It's always well-researched, non-emotive and particularly insightful. So go right ahead!

I must also be very lucky, however - both my show-bred dogs do exactly as the dog in this picture does, often before sighting the birds (i've seen instances where I can see a bird in the distance, but know that they've not yet seen it, but they will suddenly start to work in towards the bird in the above manner). Interestingly, my bitch (who carries the field lines) is the one who usually behaves like this first. But the show dog always backs her up once she does this. I've seen both "go to ground" if the bird looks like they're about to fly. (Mind you, I've also seen both take off after the first bird they see and chase it all around the paddock like idiots...!!) All this without ANY training from me whatsoever. Both also sight-point, which I know is different again. I'm not about to imagine either of them winning field trials any time soon - but it is an absolute JOY for me to see the basics of the working instinct still intact in my dogs. I would imagine many other people with show-types have much the same experience with their dogs too.

Re my comment above re the stance - I was actually referring to the word "setter" itself. If the origin of the word comes from the entire act of indexing, dropping, crawling, and being netted WITH the birds...is the term "setter" still correct for today's field dogs that aren't netted along with the bird? I believe the term "setter" was first used in 1570-ish...obviously, the behaviour of the dog has undergone some changes since this time (when they were probably more of a spaniel type dog with a "setting" behaviour, than an actual "setter" as we know them). So - is this a debate about semantics? Or about working ability ;-)
I’m not a linguist, nor have I researched the term extensively, but IMO the term “setting” refers to the act of a Setter indicating game via a standing/crouching stance (as depicted in numerous pics on this site). Whether the said game is then taken with a net, a falcon, a shotgun or allowed to fly away unharmed doesn’t impact on the correct use of the “setting” term.

I guess this discussion is further complicated by the fact that language and language usage also change over time. I don’t think that, at least in today’s usage, the term “setting” implies the use of a net.

PS - AFAIK the term "setting" was used in ancient times no matter if the birds were to be taken with a net or a falcon, further supporting the case that the term “set” is not related to the use of a net.




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