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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?

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Hi Dusan, I'd say you've hit the nail on the head! And no, I don't think we 'ladies' will be offended;-))

It will be interesting to follow the development of your GSP and compare to your IS male. I assume the GSP was bought with the aim of hunting?

Maybe it is time for the fairer sex to intrude into the more masculin domains... it is already creeping up on you -  watch out, here we come! :-))

Thanks for that, Tracy, and well done to your young boy! As you say it is a thrill to see them displaying natural abilities.

The barking & chasing ones... hmm, I've seen a couple and they don't usually fare so well in serious training. But they are endearing in their own way. We used to call this kind 'scatterbrains':-))


Having read the replies to this topic I totally agree with Dusan in that I would not send my boy, Ray, to any trainer, professional or otherwise, and have had such enjoyment and achievement in training him totally myself in the 'working' side of our lovely breed from his puppyhood to his age of 9 years old now.   Each day I incorporate some gundog 'working' exercises to keep him mentally exercised as well as his excellent quartering runs and he loves to be over the fields.

I would like to encourage more Setter owners to bring out their dogs natural instinct as it is so rewarding watching them working. 

Best wishes to all fellow members for the festive holiday.



Hi Cornelia, thanks for giving us your view as a first time pet setter owner...  and I am sure your girl loves to proove to you that she is a 'real' setter in more ways than just this one:-))

I love those very definite points on Lemming! Ok, maybe not quite the traditional game for setters but who cares providing it fills the pot???

Does this mean you be cooking the traditional Swiss dish of Roast Lemming for Christmas? VBG

I'm going to speak from the POV of a "show line" English Setter owner who also owns Weimaraners... but i do think that my comments are valid

Is the pointing/setting instinct still present in our breed?

It is without doubt that the ES has two very distinct lines that are well known. The Llewellin ES is one of the most popular hunting breeds out there but with it's popularity it has changed over time.  It is still a pure line but the upright tails and size built for speed and working different ground cover take away from the original ES.  There are lines out there that are dual purpose which is great but I agree with others that say that the lack of nurture of these instincts causes them to fall away as the dog gets older. I also think that a dog that can point doesn't mean a dog that can use it's nose effectively.

Should we be doing more to preserve pointing & hunting instinct?

I'm on the fence for this one.  As much as I'd love to say YES, I don't know if it would help in such a changing world, where companion dogs rule over the old style hunting dog.  There is a high dumpage rate for working ES, particularly in the US and Europe, possibly because they are not good companions because of their desire to work.  I think what we have now, where some do, some don't, but the instinct can be there at an early age, should be maintained, but I don't think it would be viable to go back to breeding specifically for working dogs.

Do you as a breeder look to breed from dogs with pointing instinct?

As a breeder of Weimaraners, I do look to breed from dogs with natural hunting ability, because I am breeding to have dual purpose Weimaraners, however the nature of the Weimaraner is different to the setters, and Weimaraners hunt for their owner, not for themselves. The sheer birdiness of the working setter I don't think would make an easy transition from hunter to companion.

Would you wish for your dog to be assessed by a trainer as to his (the dog's!) natural ablities?

I think that you need an understanding of what a dog needs to have in terms of natural ability. A dog that can sight point doesn't necessarily make a good hunter. A trainer would be able to see the natural ability in it's true sense and not what many believe to be correct instinct, so if that was a direction you wanted to go in, then yes, I think having a dog assessed by a trainer would be a good thing.

What background knowledge do you base your views on?

All my background knowledge consists of researching the various histories of the ES and the fork in the road that caused one to be pure working and the other to be somewhere in between working/show/companion. Additionally I have learned in only a short amount of time what to look for if you want a natural hunter, but based on the Weimaraner, not the setter.

Sorry, not had time recently to get back to this blog. But I am very pleased someone else has!

Thank you, Andrea, your points are very definitely valid!!! ;-) I think it is a great benefit to be able to compare one's own 'main' breed to another pointing breed which has developed along different lines. I do get the impression that the continental pointing breeds have done more to preserve working attitude than the setter breeds may have done.

I think your view of the breeds from the Australian/US background is very interesting and throws a new light again on the different aspects worldwide.


I'd just like to pick up some points you make:

 I also think that a dog that can point doesn't mean a dog that can use it's nose effectively.

That sentence very much covers what I have been told by an owner of working setters: It is not just the pointing that defines a working dog... Hunting & style, a strong prey drive, this is what is required of a working setter. There is a big difference between sight pointing and scent pointing. I have been told that potential field trial setters tend to flush and chase a lot and are quite late to point. They have a very strong prey drive which exceeds the pointing instinct in the first 12 - 18 months. This is not something that would worry someone with a working dog unduly as they tend to say it is easier to put brakes on a fast dog with a strong prey drive than to put speed and rive into a slow cautious dog...

Should we be doing more to preserve pointing & hunting instinct?

I'm on the fence for this one.  As much as I'd love to say YES, I don't know if it would help in such a changing world, where companion dogs rule over the old style hunting dog.  There is a high dumpage rate for working ES,...


Andrea, good point. I suffer the same dilemma. On the one hand I feel the Setter was created as a working breed and should maintain some of the natural instinct and breeders should try hard to retain it. On the other hand - speaking of Switzerland - our world is a very small place for wide ranging hunting dogs. So does that mean Setters should become extinct due to the fact that their abilities as working dogs are no longer required? How sad that would be...


Personally, I would not feel happy if my setters had lost all instinct to work. I dislke seeing a setter plod behind their owner like a fat lab...;-)

Giving owners the possibility of having their dog assessed by a professional trainer quite often stirs an interest in the working side of the breed. Most people I know who now work & have a go at trialling their dogs started just like that... myself included:-)


Your sentiments echo mine, Susan. 

Over the last 40+ years a great many Irish Setters and IRWS have trotted through my life one way or another and a high proportion have shown an interest in hunting and birds in general. It is not a 'lack of pointing instinct in the dogs' that is the problem, it is the lack of interest or awareness of the owners in this essential 'side' of a setter.  The raison d'etre of a setter is to find game birds by air scent over a considerable range of land and if the opportunity for this is not available for the dog, it happily settles for the life of companion/show dog.

There is no reason that a setter cannot be trained to work as well as for all the other activities that are on offer; setters are active dogs, thriving on the human interaction for a common purpose.

The IRWS Working Days are for not only IRWS but all the setters to have the chance to sample the working side and for owners to understand their role too.  Some may find that either owner or dog (or both) have no apptitude and therefore no interest, some may be so fired up they want to pursue the skills and go trialling while others will be content in working their dog in at least the 'correct' setter manner, but without the competitive edge.

But at least they will all know that this is what setters are for!

But at least they will all know that this is what setters are for!

And I am in full agreement with you Ann that every owner of a setter should know at least that:-)

I know some breed clubs in the UK for IRWS, Gordons and Pointers do offer a few oportunities for people to have a day out with their dog to get and idea of what is required of a working setter. I am not sure if any of the Irish (Red) Setter breed clubs do so? I would assume that the clubs offering this kind of opportunity are overwhelmed by the popular demand? ;-)

To answer your questions from my point of view and from my experience:

 First of all,your first question really scared me! I didn't think irish setters went to the point when we must ask our selves this question! I don't think, I know it's still here,at least in my country and I can speak also for Slovenia. Afterall,how can it be gone,as no dog can go in breeding if he didn't pass his field trial ! That is regulation in Croatia and Slovenia! .And to pass it,he must have the instinct,because you can train most of the stuff,but nose,moving and important things-can't.  I hope there is no country in the world wihtout that regulation, and if it is,hope that breeders have awarenes and respect for this hunting breed, and go themselves in field trials...We must respect the breed and it's purpose,not only to try to breed a bunch of red hair. Great example here is Karmen-breeder that has multi ch ,EW,VWW Romanca od Zagrebacke Gore, than bred VWW Summer Spell Red Nokomis,than afterall bred my Nakea (also EJW and many titles behind her) and many champions -all of them are excellent hunting dogs! All her bitches passed not only one,obligatory for the breeding exam, but 2 exams with excellent grades,and Nakea,when first time in field (and that is instinct) -going to pass one exam,she passed 2 exams in one day,cause the judges couldn't belive how she was working. That answers your question about if are they good enough like some other hunting breeds. So, it can be done;both beauty and work -and we must keep this instinct,because one that has never been in field with his dog,doesn't know how one can be proud seeing your dog doing something that you haven't learned him,but nature did and his genes! It's always for me a fantastic feeling!

Thank you Ana, for taking time to answer despite my scary first question...;-)

It is good to hear that in your country there is actually still the requirement for a dog to show he still has the original instinct present before being bred from. I think a simple assessment of natural qualities which does not require serious training would be an ideal minimal requirement. Switzerland does not demand it and neither do many other countries.

I experienced the same feeling of elation when seeing my dogs working for the first time from instinct alone, doing what was bred into them so many generations ago... I have seen the reaction in many other owners who took their dog to a field training session for the very first time... It really is a fantastic feeling!!!


Here's another thought....

The hunting instinct has been bred out of a huge proportion of the English population for centuries - I don't speak for the Welsh, Irish and Scottish or any other country.  It was the privilege of the aristocracy and rich and they are the ones who developed the breeds of dog for their different types of hunting.  It is generally only in the second half of the 20th century that owning these special 'pedigree' dogs has been able to be taken up by 'the common man/woman' and although being able to buy and breed - let's stick to setters - these breeds, the time, expense and geographic and social access to hunting is still difficult for people who have to work 9 to 5, 5/6 days a week.  The show ring is certainly more readily available so the work of setters has dwindled to the few who strive to keep the working instinct alive.

Of course ordinary folk kept and developed other breeds for their work - and some for their illicit hunting which is poaching and still a crime - a crime punishable by death not so very long ago.

Is it any wonder that getting people to work their setters is an uphill task?  There is a psychological barrier. a conviction that 'it is not for us' attitude that has to be removed.  Get over that then training the owners to work their dogs becomes successful and the say, three quarters of the setters that can, can demonstrate that they have not lost the instinct to run, find, point and produce game birds.

And I am on record as promoting the requirement for all setters to have a working qualification before gaining a title.  I'm not sure about before breeding, the numbers involved may be too unwieldy but I wouldn't be against it!! (ducks below the parapet!! ;o])))


How do you explain the fact that in Ireland 90% of setters bred are still working setters? And the average Irishman who owns a  setter also works 5 days a week, but still finds time to train and shoot over his setter at weekends. How do you explain the fact that Ireland with a population which is a small  fraction of the UK population actually has MORE people who run their setters in field trials?

Of course it helps that their setters are bred to work, that their owners are mostly men who are motivated to put time and work into training their dogs, and who just enjoy being out with a dog and a gun in all weathers.

Its a cultural thing, most of the men in Ireland who shoot over their dogs grew up in that culture, and it has little or nothing to do with class or social origins.




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