Exclusively Setters

Home for Irish Setter Lovers Around the World

Do our Irish Setters lack pointing instinct in comparison to the other pointing & setting breeds?

I've been urged to start this new theme rather than continue the discussion under the theme on 'standard' set by Wim. I am at present not actually sure this will end up being a very valid discussion theme as we may just end up with votes of 'no they don't' versus 'yes they do'... 

All statements can really only demonstrate personal impressions as I doubt any of us here can look back on many years of experience in training a large number of Irish Setters originating from many different breeding lines...

But here we go, I'd like to put the following questions to you:

  1. Is the pointing/setting instinct still present in our breed?
  2. Should we be doing more to preserve pointing & hunting instinct?
  3. Do you as a breeder look to breed from dogs with pointing instinct?
  4. Would you wish for your dog to be assessed by a trainer as to his (the dog's!) natural ablities?
  5. What background knowledge do you base your views on?

Views: 3037

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Thank you for your input, Margaret, I had similar thoughts until I re-read Ann's text. Ann clearly states that she is speaking for 'the English' alone, explicitly not for the Welsh, Irish, Scottish (or the rest of us 'foreigners' for that matter;o)...).

So yes, I agree there is some truth historically in Ann's words... although I feel the explanation would be too simple. If this were the only explanation then why would the continental breeds be thriving with many young owners starting to work their dogs? Why are some breedclubs more active than others in promoting the working side (I know the UK Pointer clubs and the Gordon Setter Clubs actively promote the working side of the breed). Is the answer to this question more likely to be found by characterising the typical Irish Setter owner rather than the difficulties of training a dog? Obviously this does not apply to the culture in Ireland.

Dusan already mentioned the fact of many hunters not wanting to buy a 'lady's dog'.

But then why are so many women working their German Pointers, Vizslas, Weimaraners? (I am referring to my experience at the Reeth training weekend last year.

I'd say it is because the breed clubs have worked hard at increasing awareness that they actually own a working breed.

Yes, I emphasised that I was not speaking for other countries and cultures but just for England.

It is a cultural thing and culture is built on 'class/social structure' influencing the mind-set over many generations. That, historically, influenced the attitude.

It has taken years to persuade the people who own Irish Setters in particular that the dog is not only the "most aesthetically beautiful' dog (in the world!) but that it is a working dog and those given the training and opportunity to work, frequently can.

Why so many HPRs/Continental working dogs today?  In the second half of the 20th century people travelled more, afford more and see different breeds.... What better than having a gundog that works but does not require acres/hectares of land and its game birds?  Breeds that are bred to handle all sorts of game on land less extensive and far more accessible than that used by setters/pointers.

Believe me, it is difficult to convert owners of setters who bought their dogs because they like the look and temperament, that their dog has the possibility of working too,  The response is very often, "Working?  That's not for me." or "Working?  Irish Setters?  We have been told they can't work any more."

Breeders do not help either.  I was happy to see a young dog from the well-known only working kennel of IRWS in the UK at the IRWS club show in October.  I was pleased to tell the owners of the Club Training Days - not too far, geographically, from their home.  Imagine my disappointment to be told, "Oh no, it does not fit in with our life style and anyway he is from the Show side of the kennel, not the Working side."

In England, at least, from the variety of IRWS, Irish & Gordons who have attended the Gundog Training for the last 10 years, the dogs are not 'Working bred' but distinguish themselves as Good, Middling and No Good in probably the same proportions as any group of setters in any country.

As I have said, "it's not the dogs, it's the people" and the people find it is easier to own and train a German Pointer, Vizsla or Weimaraner than a setter now that after centuries of prohibition, the culture has turned to allowing the ordinary person to hunt.  It is just a pity that in England working/FieldTrialling setters still retains its image as a rich man's hobby.

We work to change this.


If you get to know the Gordon Setter owners who train and field their dogs in the UK, you will find several things that distinguish them from IS and IRWS owners. Firstly they have recognised over the last twenty years, that if you want to have a Gordon setter that will work, you have to breed from Gordon Setters with proven working success. Looking at the dual purpose Gordons that now run in field trials, you will find they breed mostly  from lines which have been developed in recent years to be both shown and worked, with an eye to size, weight  and conformation which will help rather than hinder the working dog. Secondly, the Gordon owners are willing to work very hard at training their dogs, and they know that means being out with the dogs most days, getting up at 5 am before going to work, travelling long distances at weekends even as far as Scotland, and spending their holidays training, grouse counting and field trialling their dogs. Some of them also shoot over their dogs. Thirdly they have a strong mutually supportive group. Fourthly they enjoy what they do,  its not all about getting that show gundog working certificate on a sh ch dog and then dropping out again, and even if they run their dogs in field trials without any serious hope of making them up as field trial champions ( although a couple of the Gordon people are serious contenders), they and their dogs just enjoy their days out trialling

Summing all that up, they are SERIOUS about their dual purpose Gordons, they really believe the dogs should still be bred to work, and at the same time they ENJOY what they do with them and they have a PURPOSE

There are numerous owners in ALL Four Setter breeds that are SERIOUS about their Setters irrespective of which of the Setters they are and these owners also ENJOY what they do with them and they also have a PURPOSE and train EVERY day despite the weather and conditions and they too are dedicated to preserving the natural working instincts of their respective Setter(s).

I know because I am one of those Setter owners who are dedicated and in one of the other three Setters besides the Gordon but have working friends in all, plus other gundog breeds as well.

I think all Setter owners have the welfare of their own dogs foremost in their minds.


Funnily enough, we have had and will have Gordon and Irish Setters owners on IRWS Working Days (as well as the distinguished Munsterlander!!) and hopefully, English Setters one day.

This topic is "Do our Irish Setters lack pointing instinct in comparison to the other pointing and setting breeds?"

My feeling is no. Take a random group from each breed and 'test' the pointing instinct and I think you would find the same range of ability in all the breeds, from 'good' to 'no good - whether they are 'working bred' or not. Take a random group of owners tho' and there is probably a great disparity, breed for breed, in the drive to train and run their dogs.

And this is the task of the Breed Clubs to enthuse and facilitate the working side.....

I wholly agree with your last sentence, Ann, and wish them every success!


Actually I don't mind anyone going off topic... as long as we stick to dogs within certain limits that is;-)

My personal feeling in response to the question is: Yes, but probably not to the extent I first thought. It would be great to do the test though, Ann. Wouldn't it be fun to collect a representative group (not too random as we want all different lines included) of each breed, say 50 dogs of each breed - and put them through their paces. Assess hunting instinct, nose and pointing instinct. See how many show merit in the field when assessed by a professional trainer. It wont happen, but wouldn't it be great??? :-))

Yes, it would be great... but... 250 dogs (50 from the five breeds) collected together in an all encompassing 'test' would, I think' be logistically ...er... tricky.;0])))

We will just have to rely on our own experiences of observing as many 'other people's' dogs in as many situations as possible.

There are so many obstacles to whatever you want to do with your dogs - work or show or any other activity, and disparagement from others is a major one along with lack of opportunity.

Whatever we 'do' with our dogs we should not lose sight of the fact that it is a hobby, even though our lives turn around it!

I have been following this discussion with great interest although I do not & never have worked any of my Setters. NZ is not England, or Ireland, or Scotland, etc - so working one's Setters here is not common in my area. I breed both English & Irish Setters - from all-UK show lines - but have had several of my puppies in both breeds do well as what dedicated working devotees would call "rough shooting dogs".  For instance, my young ES bitch has as her paternal grandsire a showbred dog who worked for years.  One IS is being used for deer hunting (his owner said he was the only dog he'd had that knew when to keep his bark to himself!), another for possums, another ES for wallaby & wild turkey,

In the part of New Zealand  where I live (North Canterbury in the South Island) there are no "game birds" as such - we VERY occasionally see a small covey of quail, & I remember seeing a lone pheasant in the riverbed some time ago - he would have been a survivor of someone releasing birds.  With dairying becoming all-encompassing the natural cover simply isn't there for birds.  I understand there is much better gamebird coverage in the North Island.

So working our Setters down here is not practical (except at field trials on dead/captive pigeons).  And for the purists - my Setters hunt rabbits (yes, I know - FUR LOL!), magpies & ducks when they can - & they love it.

And I've lost count of the times an IS has won the NZ Pointer & Setter Championship - Robyn Gaskin of Kilsheelan truly flies the flag for working IS in NZ.

Hi Pat, thanks for giving us the views from yet another far away part of the world. I have not yet searched the web for info on Robyn but will do so.

I am intrigued by the setters you mention hunting possums and wallaby. I suppose it is a matter of "take what you can get"... and don't complain if it is not grouse! 

Loss of habitat is a real problem in many countries and intensive agriculture certainly does not aid wildlife - except for those rabbits that seem to thrive almost everywhere. I suppose the same could be said for our setters.. they thrive where we do! 


Robyn comes over to Europe I think every two years or so, and usually judges some trials while she is here, as she is very much respected as a judge. I've met her at trials in Scotland. I think she and John started with show Irish Setters, put a lot of work into training them to work, and persevered with them for several years. Then finally bought their first field trial bred Irish Setters and have never looked back since. They imported really top class field trial reds, like Erinvales, and bred on from them. They have exported Kilsheelan dogs to other countries, like Norway, where they are well regarded. Somebody who has one of my IRWS in Norway, also has a red dog which is from Kilsheelan breeding

Oops, thanks for that, Margaret. There was me thinking "Robyn Gaskin of Kilsheelan' was the name of the winning IS... all the more reason to get te search engines going!


and here they are: http://www.kilsheelan.co.nz/

Thank you Pat & Margaret!

I love the Kilsheelan sense of humour, I'm just reading the section under Breed Reflections called 'Minding the Traditional Setter' where I found this bit about delinquent individuals:


Keenness, responsiveness and sheer guts spawn delinquency when given no useful outlet. It is small wonder that show breeders who found these traits a liability, selected against delinquent individuals.


Very true... at least in our country;-))






© 2022   Created by Gene.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service